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REMEMBER WHEN: ‘The hotel that never was’

Recently some old papers and documents were discovered

in an abandoned residence in Andalusia and were brought to me at my office. Looking through all that paperwork, I found some interesting information compiled probably by the city or the chamber of commerce in about 1940. The headings were “Geographical,” “Transportation” “Facilities,” “Population,” “Industry and Industrial Developments,” and the ones that really caught my attention were “Housing” and “Hotels.”

     It was recorded that the City of Andalusia had shown a steady progressive increase in citizens through the past several decades. In 1910 the population was 2,480; in 1920 4,032; in 19305,154; and in 19406,862. (I remember reading about

Andalusia’s estimated population in 1899 right before the railroad line was extended into downtown Andalusia from Searight125. In one year after the train line was established, the population doubled to 250 in 1900!)

     Here is a quote from this document written some 80 years ago – “The present housing facilities in Andalusia have reached saturation. Vacant homes and apartments for rent and properties for sale and occupancy are almost non-existent.”

     “The complete lack of modern first class hotels and restaurant facilities in Andalusia and in a wide spread area around the city is a serious problem. Commercial travelers working this territory; buyers and out-of-town associates of the local manufacturing mills, and tourists from the northern and central part of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia, traveling to and from the vacation resorts on the Florida Gulf Coast, are unable to obtain modern hotel accommodations within a radius of 80 miles of Andalusia.”

     “The nearest city or town to the North where up-to-date hotel facilities can be found is Montgomery, 88 miles distance. 106 miles to the Southwest is Pensacola with an excellent hotel. Dothan, 81 miles to the Southeast, has good hotels and there is a modern hotel at Marianna, some 120 miles to the Southeast. As heretofore stated, there is also a small modern hotel of 50 rooms located in Opp, 16 miles to the East of Andalusia.”

     “There are two hotels in Andalusia, both of which are old and primitive. The largest of these is the ‘New Victoria’ Hotel with a total of 35 rooms of which only 14 have any sort of connecting toilet or bathing facilities. The rates charged are from $1.25 to $1.75 per person, European plan. This hotel will close and the building will be converted into an office building, or other purpose as soon as a new hotel is opened.”

    “The other hotel is the ‘Riley House.’ It could more properly be designated as a rooming house. There are no private baths nor does it have central heating. The accommodations here are very primitive and consist of only about 12 or 15 rooms, charging similar rates as the ‘New Victoria.’”

     “In spite of their poor dilapidated conditions and lack of adequate bathing and sanitary facilities, the existing hotels in Andalusia are filled to capacity each night.”

     “Similarly there are not first-class restaurants in Andalusia where a good meal properly prepared and well served can be obtained.”

     “The 15 cafes and lunch stands in the City and its immediate surroundings cater to the workers from the textile mills and to the farmers from the surrounding county. There is no cocktail lounge or bar in the town. However, the City officials are on record that they will issue a license to operate such lounge or bar to the new hotel when it is constructed.”

     “Based on the fact that the inferior hotel accommodations the City now has to offer are filled to capacity each night, and an undetermined number of transients find accommodations in private rooms, and still larger number seek accommodations further afield, it is considered reasonable and conservative to estimate that a modern hotel of at least 50 rooms would enjoy a flourishing business.”

     Now that was getting my full attention – a new hotel! What hotel? So www.newspapers.com – here I come!

     The Andalusia StarDecember 23, 1939 edition – “This is the artist’s drawing of the new Montezuma Hotel which will be built in Andalusia just one block from the square on Church Street in one of the best and most convenient spots in the city. Of Spanish design, the Montezuma was the name of the first county seat of Covington when it was located on the banks of the Conecuh River.”

     “The new hotel will offer every convenience that can be found in the larger hotels of the large cities. The public rooms will be air-conditioned while the guest rooms will be made modern and comfortable. The hotel will be built by the Montezuma Hotel Corporation which is made up largely of local citizens.”

     Apparently plans for this new hotel had begun earlier in the year of 1939 for an editorial in the July 20, 1939 edition reads – “NEW HOTEL FOR ANDALUSIA – Announcement is made in our news columns this week to the effect that a group of businessmen of the city met last week and took the necessary steps to secure for Andalusia a new hotel to be built of brick, concrete, and steel, to have a sprinkler system and to be air conditioned. This building is to house several stores, coffee shop, barber shop, and will be located on the lot owned by Mayor J. G. Scherf at the Southside corner of Church Street and Opp Avenue. This lot has been contracted for by the promoters. The entire lot extending through to Dunson Street will be utilized. Opp Avenue will be paved and Church Street in front of the hotel property will be widened so as to give proper space for cars to reach the hotel front. The lot will provide every needed space for cars owned by the guests who are being entertained.”

     “The building proper will not only be the last word in modern hotel construction with shower and tub baths, said Mayor Scherf, but the room furnishings will be equal to the very best to be found in good hotels in any city.”

     “That the hotel is to be a reality is evidenced by the fact that there is hearty cooperation by all the businessmen in the city in the movement to raise the necessary funds that are required locally.”

     “While the number of rooms has not been definitely announced, said Mayor Scherf, there will likely be a minimum of 80 rooms and possibly 100, and the total cost will range from $150,000. to $200,000. depending upon the number of rooms yet to be decided upon.”

     “The location of the new hotel is ideal in every respect. It is close to the heart of the business section yet sufficiently removed from the heavy traffic area as to give assurance that the noise problem was solved when the site for the hotel was selected.”

     “The building of a hotel is simply the natural thing to do for an enterprising citizenship living in a city whose growth is as phenomenal as is that of Andalusia. They recognize the fact that the traveling public has demands in the matter of hotel entertainment which must be recognized and which must be met in the hotel facilities which our city offers. If we expect to have the maximum of patronage, to which as an important industrial and commercial center, the city of Andalusia is entitled. It was upon this line of reasoning that the decision      to raise the necessary funds and build a modern hotel for Andalusia was based. The promoters of the enterprise feel that in securing the new hotel, they are simply laying the foundation for further and greater developments both industrially and commercially in this area.”

     “Mayor Scherf stated to the writer recently that he has been working for a whole year now on a new enterprise for Andalusia which is to be financed by outside capital and which will mean an investment of $750,000. and give employment to some 450 to 500 men. Who doubts for a moment that the bringing of a new hotel to Andalusia will serve as an added stimulus to those who are contemplating making the investment in the proposed new enterprise just a little less difficult. Men of means like to make investments in communities where there is evidence of enterprises on the part of all the people of a community.”

     “We bespeak for the promoters of the new hotel the most generous and hearty support of the business and professional men of Andalusia as they go about the work of securing subscriptions to the fund necessary to make the proposed new hotel in Andalusia an early reality.”

     March 14, 1940 – “Andalusia is simply backing up for the big jump that will place her alongside of Dothan. If our record of population growth maintained over the past few years continues unbroken, we warn Dothanites to watch out for her population laurels in 1950.”

     May 2, 1940“Bids are out and contract will be let May 14 for the new Montezuma Hotel to be built in Andalusia.”

     November 24, 1940 – “Revised plans for Andalusia’s newest Montezuma Hotel have been received and will be studied by the board of directors who will take action within the next few days.”

     January 2, 1941 – “One big event in Andalusia business circles was the formal opening of bids at the office of Mayor Scherf on Monday, December 30, 1940.”

     January 23, 1941 – “Not a day passes that a dozen or more people including traveling salesmen ask us when the new hotel is going to be built. We don’t know. Hardly a day passes that we don’t ask some of the heads connected with the hotel project when work will start. They don’t know. Here is what we find out after combining our information: The Andalusia Development Co. were low bidders and in all probability will be awarded the contract at an early date. Some few details are having to be ironed out before actual work can start. We have our camera loaded and just as quickly as dirt is broken, we will give you a ‘shot’ of actual construction on the Montezuma.”

     As this writer suspected, even though the January 9, 1941 headlines read “ANDALUSIA SEES ’41 AS BIG BOOM YEAR, the year of 1941 seemed to be one of approaching trouble on the horizon as Americans began anticipating war. Soldiers were training to fight, airmen were learning to fly, sailors were learning to sail. 

     In June 1941, Mayor John Scherf announced at the Rotary Club meeting that the hotel building plans were “moving along.” Architect Carl Cooper of Montgomery was a guest at the meeting so it can be assumed that he was the architect. On November 6, 1941, Scherf announced that the reason for delay in the work of building the new hotel was because OPM would not release steel for such construction during a period of impending emergency. “The lot,” Scherf stated, “will be used for parking cars only so long as the present emergency exists and then the hotel will be built as planned.”

     Not much was written in the newspapers about the hotel project after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 until this one that appeared on September 17, 1942 – “HOTEL CORPORATION TO BUY WAR BONDS – With essential building materials frozen for the duration (of the war), the Board of Directors of the Montezuma Hotel Corp. has elected to purchase War Bonds with the funds in the treasury. It is pointed out that this action by the board was also ratified by 99 per cent of the subscribers to the capital stock. With a nucleus of some $25,000. in bonds on hand, a new hotel which Andalusia citizens are so anxious to have, can become a reality after the war as construction materials again become available.”

     The front pages of the local newspaper became mostly filled with news about patriotic scrap metal rallies, emergency blackouts occasioned by air raids, gasoline and sugar rationing, men being drafted or enlisting, and women taking the jobs that men worked in before they were drafted or joined the service. 

     Yes, Remember When “the hotel that never was!” My Senior English teacher Miss Clyde Simmons would be proud to know that I will now use a literary quote students had to memorize in her class, one fitting for this story.  Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns says it best – “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley (often go awry).”  

     After World War II, we can imagine that the energy and enthusiasm of businessmen changed. Mr. Scherf was mayor until 1948. He passed away in 1949.Those war years were hard on most folks. A new day emerged in town with a young generation of men returning home from the war, some moving to town with hometown wives, and going into business with new and big ideas.  

     If there are any old timers left today or descendants of those involved in the project back then that know more about the hotel that was planned, please come forth. What it might have meant for Andalusia will never be known. This story will be continued in the column next week highlighting some of the new projects of the young businessmen (and women) that sprung up to lodge guests beginning in the late 1940s and 1950s. For now, I will think about the Montezuma, the hotel (with Spanish design) that never was, every time I ride by that site. 

     

     Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at suebwilson47@gmail.com.