Thomas Jefferson Tower

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This article is about the former hotel on Birmingham's north side. For the UAB Hospital building, see Jefferson Tower.
The Thomas Jefferson Hotel in 1949. Photo by A. C. Keily. courtesy BPL Archives

The Thomas Jefferson Tower (formerly the Thomas Jefferson Hotel, Cabana Hotel, and Leer Tower) is a 19-story apartment building, originally opened in 1929 as a 300-room hotel, on the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue North and 17th Street on the western side of downtown Birmingham.

The hotel was planned and developed by the Union Realty Company, headed by Henry Cobb. It was designed by David O. Whilldin and constructed for $2.5 million. It opened in September 1919 with a week-long gala. Among the building's features were an ornate marble lobby, a large ballroom, and a rooftop mooring mast intended for use by dirigibles.

The hotel spent decades as one of Birmingham's nicer properties, hosting two presidents and many other luminaries. By the mid-1970s, though, it was beginning to show its age as newer hotels like the Parliament House and Hilton House opened. Fires damaged the building in 1980 and 1981, and the property went into foreclosure and was condemned in 1983. It was bought at auction, with the owners leasing some of the ground floor retail spaces, until going back up for sale in 2002. In 2004, Operation New Birmingham put it on their 12 Most Wanted list of downtown buildings in need of renovation.

In 2005 David Leer of Modesto, California announced a $20 million project to renovate the building as condominiums. It took two years to clear a contested title to the building, dubbed "Leer Tower," in new neon-lit signs that were installed in the summer of 2007. The project failed, however, and returned to foreclosure, saddled with liens, in June 2008.

Alabama's Historic Tax Credit program, signed into law in 2013, opened the door for renewed redevelopment efforts. An investment group headed by Brian Beshara of New Orleans, Louisiana paid $1 million for the building and presented plans for a 100-unit apartment conversion anchored by a restaurant and event center. Their plans were given preliminary approval by the Birmingham Design Review Committee in January 2014.

Stewart Perry Construction was contracted to perform the renovation work. An exterior construction elevator was installed in May 2015 and the "Leer Tower" sign was dismantled and removed shortly afterward.

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