The Evolution of 104 Jefferson

When searching for his next renovation project, Wesley Crunkleton, Principal at Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate, ended up finding a space that surprised him.

“When I was initially told about this property being a potential opportunity, I had a hard time identifying which property they were referring to,” he said. “When I walked over to Jefferson Street to check it out, I remember saying to myself that I didn’t think I’d ever realized the building was there. However, once I started walking through the space I saw a ton of potential.”

After finishing The Garage at Clinton Row, the 11,000 square foot mid-block building would soon become the site of Wesley’s next downtown real estate redevelopment.

The exterior of 104 Jefferson before renovations began.

The Plan

During the past few months, anyone walking downtown near Jefferson Street noticed the changes taking place at one of the block’s historic buildings. Although hidden behind a construction tent at times, the property was quickly becoming one of the city’s next modern office spaces.

“We had been looking at other opportunities for renovations downtown that didn’t work out at the time,” said Wesley. “The contractor I used for The Garage at Clinton Row put me in touch with the owners of 104 Jefferson and that’s when the project really took off.”

After a few months of deliberation and patience from all parties involved, everyone agreed to terms of the building’s purchase. A schedule of events was quickly put together.

“Our first order of business, after we had devised a plan for the property, was to make sure that the City of Huntsville Inspection and Fire Department were on board, as well,” he said.

“These older properties can be tricky because they were built during a period of time that either did not involve the inspection process or the process was vastly different from today. Both the Inspection and Fire Department can really be helpful on the front end with a project like this, and I would always recommend that anyone planning to undertake a downtown renovation get them involved early in the process.”

(Below are images of the property BEFORE the renovation.)

From January to July of this year, the look and feel of the property changed dramatically.

The Design: Modern Industrial

Although the building’s construction was completed in 1915, its interior design was frozen in time somewhere between the late 80s and early 90s.

“When I came across the space, everything was very retro,” explained Wesley. “Funky shapes, bold reds, and other dated elements were interspersed throughout the property. We knew there needed to be a significant amount of work done to uncover its true potential.”

104 Jefferson’s facelift was not a simple undertaking. Work began to expose brick walls and incorporate sleek glass, clean lines, and aesthetically pleasing paint colors. In fact, only two colors were used throughout the final product. The wooden doors you see today are made from the wooden rafters taken out of the second-floor ceiling.

“The goal was to make everything clean as possible,” he said. “We ended up using a dark tile with a dark grout that gives the lobby a slate or concrete finish look. The seamless glass entry doors in each suite are a hint to the modern, while the exposed brick gives it the industrial feel.”

(Here are images of 104 Jefferson AFTER the renovation.)

The character of the property began to take shape with the addition of exposed sprinkler pipes and artistic lighting fixtures. But its crowning jewel was something that received much attention from the community—a hidden mural that made its debut during the fourth day of chipping away at the lobby’s plaster.

The Discovery: A Message From The Past

 “Without a doubt, you need to remove the plaster. Take it off.”

This was the advice given to Wesley on a business trip to Chattanooga while visiting a contractor acquaintance who had tackled similar projects. Not wanting to begin a project that he couldn’t execute 100 percent, the encouragement was the push he needed to make the final design decision to uncover the wall beneath the old plaster.

“I already knew it was something that I wanted to do—expose the brick,” said Wesley. “And sure enough, we started chipping away and found yellows, greens, and blues. The old sign started to show itself. It was a welcomed surprise.”

After doing research, Wesley determined that the sign was for Bull Durham Tobacco. Co. and had been hidden for decades.

“It’s the same tobacco company whose factory was operational in the mid-1900s but burned down in North Carolina where the company was based,” he said. “We thought the connection to the past would be a wonderful feature to the building that would add personality and interest its visitors.”

The Modern Office Space: Where Is It Headed?

It’s impossible to ignore the changes in the look, feel, and function of 104 Jefferson. In an effort to keep pace with the transformations in today’s office settings, the space was built to encourage collaboration, creative team building, and successful project execution.

“Simply put, offices are headed to less of an office feel,” clarified Wesley. “Offices are becoming a place that you not only work but hang out, as well. The days of squeezing into a tiny conference room and exhausting yourself over a whiteboard are gone. Now, business might be done over a game of pool in the back lounge where people brainstorm.”

The Environment: Downtown Huntsville

Businesses are flocking to the downtown area in order to take advantage of the off-site meeting spaces, like coffee shops and bars, in order to recruit new hires and take a mental break from the daily grind.

Exterior of 104 Jefferson after the renovations.

Current tenants at 104 Jefferson include KPS Group and Prime Lending, which moved in after the renovations were completed to the ground floor.

“It really is more about your office dynamic rather than what downtown provides as an office setting,” he said. “For instance, Prime Lending moved its business from South Parkway. The ability to walk out the door and go have a drink or shop at The Garage at Clinton Row helps them utilize downtown as a built-in recruiting tool.”

The Reward: A Completed Project

“One of the most gratifying parts of any project is when people are pleased with what you’ve done to their property,” beamed Wesley. “The seller of the site found me after the renovation was complete and said they were very happy with the way it turned out. It’s a great feeling, and we are very thankful at how patient and supportive they have been throughout the process. It was truly a team effort. Everyone involved has been incredible.”

Next time you are exploring Downtown Huntsville, take a moment to stop and look at one of Huntsville’s newest office spaces that combines the present with the past. It very well could be the perfect spot for your business.

 To learn more about 104 Jefferson, click here.

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

Historic Huntsville: The Russel Erskine Hotel

In many ways, the story of the Hotel Russel Erskine in downtown Huntsville is the story of Huntsville itself.

For over 45 years, this historic building located on the corner of Clinton and Spragins was the central hub for all civic and social gatherings. Prominent figures in Huntsville’s history called it their home, club meetings were held there, weddings were attended and major business was conducted within its walls. And in many ways, its prominence and renown within the region was a major contributing factor for Huntsville being chosen to host Redstone Arsenal. Something that has come to define the very essence of our city and economy.

But perhaps more surprising, is that the building itself was not a product of a large corporate investment or single enterprising individual looking to turn a profit, but instead the work of several local Huntsville businessmen coming together to enrich their community.

THE BEGINNING

img_00457In the late 1920s, there were two passenger trains each day to and from Huntsville and Washington and New York. The travelers from these trains, most of whom had business in Huntsville (then reknown for its mills, banks, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and its nurseries – which were among the largest in the world), were used to life on the road and they knew what they liked in hotels.

So with everyone still basking in the the rosy financial glow of the 1920s, seven local Huntsvillians decided to undertake the creation a hotel that would impress this growing number of business travellers, or any other discriminating guest who sought well-kept, up-to-date rooms, good service and excellent food.

In the end, after coming together to form the “Huntsville Hotel Company” the major burden of assuring that all financial obligations would be met for the project fell on the shoulders of: Lawrence B. Goldsmith and Robert Schiffman (brothers in law, partners in I. Schiffman Co. dealing with commercial property, farm property warehousing, etc.), Morton M. Hutchens (Partner in the Hutchens Company, plumbing, heating and electrical supplies, hardware, wholesale and retail), Robert E Smith (attorney at law), T.T. Terry (dry goods merchant on the square), Wells M. Stanley (a vice president of the Alabama Power Company) & J. Emory Pierce (editor and general manager of the Huntsville Daily Times).

Investing a grand total $614,932.92 into the project, (which equates to nearly $8.9 million in today’s economy – a large sum of money to invest in a town of only about 11,500 people) the Huntsville Hotel Group along with Huntsville’s business and civic leadership saw itself as the commercial capital of North Alabama and viewed this hotel as a way to announce that to the country.

And so, on January 3rd 1930, three years after forming the Huntsville Hotel Company and after a lengthy and somewhat tumultuous financing and construction process (and just a few short months after the stock market crashed in October of 1929), the Hotel Russell Erskine opened its doors and celebrated with a grand party, which was has been boasted as one of the bigger-than-life occasions in Huntsville’s history.

THE HOTEL

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Front lobby of Russel Erskine Hotel. (Huntsville Public Library).

The hotel stood 12 stories, boasted 132 rooms and was equipped with a number of modern luxuries for the time including running ice water, electric fans, and a radio in every room. This last involved a rather expensive rooftop radio antenna that brought broadcasts to each and every room by means of radio cables.

Once inside the hotel, visitors could either turn left into the barber shop, go right into the Blue Room (perhaps to a luncheon) or walk straight ahead toward the lobby which featured marble floors, elegant chandeliers red damask curtains, thick rugs, a brass and marble reception desk, and Miss Josephine’s newsstand which was filled with magazines, candy, tobacco goods and comic books. From there you could climb the stairs on the left to go into the beauty shop or the office of the Automobile Association of America, which later became the home of the Rocket Club. One could also continue on to the hotel’s coffee shop, then Huntsville’s most elegant restaurant, or walk through the lobby to the ballroom which hosted club meetings, parties, proms and wedding receptions along with other events.

The tallest hotel with the most rooms in all of the Tennessee Valley, the Hotel Russel Erskine was the place to stay when one had business in North Alabama.

BEHIND THE NAME

Albert Russel Erskine

Albert Russel Erskine

Named after Huntsville native Albert Russel Erskine who went on to become an automobile magnate and president of Studebaker Motors, there is quite the plethora of colorful stories about how the hotel came to settle on that name. According to some, the original name for the hotel was meant to have been the Joe Wheeler, after the famous Confederate general. However after financing fell through and building capital fell short the founders decided to name it the Russel Erskine in the hopes that as a member of one of the oldest Huntsville families he could be expected to enter into the civic spirit of the enterprise to the extent of investing substantial funds into it.

However, after noting he was down for 100 shares of stock and the pledge of a $10,000 investment during a meeting on April 1928, it is said that he was unfortunately not good for his word and reportedly only invested a token $500 into the project in addition to loaning the Huntsville Hotel Company an oil portrait of himself. (Under the condition that he reserved the right to withdraw the portrait from the hotel at some future time).

Other sources state that the name change from Joe Wheeler to Russell Erskine was a direct condition from Russell Erskine himself in response to the request for financial support from the hotel financiers but that when he arrived for the grand opening (which other sources say he did not even attend) he was wined and dined, but left without opening his wallet.

Sadly, just a few short years after the grand opening of the hotel in 1930 Erskine committed suicide in 1933 after becoming distraught over the Studebaker company entering bankruptcy during the great depression. He is buried at the top of the hill in Maple Hill cemetery.

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

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After the stock market crash in October of the previous year, there were ominous signs that the nation’s economy was in serious trouble at the time of the Hotel’s opening in 1930. However, with the guidance of the stockholders, the directors and the sure hand of Lawrence Goldsmith Sr, the hotel remained open and solvent so that when the economy recovered the hotel was able to fulfill its promise of becoming the social and civic center of Huntsville.

On Sunday afternoons, churchgoers from the town’s six or seven downtown churches would flock to the Hotel Russel Erskine wearing hats, gloves, suits and ties to lunch at the coffee house. Greeted by the head waiter, Cristo in his dark pants and white coat, the townspeople would dine on menu items such as homemade rolls, chicken croquettes, red snapper, prime rib, steak and for dessert ice cream or apple pie.

It was the gathering place for most club meetings, civic and social, for weddings, proms, business meetings, and birthday parties. And in the words of the former manager Jimmie Taylor “provided a facility for everything but funerals.”

The Hotel also contributed greatly to Huntsville’s growth, serving as caterer for most of Huntsville’s major events it became a major player in luring the generals who would choose Huntsville as the site for Redstone Arsenal during the approach of World War II, which in turn would become the site of the space and rocket industry that brought prosperity and growth to a city that may have otherwise remained a farming and mill town.

CHANGING TIMES

After the war, Huntsville was a quickly growing and changing city and soon it found itself outgrowing the hotel in favor of more modern facilities that were being built to accommodate the needs of the growing community.

Motels were being built to serve travelers not arriving by train anymore, but by cars and planes. Retail business began migrating from the downtown area which had been its home since the founding of the city in the 1800s to the newly constructed parkway.

Slowly but surely it became apparent that like other, older, downtown hotels all over the country the Hotel Russel Erskine was doomed.

And so it was in the winter of 1975 that the hotel said goodbye to its last guest and closed its doors.

THE RUSSEL ERSKINE TODAY

dsc_9933_smallAfter being rented for some years after the hotel’s closing, several investors purchased it, intending to alter the building into a suite hotel. This plan was soon abandoned though and eventually the building was purchased by a group who converted the hotel into HUD apartments for the elderly. It has been remodeled from its original 132 rooms to contain 69 apartments: 57 one-bedroom units; 10 two-bedroom units, and two rooms for handicapped residents. However the main lobby and ballroom, while somewhat remodeled over the years, have remained relatively intact, the ballroom itself has undergone an extensive restoration recently.

Today, the Hotel Russel Erskine is the last tall building from the 1920s and the only one of these in the Neo-Classical Revival style still standing in Huntsville.

I want to take moment to say a special thanks to the Huntsville History Collection for publishing a wonderful collection of essays on the history of the Russel Erskine Hotel in Volume 30, Number 3-4, Fall/Winter 2004 issue of the Historic Huntsville Quarterly where much of the information for this post was gleaned.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Russel Erskine, I highly recommend reading the full set of essays for yourself!

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KADIE PANGBURN
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON Commercial Real EState Group
KADIE@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

The 2016 Downtown Huntsville Christmas Shopping Guide

We’re back again to share our second annual Downtown Huntsville Christmas Shopping Guide with you!

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Downtown Huntsville is bursting at the seams with brand new retail shops this holiday season! So if you’re looking to get away from the mall, head to Downtown Huntsville and check out a few of these great stores! They’re sure to have something for everyone on your list!

Just like last year, we’ve put together a little look book of what you can expect to find at each store along with their hours of operation and location!

And this year, because there are simply SO MANY new stores that they all just wouldn’t fit on one blog post, we’ve given the guide it’s very own website!  You can even shop by the type of gift you are looking for!

The 2016 Downtown Huntsville Christmas Shopping Guide

(click the text above to view the 2016 Downtown Huntsville Shopping Guide)


Want a tiny peek inside the guide?  Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll find when you look around the guide. (For more photos from each store and to view their hours, location and connect with them online simply click on the store’s name).

UG White Mercantile

Roosevelt & Company

Elitaire Boutique

The Pants Store

Harrison Brothers Hardware

Want to see more!? Then check out the full listings for all these amazing Downtown stores on The 2016 Downtown Huntsville Christmas Shopping Guide by CLICKING HERE where you can check out even more amazing Downtown Huntsville shops like these:

Awe Boutique
Meraki Boutique
Woodtech
Clachic Boutique
Christina Wegman Fine Art
Echo Records
Elsweyr Shoppe
81:Home, Gift & Glam
The Whateva Shop
& Don’t Forget About Gift Cards!

Want to help spread the word and help others shop local and support our Downtown this holiday season? Then share the 2016 Downtown Huntsville Shopping Guide on your social media!

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KADIE PANGBURN
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON Commercial Real EState Group
KADIE@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

Portrait Of A City: Huntsville AL

During my time here at Crunkleton I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in a lot of exciting projects, but the one that has meant the most to me by far, has been having the opportunity to document the spirit of Huntsville itself.

Old and new, the past and present walking hand in hand as the city grows, changes and evolves, it fills me with so much joy to discover hidden details, record fleeting moments and capture the spirit of our beautiful and unique city.

Below are just a small selection of the images I’ve taken over the last year, telling the story of our city one photograph at a time.

If you want to see more images like this and keep up with my ongoing project, be sure to follow our company Instagram account where I post new images of Huntsville every week!  Simply CLICK HERE to follow us!

If you too want to add to our ongoing project, simply use the hashtag #ThisIsMyHsv on your Instagram post to share what you love about our beautiful city!

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KADIE PANGBURN
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON & ASSOCIATES
KADIE@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM