Historic Huntsville: The Huntsville Hotel

Recently, we announced that downtown Huntsville would soon have its first luxury boutique hotel. The Curio by Hilton Hotel – 106 Jefferson is an exciting addition to the area that will usher in a new wave of high-end accommodations and meeting space. While many know the spot on Jefferson Street as the former Hale Brothers Furniture building, its history stretches back much further.

In fact, in 1858, the block was home to the famed Huntsville Hotel—an elegant inn that was described as “the town’s first real hostelry.”

In the same spot, 160 years apart, 106 Jefferson will be reinvented as a modern boutique hotel.

Image courtesy: The Historic Huntsville Quarterly; Huntsville Public Library Heritage Room

The Bell Tavern Becomes The Huntsville Hotel

In the early 1800s, locals and traveling salesmen would visit the northwest corner of the city square to enjoy a stay at the Bell Tavern. Although the site had endured many changes in ownership, it somehow managed to thrive for several years before falling into the hands of Alexander Johnson in 1855.

According to The Historic Huntsville Quarterly, disaster struck when Johnson “leased the stables of the Tavern to a Mr. Thomason while retaining ownership of the equipment—the buggies, harnesses, etc.—as well as retaining ownership of the tavern house, including numerous lodging rooms and ‘The Owl’ dining and bar facilities.”

It wasn’t long until the Bell Tavern was the victim of a major fire, which Johnson claimed was the work of an arsonist.

After the fire, the Tavern maintained a few rooms for guests but it never returned to its former glory. That’s when plans were made to build a new kind of modern hotel on the same site, one grander than ever before.

The Huntsville Hotel—Known For Comfort And Extravagance

If you walked down Jefferson Street in the 1890s, the massive doors of the Huntsville Hotel would greet you as you watched the town’s elite being escorted from their horses and carts. The doorman may have given you a nod as you looked up to examine the hotel’s four stories, complete with ironwork trimming. Everything in view would exude the elegance of the time.

As you strolled inside, you would see the main parlor with comfortable leather armchairs, an ornate fireplace, and curtains that reached from the ceiling to the floor. Newspapers of the day described the design as “tasty and elegant”—a perfect echo of the Victorian era.

Image courtesy: The Historic Huntsville Quarterly; Huntsville Public Library Heritage Room

The hotel was successful for many years, including during the Civil War and through a nasty bout of Yellow Fever that affected much of Alabama near the end of the nineteenth century.

Even during wartime, the Huntsville Hotel was able to keep up the spirits of visitors and locals by continuing to host lavish parties and grand balls. Grand Concert Troupes performed at the Huntsville Hotel charging only 50 cents per ticket.

In 1883, a production of Pirates of Penzance played in the stunning dining hall of the inn. It seemed nothing could get the old hotel down.

Image courtesy: The Historic Huntsville Quarterly; Huntsville Public Library Heritage Room

During the Yellow Fever scare, the hotel was reportedly full of citizens from nearby cities seeking refuge during the summer months when the illness was at its peak. Many guests from Memphis hid away in the cozy rooms at the hotel and waited for the outbreak to end.

As its success continued to grow, an additional 65 rooms were added and the property underwent a major renovation/expansion in 1888.

1888 Fire Insurance Map – This shows the renovation of the hotel. Notice the property extending down the block to meet City Hall on the corner of Jefferson and Clinton.

The Huntsville Hotel was beloved for decades until two separate fires claimed the site, leaving only ashes behind.

1908 Fire Insurance Map – This shows the Huntsville Hotel when it was fully operational. The old City Hall is now the Huntsville Opera House.

History Repeats Itself

After what many Huntsville papers reported as “the most devastating fire in the city’s history,” the Huntsville Hotel suffered the same fate as its predecessor, The Bell Tavern. Curious onlookers stood outside the building aghast at what they saw. As the smoke plumes filled the air above them, it became clear to the crowd that this event marked the end of the Huntsville Hotel.

While there were two different fires—one in 1910 and another in 1911—the landscape on Jefferson and Spring Street changed dramatically after the fire on November 12, 1911, as the entire block was destroyed. The total losses from damages were estimated at $250,000, which is equivalent to around $6.3 million today.

Image of the hotel burning down in 1910 (the first fire); The Huntsville Times

Staff Writer at the Huntsville Times, Weldon Payne, wrote a recount of the day that ran in the daily newspaper 47 years after the second fire. In it he states:

“There was a fire on Jefferson Street. Many crowded close to it. Heat from the leaping flames must have felt good reaching through the cold November air to touch their faces. It had done so on the same location almost exactly a year before.”

J.E. Penney, the hotel’s owner at the time, had made plans to rebuild from the ashes following the fire of 1910. But after the second fire nearly a year later, he decided to abandon any hope of bringing back the once vibrant inn.

It took years for the city to rebuild the block. And old fire insurance maps show the street between Clinton Avenue and Spring Street are barren in 1913. It wasn’t until 1915 that someone found interest in the land and made plans to rebuild the block.

1913 Fire Insurance Map – Notice the block has been almost completely destroyed by the fires.

By 1928, progress had been made. The Jefferson Street block was now home to the Alabama Power Company and the new Jefferson Theatre. Things were slowly returning to normal—minus the charm and convenience of one of Huntsville’s most popular hotels.

1928 Fire Insurance Map – The block is slowly being rebuilt.

It wouldn’t be long until other famed hotels took center stage and accommodated the many traveling salesmen who planned long stopovers in town. Due to its acclaimed hospitality and beautiful scenery, Huntsville was a popular spot to relax between business meetings.

By April 1914, the Hotel Twickenham had a grand opening—complete with parade—the next block over on Clinton Avenue. The Russel Erskine and Hotel Yarbrough also opened to guests soon after. Downtown enjoyed many glory days as the city’s mecca for lavish accommodations and luxury travel.

But as the glitz and glamour of downtown faded in the following years, the city moved much of its efforts toward expanding other neighborhoods. The days of hotels dominating downtown came to a gradual end.

Hale Brothers Furniture

Today, many people regard 106 Jefferson as the old Hale Brothers Furniture store. For decades, everyone in Huntsville knew about the furniture shop on Jefferson Street. But prior to opening its storefront on Jefferson, Hale Brothers could be found on Clinton Avenue. It wasn’t until 1956 that it moved into its iconic spot where the new Curio by Hilton Hotel is being built today.

In an interview with the Huntsville Times, Clyde “Sonny” Hale shared that he “loved these buildings” [on Jefferson Street] and wanted to own them someday. “That was one of my goals in life,” he said.  “Something told me to buy them.” And so he did. (Article by: Marian Accardi, Times Business Writer, 12/16/01)

Hale Brothers Furniture remained in operation until 2002 when it liquidated its stock and officially closed its doors. After 55 years of business, the team still reflected on the joys of doing business in downtown Huntsville. For the Hale team, the closing was both a “fun” and “traumatic experience,” simply because their customers had become such an integral part of their lives.

Looking Toward The Future

That brings us to today. 106 Jefferson Street, whether publically recognized or not, is a symbol of the city’s resilience. Its history has come full circle, as it will once again welcome guests to enjoy a stay in our city and invite locals to mingle at its restaurant or rooftop bar.

We can’t wait for construction to begin so you can have a small glimpse into the past when the block transforms to house the city’s newest boutique hotel.

For more information on the Curio by Hilton Hotel – 106 Jefferson, be sure to check out our official announcement of the project here.

Make sure you’re staying on top of the latest trends, newest developments and hottest new stores in Huntsville by subscribing to our weekly blog updates!

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Historic Huntsville: The Hotel Twickenham

On an April afternoon in 1914, the City of Huntsville was at a standstill. The Daily Times headline read, “Fitting Exercises In Celebration ‘Breaking Dirt’ For New Hotel.” The article following relayed the names of several businesses that would close from 1:30-3 pm that day, and children praised the ceremony for helping end the school day at noon.

Crowds advanced to the city center and patiently waited for the festivities to begin. It was the official groundbreaking of the Hotel Twickenham and Huntsville had never seen such an elaborate spectacle.

At 2 pm, the nearby factories blew their whistles to welcome the hotel into existence. Brass bands boomed, crowds cheered, and a golden shovel—held by a Miss Elizabeth Cooper—officially broke ground.

The Hotel Twickenham claimed its title as the “Pride of Huntsville” during its heyday. An establishment steeped in elegance, Twickenham was the getaway of choice for dignitaries and traveling businessmen, and known as the venue where locals wined, dined, and enjoyed elaborate parties from 1915-1971.

Pictured: Groundbreaking ceremony of the Hotel Twickenham in 1914. Photo credit: Huntsville History Collection, The Historic Huntsville Quarterly, Huntsville Public Library Heritage Room

Its life on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Washington Street is one of glory, with stories that often involve the hotel’s famed manager Quincy B. Love. Adored by the community and hailed as one of the most active and progressive members of the town, his passing was greatly mourned.

Today, a municipal parking garage sits where the Hotel Twickenham once stood. But it is fondly remembered as “The Best American plan hotel in Alabama.”

Photo courtesy Huntsville Library Archives. Twickenham hotel (pictured left).

The Hotel Twickenham – “Pride Of Huntsville”

In many ways, the features of the Twickenham Hotel were firsts for Huntsville. Most notably, the hotel was advertised as being fireproof. This was important to many people at the time because fires at the nearby Huntsville Hotel devastated the community in both 1910 and 1911. Clearly, it was still at the forefront of Huntsvillians’ minds.

Creation of the hotel was headed by William F. Struve and Quincy B. Love who partnered to build it at the site of the old Huntsville City Hall.

“Bess Hay, William Struve’s niece, came up with the name ‘Twickenham’ for the hotel,” shared Donna Castellano, Executive Director of the Historic Huntsville Foundation. “The Clinton Avenue hotel had five stories, 80 rooms, and one elevator. And it opened with great fanfare in 1915 with a seated dinner for 200.”

“Never has there been a larger or more representative gathering in this city, for the response to invitations for the banquet was generous.” – The Times, March 11, 1915

Invitations to a grand opening banquet were sent out to the city and welcomed with much excitement. Hallways of the ornate hotel were decorated with bundles of flowers, and guests were treated to an exotic menu of green sea turtle, roast young turkey, and asparagus on toast.

Mr. Love spoke to guests and assured them that the hotel would run on a very high plane business plan. Music played softly in the background as the Florence Orchestra serenaded the room, and toasts were made to a bright future.

The Hotel’s Heyday

It was said that many traveling businessmen would arrange their itineraries around a stay at the Twickenham. Huntsville itself was a popular spot for hotel developments because it was situated between major trade routes. And the city’s scenic beauty even further convinced travelers to have their stopovers there.

For many years, the Twickenham was famous for its incredible service—no doubt thanks to Mr. Love—and delectable cuisine. Guests described the rooms as large, airy, light, and cheerful. They also appreciated the fair pricing when dining in at the establishment.

Twickenham, like many of the other early Huntsville hotels, offered auxiliary businesses like coffee shops, gift shops, pool halls, and a barbershop as well.

Parade down Clinton Avenue. Hotel Twickenham is pictured on the left. Photo credit: Huntsville History Collection, The Historic Huntsville Quarterly, Mary Medaris Burgess Lee

Under the attentive management of Love, the Hotel Twickenham won recognition as the “Best American plan hotel” in Alabama. And the sensation of the hotel showed no signs of stopping.

But in 1925, tragedy struck.

The Passing Of Mr. Love

“Death of Love Caused Sorrow,” was the headline of an article in the Times on June 8, 1925. Quincy B. Love passed away at 3 o’clock in the morning, and the city was devastated by the news.

Regarded as one of the most popular men in Huntsville, Love’s passing was observed as a “distinct community loss.”

According to the Times, “Mr. Love was perhaps the most popular hotel man in Alabama, especially with the traveling men. Nearly all of these knew him intimately, and the others who patronized him knew him but to love him.

Photo courtesy Huntsville Library archives.

“He came to Huntsville at a time when our city was practically without hotel facilities and built the magnificent Twickenham, standing as it does ‘The Pride of Huntsville.’”

Love was also remembered for his ability to bring together community leaders and create positive change. Described as a man who was “never satisfied with giving up,” he brought transformation to Huntsville that directed the city to where it is today.

The article closed with a final remark on Love’s success. “Whoever succeeds him there will find a standard of service that should never be lowered…He is gone now and we shall miss him. Peace be to his ashes and may the tender love and benediction of our Heavenly Father attend his loved ones and bless his memory.”

It was later reported that the auditorium at his funeral was full—a testament to the kind of man he was.

Fire insurance map that shows the Hotel Twickenham on Clinton Avenue. Courtesy Huntsville Library Archives.

A 1984 edition of The Historic Huntsville Quarterly of Local Architecture and Preservation stated “Mr. Love’s untimely death in 1925 dealt a blow to the Twickenham from which it never recovered. His wife managed it for a while, and then his son, Quincy, Jr., but never with his success.”

When the Russel Erskine was built in 1929, it created thriving competition for the existing Huntsville hotels. Although business at the Twickenham slowed down, it remained a popular venue for small parties and dances. Management of Twickenham was passed to different hands during its lifetime, but many still saw the hotel as a monument to Quincy B. Love.

Becoming The Clinton Avenue Garage

Although the hotel closed to guests in 1971, its popularity was briefly revived in 1974 when it served as a downtown senior center. The Fellowship Center, as it was called, transformed the old building into a place for seniors to enjoy dancing, laughing, and social gatherings.

Photo courtesy Huntsville Library archives.

Events at the Fellowship Center were many, and several took place in the Twickenham Hotel ballroom—including a Customs and Cultures luncheon in which people from other countries would bring food to share.

But as time went on, the space once again needed a new purpose. In 1975, the city council voted to build the Clinton Avenue parking garage on the site.

Photo courtesy Huntsville Library Archives.

On June 2, 1975, the hotel was demolished, along with other Clinton Avenue buildings to make way for the new city parking garage.

The Revitalization of Downtown Huntsville

Today, the Clinton Avenue parking garage has found new life with the addition of several retail shops to its ground floor. Now known as The Garage at Clinton Row, the development brought back several of the business services that were once offered near the Hotel Twickenham—a coffee shop, men’s wear, boutiques, and others.

The development for the Garage was completed in 2016 and celebrated with a grand opening party. Today, Clinton Avenue is a major retail destination for both local and regional shopping—and a place where locals spend time mingling.

As the City of Huntsville continues to grow, it’s incredible to look back at where we once were.

In the same spot, more than 100 years apart, Clinton Avenue was home to a grand opening celebration. Although the scenery has transformed, the love for our city and the hope for a better future hasn’t changed at all.

Do you have more information on the Hotel Twickenham? We always want to make sure we have the most accurate info. All information in this article is courtesy of the Huntsville Public Library archives. 

Contact Haley Clemons at haley@crunkletonassociates.com to add to this story. 

Make sure you’re staying on top of the latest trends, newest developments and hottest new stores in Huntsville by subscribing to our weekly blog updates!

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Trends To Watch In The Hotel Industry: 2018

Whether it’s full-service or budget-friendly, hotels are an important sector in the commercial real estate world.

In its latest 2018 U.S. Market Outlook, CBRE projected an increased demand in hotels. And in the 2018 Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report, it was determined that “U.S. hotel occupancy levels are expected to be approximately 65.6 percent, the highest level of occupancy since 1981.”

But with changing demographics, updates in technology, and competitive hotel brands, it’s important that commercial real estate practitioners, investors, and developers stay on top of major trends affecting the lodging industry.

Increasing Brand Diversification

In recent years, several hotel brands have been introduced to the marketplace. Larger hotel companies are expected to diversify their brand by creating independent properties through soft branding.

Emerging Trends reports, “hotel owners and developers are expected to create campuses featuring two or more brands with distinct products and price segments that share back-of-the-house facilities.”

By creating these distinct brands, they are able to offer entirely different experiences that capture different crowds. One of the campuses may provide more high-end luxury features, while the other site could cater to budget-friendly travelers.

A Shift To Leisure Travel

According to CBRE, leisure travel will outshine business-related travel in the coming year and will become increasingly important in the hotel/lodging sector.

Hotel demand is projected to grow, but this shift to leisure travel means some markets will need to adapt to “fluctuations in international travel.” CBRE reports that the “growth in leisure [travel] demand is particularly explained by shifts in the hotel guest profile and the spending habits of U.S. age cohorts.”

People are craving the experiences that travel can offer. In fact, the 2018 Travel Trend Report by TrekkSoft says that the 30 to 50-year-old crowd (Gen X) is more interested in relaxing getaways, while 65+ (Baby Boomers) are looking for adventure outings and ways to socialize with other travelers.

More Smart Room Features

Hotel and lodging brands that successfully harness the power of technology are at an advantage. All areas of hotel design are adding more technology to provide flexibility for guests, along with offering more personalized services.

For instance, apps that guide guests throughout the experience are becoming the norm. Booking, check-in, service requests, and checkout can all be taken care of by the touch of a button on a hotel-branded app. Texting the concierge is replacing calls to the front desk. And rooms are adding more amenities such as personalized tablets where guests can control lights, temperature, and streaming services like Apple TV and Netflix.

But even with an increase in technology, studies show that hotel guests still crave human interaction and a personal touch. The challenge for hotels will be creating an environment that supports both.

Simpler, Natural Design Elements

U.S. News & World Report has noted a few evolutions in hotel design. Most notably, a trend toward pared down rooms and enhanced common spaces. (Many experts credit millennials for this change.)

Design is trending toward more simple and natural concepts. Trivago recently shared that in addition to larger communal spaces, hotels will feature more “live greenery” and “natural light.” The goal of connecting guests to the natural world is aimed at improving wellbeing and decreasing the stress of travel.

Curious about what other trends are affecting the hotel industry? Read more in the 2018 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report here.

Have you seen other trends in the hotel industry worth noting? Let us know in the comments below!

Make sure you’re staying on top of the latest trends, newest developments and hottest new stores in Huntsville by subscribing to our weekly blog updates!

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