Historic Huntsville: The Story Behind The Yarbrough Building

One of the best ways to uncover the past is to speak with someone who lived it. In researching the historic Yarbrough Building, I was introduced to Mary Jane Caylor, a well-known Huntsville figure who has dedicated much of her time to restoring the Downtown neighborhood. She has worn many hats and had many stories to share.

During our afternoon of exploring the building, we discovered a beautiful story of old Huntsville and the former life of one elegant downtown hotel.

Mary Jane Caylor and I made our way to the steps of the historic Yarbrough Office Building on the corner of Holmes Avenue in Downtown Huntsville. As our eyes adjusted to the sun-filled day, Mary Jane examined the front door.

“I can still see Chapman standing here greeting guests,” she said. “He was the head bellman at the hotel, and he was so nice to us as children.” She shook her head as if to break her trance. “He wore an all-white jacket and was friends with the other bellman, Grant. You know, Holmes Avenue used to be a major thoroughfare. Traffic, parades—it was the place to be.”

Located along Washington Street and Holmes Avenue, the Yarbrough Building was once a towering icon to the City of Huntsville. The four-story fragment of history welcomed families, guests, and traveling businessmen as the Yarbrough Hotel between 1923 and the early 1960s.

In a time when the city had a more modest population and the glitz and glamor of a new hotel attracted the elite, the Yarbrough was a promise that the town was growing and evolving.

We ambled up the steps beneath the elaborate awning and opened the doors to the lobby of the office building. For Mary Jane, born in 1942, the building held many happy memories.

“See that banister there?” she said while pointing to the ceiling and motioning her hand in a circle. “When I was little, I would hang over the side of it and get a spanking every time.” She chuckled as she continued to examine the lobby.

“Is it very different from when you were a child?” I asked.

She paused for a moment. “In my memory, this place was massive. And when I return for visits, I’m reminded that I saw it through the eyes of a child.”

Plans For A Grand Hotel

More than a simple brick and concrete structure, the Yarbrough Hotel was known as one of the premier hotels in the Huntsville area in the 1920s. On March 29, 1923, the Yarbrough Brothers announced in the Community Builder that the construction of a four-story hotel would take place, costing roughly $150,000. It was proposed that the hotel would include 75 rooms and communal baths on each floor.

“It was a luxury to get a bathroom to yourself at the Yarbrough,” said Mary Jane. “That was the setup—Jack-and-Jill-style bathrooms with one shower.” Even today, you can still see the same restrooms on the 3rd and 4th floors—sans the showers.

According to the National Register of Historic Places, Mr. Brogan of Fayetteville, Tennessee held the contracts for the footing and J.H. Goodwin was the concrete contractor.

Plans were later proposed by architect D. Anderson Dickey to add an additional 5th story to the Yarbrough that would house 20 guests rooms and a large banquet hall. The manager at the Twickenham Hotel, located where The Garage at Clinton Row is today, had announced a week prior that they would be adding their own banquet floor. As it turns out, neither hotel saw their plans through.

The Yarbrough also featured storefronts on the ground floor of the hotel that catered to businessmen, including a barbershop and Hilding Holmberg’s Men’s Wear, located on the corner of Holmes Avenue and Washington Street. There was also a small billiard room near the boiler room on the hotel’s basement floor.

“Adams and Walker Drugstore preceded Hilding Holmberg’s Men’s Wear where Downtown Huntsville, Inc. is housed today,” she explained. “Chad Emerson, the President and CEO, wanted to keep the original floors and you can still see where the stools from the soda fountain were placed. People visit and they love that the history has been preserved.”

And, as history tells it, The Yarbrough Hotel opened to eager crowds with a wonderful Grand Opening Celebration in 1924.

It wasn’t long until Mary Jane’s grandparents moved to The Yarbrough in 1925.

The Smith Family

Mary Jane’s grandparents moved from Corinth, Mississippi to the Yarbrough Hotel with their seven children in tow. They were one of the hotel’s longtime residents, as the children remained there until growing up and going their separate ways. But the family would gather again for special occasions and bring children of their own to visit their grandmother. Mary Jane, daughter of Charles R. Smith Sr. and Leona Butler Smith, holds on to fond memories of visiting her grandmother at the hotel.

As a product of Victorian upbringing, her grandmother, Lena Rinehart Smith, was the definition of refined and expected her children and grandchildren to be well behaved. The hotel was a place where the children acted with much civility—not a place to horse around.

The Smith Family celebrating at the Yarbrough Hotel.

“Any time we were at dinner we would get a stern look if we so much as turned around in our seats,” said Mary Jane. “It was a strict upbringing, but it was good for us.”

Mary Jane and I had found a cozy spot to stop and chat. “What would you say is your favorite memory at the hotel?” I asked.

“Probably the Christmas dinners we had there,” she smiled. “On Christmas night we would go and visit my grandmother in our finest clothes. And, I’m not exaggerating, my mother would bake anywhere between 15 and 20 cakes during the Christmas holidays, thus, she provided the desserts for the Smith Christmas dinners! All kinds of cakes—coconut, lemon, chocolate, white, fruit cakes, you name it.” She paused and smiled.

Mary Jane’s grandmother with the Smith cousins in the 1950s at the hotel.

“Afterward, we’d all gather around the piano and Aunt Elizabeth would play while we sang Christmas songs,” she said. “You know, you rarely appreciate those good days when they are happening, but we are not promised tomorrow. I’m very thankful for those memories.”

We went on to talk about Bertha (the elevator operator in the hotel’s heyday), popular residents at the hotel, and stories of days gone by.

Mary Jane’s father and grandmother in the lobby of the hotel.

“There was a ballroom on the second floor, just to the left of the elevators,” she explained. “The ballroom adjoined the suite where my grandmother, Aunt Eugenia Smith, and cousin Sara Ann Smith lived at the hotel.”

She told me area high school students took ballroom dancing lessons from Irene Jones there, one of the only dance instructors in the city at the time. The ballroom was also the setting for those family Christmas dinners she adored.

But The Yarbrough wasn’t the only hotel in town back in the day, and when the Russel Erskine opened its doors in 1930 business took a hard hit. The Russel Erskine was much larger, featured 132 rooms and stood 12 stories high.

As the sparkle of the hotel faded and Huntsville began to expand outside of the downtown area, the hotel was less frequented.

“The Yarbrough was very popular for a long time,” she said. “But we especially saw a decline of the downtown area as a whole when the parkway opened in 1955.”

Even with heavy competition, the hotel remained in business for several years before closing in the early 1960s.

The Yarbrough Office Building Today

In the 1980s, the building underwent renovations to reopen as an office center.

Frederick Lanier is the President of the West Huntsville Land Co., a property management company formed in Huntsville in 1923. The West Huntsville Land Co. acquired the ownership of the building in 2002 and has leased out almost all of the space to thriving businesses including Heart of the Valley YMCA, Community Development, and several successful law firms. He joined us on our walk through the past and shared some of his insights on the building.

“My father always told me to never own a building with an elevator,” he sighed. “Three months after I purchased it the elevator failed. Because of the hydraulics, it took awhile to get it fixed, but we haven’t run into any major issues since.”

A proud owner of other historic buildings downtown, Frederick said that the lobby of the building was just as it was the day he bought it.

“It’s almost fully occupied here and the tenants love it,” he said. “We are like a family.” He gestured for both of us to follow him to the back of the building where we were greeted by a small awning that boasted a large “Y” on its front.

The original hotel logo.

“That’s the original symbol for the hotel,” he explained. “We had them recreate it as a way to remember the building’s significance.”

In addition to the original lobby, the second-floor mezzanine was retained for historic purposes, as well.

“It is very important to us as stewards of the Yarbrough to preserve the historic integrity of the building,” he said. “This is a piece of Huntsville history—it’s a part of who we are as a community.”

Mary Jane’s father, Charles, and Frederick’s father, Pete Lanier, were great civic leaders and good friends.

“Daddy would be so happy to know that Frederick owns the Yarbrough today,” she said. “He has done an outstanding job in preserving the historic significance of the hotel.”

A Downtown Dream

As we completed our tour of the building, Mary Jane looked around the busy downtown streets.

“I remember a time when shops downtown were boarded up,” she said. “You didn’t travel downtown. But now, it’s moving back to where it once was—a wonderful place to bring families and live, dine, or enjoy a night out.”

We shut the doors behind us and strolled back to the corner of Holmes.

“There are days I don’t need to drive through downtown to get somewhere, but I find myself doing it anyway,” she remarked. “I just love seeing the crowds and families—it’s wonderful. And the Yarbrough, well, every time I step inside I’m happy to be there.”

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NOTE: All information for this article was collected from copies of The Huntsville Daily Times, the National Register of Historic Places databaseand the interviews mentioned above. If you have additional information about the Yarbrough Hotel, please email haley@crunkletonassociates.com. We’d love to include additional or updated info.

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HALEY CLEMONS
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE GROUP
HALEY@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

Broker Spotlight: Anusha Alapati

How did you become interested in commercial real estate?

That’s an interesting story—I sort of fell into it. When I graduated college I was offered a job at my great uncle’s company, Yedla Management, that develops hotels across the Southeast. I became very interested in the development side of the business and he suggested that commercial real estate might be something that would fit me. He was right.

I wake up every day feeling blessed to be in my position. It’s challenging, fun, and very rewarding.

Anusha Alapati

What do you love most about your job as a commercial real estate broker?

Being able to help the City of Huntsville grow and thrive is something that never gets old. We are a big city with a small-town feel, and it’s amazing to watch new businesses be supported by the community with such enthusiasm.

Even the challenges are enjoyable—they can end up being the most fun. Creating retail synergy is a giant puzzle, and I have the privilege of thinking through those challenges and helping produce something out-of-the-box, memorable, and highly successful. And of course, the relationships I’ve built through my position have been a major highlight.

What makes Huntsville a wonderful destination for new businesses?

We are starting to see the urbanization of Huntsville as our city is embracing the live, work, play lifestyle. Like I said, the support that the community gives is unmatched. Huntsville is on the rise, and new concepts are welcomed here with open arms.

The city shares a passion for development and growth, and that’s reflected in the way we encourage new business ventures. I hope to bring more interesting retail concepts to the Rocket City.

You specialize in retail leasing—what does that mean?

Focusing on a particular area of commercial real estate is something that differentiates Crunkleton. We have brokers that specialize in certain types of leasing, allowing them to stay hyper-focused on a specific side of the business. My specialty is retail.

I understand the landscape of boutique, restaurant, and specialty retail leasing and what it takes to be successful in those areas. It’s something that has always clicked with me and it’s where my passion is.

What projects have you found especially rewarding?

That’s too difficult to answer; every project is unique. I do love the challenging projects, because they make you stay on top of your game and expand your skillset. You are never stagnant in this line of work. It requires you to keep growing.

That being said, it has been a privilege to be a part of the revitalization of Downtown Huntsville. Wesley Crunkleton did an amazing job of executing his vision for The Garage at Clinton Row, and I was given the opportunity to lease the development. Working with Charlie and Sasha Sealy on The Avenue was also an exciting undertaking because it was one of the first large-scale mixed-use developments in the downtown area.

But it’s not just about downtown, projects like Central Park Village, 2700 Capitol Park in Tuscaloosa, and the chance to work with retailers in expanding to other cities has been very fulfilling too.

Anusha worked on major Downtown Huntsville projects like The Garage at Clinton Row. Here she is in her favorite dress from Elitaire Boutique, a tenant at The Garage!

What piece of advice would you give to someone considering a career in commercial real estate?

It takes grit, persistence, leaving your comfort zone, and developing meaningful relationships to be successful.

Be ready to work hard. It involves constant research and putting yourself out there to make sure the job is done.

How do you stay on top of your game?

In this business, you have to stay ahead of the trends. What do people want? Where do people want to shop? What experience can you deliver to a retail consumer that leaves a lasting impression? I am always researching trends—Business Insider, Forbes, Shopping Centers Today, you name it. I also attend major conferences like ICSC and I travel to research new concepts.

It’s important to understand how millennials live, work, and find entertainment. Trends change rapidly and are vastly different today than 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago.

What value do you hope to bring to your clients?

I want to ensure a seamless process and be a resource for them. I want to be there to connect them to the people and assets they need for a prosperous business. Watching my clients grow and flourish is why I do what I do.

Enjoying a day of fly fishing in Blue Ridge, GA.

What do you enjoy doing outside of the office?

Staying active in the community is important to me, which is why I try to spend my free time volunteering with organizations like Mayfair Inner City Church and Junior League of Huntsville. I’m also a member of Committee 100 YP and a newly elected member of the Huntsville Museum of Art Foundation Board.

I also love fly fishing, spending time with my family, my boyfriend Matt, and my dog Charlie.

You can contact Anusha by email at anusha@crunkletonassociates.com or by calling 256-536-8809.

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HALEY CLEMONS
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE GROUP
HALEY@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

Crunkleton Promotes Lauren Plott To Property Manager

Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate is excited to announce that Lauren Plott has been promoted to Property Manager!

In her four years working at Crunkleton, she has served as the Office Manager and assisted with all property management tasks. In her new role, she will continue to build tenant relations by making monthly phone calls with tenants, visiting properties, and working with clients to manage assets.

Lauren Plott Property Manager

“I want our clients to know Crunkleton has their needs in mind and that we are there to make sure problems are solved,” said Lauren. “We aim to go above and beyond as a property management service and create positive connections that help businesses thrive.”

Crunkleton offers full-service property management for all sectors of commercial real estate. Lauren will manage a diverse portfolio consisting of retail, office, medical, and industrial properties and focus on delivering first-class service.

“Crunkleton strives for a high level of professionalism; that carries over to our property management,” said Wesley Crunkleton, Principal. “I’m confident that Lauren will continue to provide quality service and deliver the attention needed to ensure our clients’ assets are being properly managed.”

Lauren volunteering at Lincoln Village Ministry with the Crunkleton team.

When Lauren isn’t busy at Crunkleton, she volunteers her time as a member of the Carillon Club and Valley Presbyterian Church where her husband, William, is the Senior Pastor. She also beams when talking about her three children, Hunter (21), Bradley (18), and Catherine (13). Her free time is spent attending their many activities and enjoying time together as a family.

To learn more about Crunkleton’s Property Management services, click here.

 You can contact Lauren by email at lauren@crunkletonassociates.com, or give her a call at 256-536-8809.

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HALEY CLEMONS
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE GROUP
HALEY@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

Innova Primary Care: Leading The Way In Patient-Centered Health Care

“Providing quality medical care is about more than prescribing medications and performing procedures,” explained Brooke Uptagrafft, Medical Director of Innova Primary Care. “It’s about making patients feel valued and going much deeper than what society considers to be the standard for primary health care.”

With the dream of leading the way in patient-centered medical care, Dr. Brooke Uptagrafft and husband David Uptagrafft have relocated Innova Primary Care to a newly renovated building on Chateau Drive in the heart of Huntsville.

“We were out of room at our previous location,” said David Uptagrafft, Director of Operations. “We have a lot of plans down the road for offering more services, and this space gives us the ability to do just that.”

The new facility will allow the practice to focus on the needs of individual patients through faster service, increased one-on-one time, health coaching, and more.

Brooke and David also shared some exciting news. Innova is now an officially recognized PCMH (Patient-Centered Medical Home) Level 3 practice.

“The PCMH recognition is pretty unique to the Huntsville area,” said David. “This recognition points to our ability to provide the highest quality care while reducing costs, improving patient-staff relationships, and putting patients at the forefront of importance. It’s a reform in health care delivery that supports the shift to value-based care.”

But the pursuit of creating a better primary care experience in Huntsville began earlier in 2011 when Brooke and David moved back to the area and Dr. Brooke accepted a position at a local practice.

A Brief History of Innova

After Brooke completed her residency, the couple decided to return to Huntsville—their hometown—in order to be closer to family. After looking at practices in and around the area, they were contacted by Dr. Tim Howard and Dr. Michael Carter for an interview. In October 2011, Dr. Brooke joined Gleneagles Family Medicine.

“It was a wonderful place to start,” said Brooke. “In 2013, Dr. Howard decided to retire. So that meant there was another influx of patients. We experienced rapid growth from then on and officially launched the BrookeMD Primary Care brand in 2016.”

After several conversations, Dr. Carter and BrookeMD decided to officially divide the practices. The team successfully shared the space at Gleneagles Drive for a year. But as BrookeMD continued to grow, the need for additional space could not be ignored.

“We looked at all kinds of options,” remarked Brooke. “But when we found this building, we knew it was what we needed. So, we purchased it and began remodeling.”

In January 2017, BrookeMD Primary Care rebranded itself to Innova Primary Care to represent a team-based mentality and rebirth at its new location.

An Innovative Space

“This new space means patients are going to be getting back to rooms even faster,” said Brooke. “We already have short wait times, but this change means we will have more space to place guests into a room, freeing up providers to spend more time with patients without feeling time crunched.” She also said the space would make more services possible later this year.

“We have added a Care Coordinator to the team, and a Health Coach is coming later in the fall,” she said. “We will be doing a lot of patient education right in the exam rooms without having to schedule them to come back at a later date or call them on the phone.”

As a primary care facility, the space had to serve many functions—one of which was enabling a comfortable space for staff and providers to have conversations with their patients.

“The functionality and form of the space were vital in our effort to make care more personalized and emotionally safe for our guests,” said David. “We didn’t want our facility to be intimidating or dehumanizing, we wanted to create something that would encourage and empower patients to be an active voice in their healthcare.”

At Innova, every exam room is equipped with comfortable chairs and a cafe table where patients can view their medical records on the computer monitor with their provider.

Image courtesy of Innova Primary Care.

In addition to more spacious and functional exam rooms, the new facility also features consultation rooms that serve as a safe space for patients and staff to discuss any health concerns or have new patient orientations. David also mentioned the importance of technology within the new facility that makes operations run smoother.

“Technology is a big component of what we do,” he said. “The model for health care is changing rapidly, and we provide our patients with tools that make the process of receiving quality care much easier.”

Patient Empowerment Through Technology

In 2014, Innova made Healow—a health and online wellness app—available to patients, allowing clients to book appointments, check in, view lab records, medications, and more. The app is also password protected for enhanced privacy.

“We want our patients engaged,” said Brooke. “Healow is one way to accomplish that. A large number of our patients utilize it, and we continue to see steady growth in its use.” With the expectations for quality medical care shifting, Innova strives to advocate positive change through patient empowerment tools. This includes the adoption of state-of-the-art technology.

“We have more exciting news regarding our technology at Innova,” teased David. “Stay tuned for future announcements when we share more about an exciting partnership.”

A Passion to Make Patients Feel Valued

Brooke and David carry something into the practice each day that’s worth much more than a functional new building or high-tech medical tools. They have a desire to make everyone involved with Innova feel important and cared for.

“I believe that the world is a broken place,” Brooke urged. “I feel that I am here, and have been given the skills and the experience to try and make the world a little less broken.”

“For some people, Innova is the place they go to feel valued. When they walk out the door, they may not feel it anymore. But when they are at our practice, I want to give them a little piece of that. At Innova, you are cared for—mind, body, and soul.”

To learn more about Innova Primary Care, visit https://innovaprimarycare.com. You can also follow them on Facebook.

For media inquiries or questions about the new location, contact Innova Primary Care Public Relations Coordinator, Morgan Boone, at morgan.boone@myinnovacare.com.

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HALEY CLEMONS
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE GROUP
HALEY@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM