Sometimes you know that you’ve just got to go for it! That’s what happened to me, a Welshman from the United Kingdom, who met a girl from Alabama, and eventually married her. This is my experience of moving to modern Birmingham and living at the historic Thomas Jefferson Tower.
It’s been 8 months since my move to Birmingham from ‘across the pond’. I now consider myself a fully fledged Birminghamian!
Most of this is down to Bham Now being the perfect resource for finding out what’s going on and what I need to know.
I love to share photos of the grand old building we live in, so it was inevitable that I’d be asked to share these with Bham Now’s audience.
If you’ve ever looked at the TJ Tower downtown and wondered what it looks like inside or you’ve been curious about the metal tower at the top of the building, you’re in luck.
Location, location, location!
First things first, when you move to a new place, it’s important to find the right place to live! We decided it would be best to live downtown so that I could get to know my new home.
I quickly progressed from exploring by foot, to learning how to drive on the right side of the road and navigating one ways. I used the Zyp Bike Share at first and then progressed to the four and a half minute driving test for my US driver license.
We visited a few new apartment buildings and lofts before our search took us to Thomas Jefferson Tower on the corner of 2nd Ave North and 17th St.
TJ Tower is not the tallest of buildings in Birmingham by today’s standards, but the amazingly detailed 1930’s architecture of this 19 storey building gives it a grand appeal. The modern apartments and living amenities also checked all of our boxes.
What I like about living in the area
I like the fact that we are within close walking distance to lots of interesting destinations and great places to socialize in Birmingham.
We enjoy being able to walk to the Lyric Theatre, Alabama Theatre, and even to the BJCC for shows and events. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, McWane Science Center, Museum of Art, and Railroad Park, are all just a short walk away too.
Birmingham has such an excellent craft beer and food scene; there are so many options within a few blocks; Paramount, Trattoria Centrale, The Pizitz Food Hall, and Bistro Two-Eighteen. And these are just the places nearby.
Who wouldn’t want to see the sun rise over Railroad Park and Regions Field, the Vulcan statue, and Red Mountain. The sun setting in the distance over Legion Field, and the day-to-day panoramic skyline views of a vibrant and modern Birmingham.
Echoes of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel
Built in 1929, the building began its life as the Thomas Jefferson Hotel (later being branded as the Cabana Hotel, and Leer Tower). It was a stately presence in Birmingham’s early skyline. Built with lavish features, most of which still exist today (or have been carefully and cleverly restored).
A grand lobby with marble floors and columns wouldn’t look out of place in many new buildings, however look up and take in the expertly restored ceilings that give this a place a unique and majestic feel.
Original features of the building have been saved where possible. The composite image below highlights the restoration work which has been undertaken to stay true to the original style and aesthetics of the building, while also ensure accessibility is improved.
The original U.S Mail box (that curious letter repository people used before e-mail) is still in the original spot in the hotel lobby. A first class restoration and definitely something to write home about!
The intricate woodwork bannister and original marble staircases date back to the original hotel, however the plush carpets that would have covered the floors throughout most of the hotel have long gone and polished floors remain.
Like many buildings of the period, there is no 13th floor at TJ Tower. Possibly due to superstitious building owners, or business minded hotel operators who feared a lack of demand to stay on the 13th floor.
The modern elevators have rustic wooden framed doors akin to the original elevators, which are again a nice touch to remembering that we’re living in an old hotel.
A really nice touch on the residential floors are the original hotel room doors which have been kept in place for decorative purposes between the modern fire doors required to meet today’s safety standards.
If walls could talk
As one of the finest hotels in the South, the Thomas Jefferson accommodated a multitude of stars and VIP’s. Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover stayed at the hotel. As did Ray Charles, Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Rooney and Jerry Lee Lewis. A special suite was reserved for Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant during Alabama games at Legion Field.
Who knows what the walls would say if they could talk?
My wife and I are yet to take part in one of the many ghost tours that stop off at TJ Tower – but its on our list.
The last airship mooring mast in the world?
Such was the belief in the 1930’s that airships would be the future of air travel, the builders of the hotel created a mooring mast.
The Hindenburg disaster and the popularity of airplanes as faster and safer air travel meant that it was not actually used, however the reproduction of the original mast that can be seen today is a fantastic reminder of Birmingham’s connection to a fascinating time in aviation history!
In 2017, the building was reopened, as Thomas Jefferson Tower, with the structure being modernized but staying true to the historical architecture and style of the original hotel.
The building now features 96 luxury apartments, with many modern features such as stainless steel appliances, quartz kitchen countertops and super fast wi-fi connections. There’s a fitness room (though I prefer the scenery at Railroad Park), pet grooming station, and 24 hour valet parking.
The apartments may be modern, but they too retain features of the old building. Most of the windows are original or reproduction, and the polished concrete floors still bear the outlines of the original (much smaller) hotel room layouts.
TJ Tower houses the Vineyard Food Market and the Roots & Revelry restaurant, which keeps to the style of the building. Many weddings and events are held in the grand ballroom which is a fun atmosphere to come home to in the lobby at the weekends
Check out TJ Tower for yourself
Seeing the Thomas Jefferson Tower building close-up really provides a great appreciation of how much detail went into Birmingham’s old buildings.
The beautiful lobby is accessible to the public and has some great pictures of the hotel in days gone by.
Although the roof of TJ Tower is not accessible (unless you happen to have an airship), it’s easy to imagine stepping back in time to the opulence of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel while sitting on the terrace which now forms part of Roots & Revelry.