Restoring Greatness

Anyone who wonders why Birmingham is called The Magic City has obviously never seen our skyline after dark, I mused as I stood on the roof of the club.

The Magic City's skyline wouldn't be the same without the distinctive presence of the Leer Tower.

I like nights like this, when the urban darkness appears friendly, the club is full, and many of the regulars are on hand.  On this occasion, for example, LK Whitney savored bourbon in the dining room while Sherri Ross consumed collard greens and Sarah Miller munched on an okra spear.  At a nearby table, newlyweds Spencer and Taylor Wyatt chatted with Randy and Karla Archer.

In the lounge, Scott Wilson, Deon Gordon, Billie Dupree, Andre Natta, and Christy Turnipseed sat conversing at the bar.  EJ Vernon and Adrian Thurstin silently sipped margaritas, miffed that Baxter had asked them to turn down the volume on their debate about the respective merits of the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals.

From the conservatory, the sound of Jennifer Warren’s violin accompanying pianist Carrie Hill on Camille Saint-SaënsLe Rouet d’Omphale drifted down the hall to the library, where Jennifer’s husband Tripp was settled into a comfortable chair reading Javier Lopez’ autobiography, Behind the PlateWade Smith chuckled as he turned through one of the library’s newest gems, a first edition of Guy Boothby’s Doctor Nikola.  Tucked away in a corner, Kat and Rachel giggled as they leafed through a large volume.  I didn’t want to know what the book was about or what they were laughing at.  Carrie sat opposite me, engrossed in a copy of Sense and Sensibility.

I looked up from The Sins of Séverac Bablon as a figure appeared beside my chair.

“This correspondence just arrived for you, sir.”

“Thank you, Emsworth,” I said, taking the tablet from his silver tray.  On the screen was an email from Matthew Sheets.

Credit for this striking image of the Thomas Jefferson goes to local artist and club regular Sarah Miller.

“A grassroots effort,” it said, “is underway to preserve and restore downtown Birmingham’s historic Thomas Jefferson Hotel (formerly Cabana Hotel, later Leer Tower).”  The Sheets-founded Thomas Jefferson Tower Inc. hopes to spearhead the effort “to restore greatness to the Birmingham landmark” by “working with community leaders to acquire the building, stop the deterioration, and take action toward a full restoration.”

Certainly a worthy endeavor, I thought.  The tower is a significant component of the Magic City’s skyline.

“It’s a beautiful building with an amazing heritage,” Sheets said in the email. “We can’t afford to let another Birmingham landmark crumble.”

He went on to describe the tower’s place in local history.  “Completed in 1929, the Thomas Jefferson stood as one of Birmingham’s most luxurious hotels. The building featured an ornate marble lobby, a large ballroom, and a rooftop mooring mast intended for use by airships. The hotel’s luxury status made it a prime spot for celebrities and distinguished guests, including Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, entertainers Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles, and sports icons Pete Rose and Bear Bryant.”

Now well past its heyday, the Thomas Jefferson stands poised to return to its former greatness, Sheets believes.

Another view of the Thomas Jefferson, again through the talented eye of Sarah Miller.

“Located on the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 17th Street, the historic hotel sits in the heart of an area experiencing its own revitalization,” he said. “With the building’s proximity to Innovation Depot, Railroad Park, and the new baseball stadium, there is tremendous momentum only footsteps away.”

Yes, there is, I considered, but restoring a skyscraper that’s been in decline for years is a tremendous and costly undertaking.  As I read on, Sheets seemed more optimistic than overwhelmed.

“We’re seeing enormous support from the Birmingham community, which is a testament to the building’s appeal.  As we work to raise funds through grants and private investors, the support from the community is invaluable. We truly believe that together with the Birmingham community and its leaders, we can restore greatness to this historic landmark.”

Putting the communication aside, I strolled upstairs to the roof to take a look at The Leer Tower and the rest of a city that, more often than not, can’t quite seem to recognize its current measure of greatness or the untapped potential it contains.

Like the Leer Tower, the Lyric Theatre is another grand old Birmingham structure that deserves to be restored to greatness. Photo by Sarah A. Miller.

Like the nearby Lyric Theatre, the Thomas Jefferson has seen Birmingham’s best and worst moments and stands as a symbol not only of a bygone era but of a new one that could soon begin.

Just as I’d decided that it would be a good idea to invite Matthew Sheets to the club, I heard a discreet cough behind me.

“Pardon me, sir,” Emsworth said, “but would you be good enough to return to the library?”

“Is something wrong?”

“It’s Mr. Smith, sir.  He became quite upset not long after a small group of ladies adjourned to the library after dinner.”


“I can’t say with definitiveness, sir.  What I can say is that Mr. Smith turned over his chair and began leaping about the room and speaking rather loudly about having been…I believe the term he used is ‘rossed,’ sir, although I have no idea what that means.”

“Oh, great.  All right, Emsworth.  Let’s go see if we can calm him down.  I hope he hasn’t damaged that first edition he was reading.”

I like nights like this.



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2 Responses to Restoring Greatness

  1. At first I was like, “He doesn’t know who I am. He has me confused with somebody else.” Then I was like, “OH.”

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