The 390 by 180 foot building was originally constructed in late 1884 in New Orleans, Louisiana as the headquarters of Mexico's delegation to that year's World's Industrial and Cotton Exposition. It was built near the Mississippi River in the southeast corner of the exhibition grounds, on what is now part of the Audubon Zoo. Along with various exhibits of local flora and crafts, it housed Mexico's 8th Regiment and their concert band, which was the primary musical ensemble for the fair's largest events.
In contemporary accounts, the style of the building was said to be " fashioned after the style of a Mexican senor's residence," which was "painted in Oriental combinations of gold and green, with mediums of maroon and touches here and there of intense red," to convey a "Moresque" style. Later descriptions identified the style simply as "Victorian" or "Queen Anne".
The heavy timber frame was clad with wooden drop-siding and crowned with steep rectangular turrets on the front, each topped with a flagpole. A large arched opening at the center served as a carriageway to an internal courtyard. The circular arch was carried on sculpted brackets and its upper portion was decorated with a screen made of turned wood dowels. Outdoor galleries faced into the courtyard and, during the World's Fair, were draped with native plantings to form a "hanging garden".
Henry DeBardeleben purchased it and the Jamaica Building after the fair closed, and had them disassembled and shipped to his fast-growing new city of Bessemer. A ten-acre site bounded by 22nd and 24th Streets and by Carolina and Berkley Avenues was prepared. The reconstruction and modification of the wood-framed building cost $35,000. Mr and Mrs Michael Clifford operated the business, which catered not only to distinguished visitors, but also housed many of the leading men busy building up the city, including DeBardeleben himself.
In April 1888 the Montezuma's ballroom hosted a grand celebration of the first anniversary of Bessemer's founding. Before the end of that year, the status of the Montezuma was eclipsed by the completion of the 100-room Grand Hotel in the middle of downtown. Clifford accepted a position as manager of Birmingham's Opera Hotel.
In 1896 the hotel closed down and the building re-opened as the Montezuma University Medical College, led by J. A. B. Lovett. The small medical school adapted the hotel's rooms into classrooms and laboratories.
- Pedrick, W. E. (1885) New Orleans As It Is: With a Correct Guide to All Places of Interest. Cleveland, Ohio: William W. Williams
- Sulzby, James Frederick (1960) Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press ISBN 0817353097
- Burnett, Jason (2011) Early Bessemer. Images of America Series. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738588032