NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Civil rights leaders have helped kick off the reopening of a famed site of civil rights sit-ins in 1960, the Woolworth building in downtown Nashville, as a restaurant.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia recalled via a webcam that people spit on him and others during the sit-ins, put out cigarettes in their hair and poured coffee and hot water on them, as they sat at segregated lunch counters at Woolworth and elsewhere in Nashville.

“Hadn’t it been for the city of Nashville, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” the Democrat told the crowd from his office in Washington, D.C., where he had to cast congressional votes Monday evening. “I literally grew up sitting on those lunch counter stools.”

The event run by Lipscomb University was the first in the renovated Woolworth venue, featuring songs by the soulful McCrary Sisters, recollections from a couple of others who sat at Nashville’s old segregated lunch counters, and recognition of Fred D. Gray, a civil rights attorney who represented Lewis and others in the movement.

Lewis was first arrested on February 27, 1960 as a college student at a sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter. It would be the first arrest of dozens in his fight for civil rights.

Restaurant entrepreneur Tom Morales has transformed the space to how it looked in 1960, with the long rebuilt lunch counter. It will feature 1950s and 1960s rock and soul music, dancing, spoken word and plays — a different type of offering in downtown Nashville, which is known for its strip of honky tonk bars.

The Woolworth building was most recently a Dollar General.

Morales revived the historic Acme Farm Supply building downtown, where he remembers his family getting his dog food. He created Acme Feed & Seed, a live music venue and eatery, and he has opened several other Nashville hotspots.