While so many of the historic buildings in Downtown Huntsville have been extensively renovated, rebuilt, remodeled, modernized, or simply demolished, the iconic I. Schiffman Building has remained unchanged and unaltered for almost 121 years.
The Original Building & Renovation
Located at 231 East Side Square, what we now know as the I. Schiffman Building, was once part of a larger Federal style antebellum brick building that dates back to before the civil war.
Built circa the year 1845, by an unknown architect/builder, the original structure was three stories high and divided into three bays by massive flat pilasters with capitals and topped by a plain entablature.
Then in 1895, the south third of the building underwent extensive renovations by the Southern Savings and Loan Association, which transformed the façade in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. A limestone façade was added and the archways were cut. The building’s interior layout was also reconfigured to feature a side hall and offices on all three floors and finished with pressed tin ceilings, carved cherry wood, oak , mission style chandeliers that utilized carbide for lighting, corner fireplaces, carved mantels and two walk-in vaults. All totaled the renovations cost over $18,000, which is around $516,953.06 today.
A short time after the building’s renovation, Huntsville city attorney William B. Bankhead rented an office in the building and lived upstairs in a second floor apartment with his wife Ada Eugenia Bankhead. There in their home above the courthouse square, in the front room on the second floor, they bore two children, Eugenia in 1901 and Tallulah a year later on January 31, 1902.
In the years that followed, William B. Bankhead would go on to become the future U.S. Speaker of the House, and his daughter Tallulah would find international acclaim as an actress.
Renown for her dramatic roles in theatre, film, radio and television, Tallulah began her career in silent film and then went to England where she became the toast of the London Theatre in the late 1920s. In 1930 she returned to America to make six movies for Paramount, beginning a long career as a leading actress in American theatre. Known for her sultry voice, pension for cigarettes and calling everyone, “Darling,” her quick wit and brazen lifestyle only added to her fame. Of all her work, she is probably most remembered for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lifeboat.”
Born in 1856, Isaac Schiffman was 19 years old when he immigrated to the United States from Hoppstädten, Germany to come work for his uncle Solomon’s mercantile business in Huntsville Alabama.
Solomon Schiffman and his brother Daniel Schiffman had come to Huntsville prior to the civil war and opened a dry goods and clothing business on the courthouse square and following Solomon’s death in 1898, control of the business was handed over to Isaac who changed the name of the company from S. Schiffman & Company to I. Schiffman & Company.
After dabbling in a variety of business ventures, including a thriving buggy, scurries and carriage business, around the turn of the 20th century I. Schiffman & Company became involved in the investment and cotton business. And in 1905 Isaac purchased the Southern Savings and Loan building on the east side of the square to house the company for $9,000, or roughly $239,436.54 in today’s economy.
After his passing in 1910, ownership of the building and the family business passed to Isaac’s son Robert Schiffman, then to Robert’s brother-in-law Lawrence B. Goldsmith Sr. and to his son Lawrence B. Goldsmith Jr. and then finally in 1995 to Lawrence’s daughter, Margaret Anne Goldsmith who to this day runs her family’s company out of the same building that has been its home since 1905.
In an article Margaret Anne Goldsmith wrote for the Huntsville History Collection, she said this about the building:
“Today, as the owner of the I. Schiffman Building, I have my ancestors to thank for the honor and privilege of being the steward of the I. Schiffman Building that I inherited. From 1905 until 1995 my great grandfather, my great uncle, my grandfather and my father cared for the building and kept it in good repair, making sure there were no changes that would alter its architectural integrity. They guarded it from the ravishes of senseless modernization and destruction that took so many of Huntsville’s nineteenth century buildings, and kept it intact for the benefit of Huntsville, its citizens and future generations. A second renovation carefully modernizing the building according to strict historic tax credit standards occurred in 1997. Now with good maintenance in the years to come, the life of the building will be extended for another hundred and fifty years.” – Margert Anne Goldsmith
Click on the images below to learn more details and meet the Schiffman/Goldsmith family: