As any road-weary traveler can tell you, the old adage about real estate — that it’s all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION — is also true for hotels. Sure, some guests want quiet, some want a great price and others just want excellent minibar fare. And then there is another category: guests who want a little history with their overnight stay. In Birmingham, there are a few that fit that bill and are great overnight options for out-of-town guests or those in need of a staycation.
2021 Park Place, Birmingham • (205) 322-2100
This is the first hotel that comes to mind when you ask locals about landmarks with history. The current iteration of the Tutwiler is actually its second location. The original was situated on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue North and 20th Street, and opened in 1914 after the president of Tennessee Coal Iron and Railroad Company, George Crawford, noted there was not a suitable hotel for visiting U.S. Steel executives. His friend, Robert Jemison Jr., knew of the perfect piece of property on which to build such a hotel. At that time, it happened to be owned by one Harvey G. Woodward, who had other properties of note in the downtown area.
Having Jemison and Crawford build a hotel on that site ensured nothing else would compete with Woodward’s other business interests. They secured funding for the project from Major Edward M. Tutwiler, and plans began in earnest. Local architect William Leslie Welton and hotelier Robert R. Meyer saw to it that the new hotel would embody the best of the best. With limestone around the base and penthouse floors, ornate fixtures, grand ballrooms and an indoor “orangerie,” it was a sight to behold. Everyone agreed that the new hotel should bear the Tutwiler name, in honor of the man who helped make Crawford and Jemison’s dream a reality.
In spite of years of hosting visiting steel executives and even a celebrity or two (Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth), The Tutwiler Hotel encountered financial misfortune. To make room for the First Alabama Bank (now the Viva Health Building), the hotel was imploded in 1974, but not before many of the original fixtures were removed. It was not until 1986 that the Tutwiler family resurrected the hotel on nearby Park Place, the site of the former Ridgely Apartments, also built by Tutwiler. The current property has marble from the original hotel, and features many of the same architectural details – vaulted ceilings, arched doorways and a large, gracious lobby. It is currently part of the Hampton family of hotels, which has transformed the property into a modern-day destination, coupled with early 20th-century charm and elegance.
1023 20th St. S., Birmingham • (205) 933-9555
Just a hop, skip and a jump from The Tutwiler is The Hotel Highland. Adjacent to the University of Alabama’s Birmingham campus and located in the heart of Five Points South, this hotel’s historic location belies its modern interior. Originally built as a Medical Arts building – a design craze that was popular in the early 20th century – the building once held offices of prominent doctors and surgeons. An apothecary and medical device business were located on the ground floor. Decades of use and wear-and-tear took its toll on the building, though, and it languished. Ironically, it took a physician, Dr. Donald Kahn, a retired cardiac surgeon, to begin the transformation of the current property. His dream of updating the building to a hotel was realized in 1988, when he christened it The Pickwick Hotel. His influence can be seen there today, as medical symbols still adorn the elevator doors.
The 2007 renovation of the hotel did more than just change its name. Suites were added, as well as modern design details that lend it a boutique hotel feel. The Highland’s H Martini Bar is the perfect place to enjoy a preprandial cocktail. But it’s the location that helps make this a real travel destination. Exit the lobby and turn left to pass Birmingham artist Frank Fleming’s magnificent Storyteller Fountain on the way to dinner at either of James Beard Award-winning Chef Frank Stitt’s two restaurants (Chez Fonfon and Highlands Bar and Grill).
1309 19th St. S., Birmingham • (205) 918-9090
Guests looking for something a little bit smaller and more intimate may choose to stay at this bed & breakfast, also located within walking distance of Five Points South on Nabob Hill. The inn started its life as the private home of the local tax collector, Mr. Bingham. Later, it had a life as the parsonage and Sunday school for the Methodist Church.
Since then, the building has provided office space for doctors, lawyers, marriage counselors and even a few massage therapists. But in 2003, the property was purchased and restored to its Victorian-era architectural splendor. Guests can enjoy renovated private rooms and then enjoy breakfast under an elegant crystal chandelier before heading out to explore the area’s historic sights, such as the 16th Street Baptist Church and Civil Rights Institute.
The Redmont Hotel
2101 Fifth Ave. N.
REOPENING SUMMER 2015
Not traveling to the Magic City until this summer? Then you are in for a treat, as another Birmingham historic hotel jewel is about to complete a massive renovation. The Redmont Hotel, located at the corner of 5th Avenue North and 21st Street, first opened on May 1, 1925. Having gone through decades of change — hotel, retirement facility, hotel again — the property is in a great location and primed for a dazzling redo. Set to reopen mid-2015, the new hotel will retain many of its historic features (grand staircase, two-story lobby, tall ceilings), while offering visitors the modern amenities hotel guests have come to expect. Downtown denizens will want to check out the Redmont’s new restaurant and café options, too, especially the rooftop bar and entertainment area.
To follow the progress on this development, visit haycreekhotels.com.
Knowing the history behind the building that is home for a night or two always makes the stay more interesting. Birmingham is full of history and having these buildings that have evolved remain (instead of being torn down) continues to give our fabulous city a unique flair.
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