Printup Hotel was a model for today’s world-class hotels

By Danny By Danny "The Vagabond" Crownover

  This week the Vagabond writes about the Printup Hotel building, located at Locust and Fourth streets in Gadsden.

In the early 1880’s, the block bounded by Broad, Locust, Third and Fourth streets was partly a residential section in the middle of the original survey of the town.

There were several stores, and in front of them was a brick sidewalk. One of the business houses was an African-American store and restaurant. It was operated by a smart, patriotic African-American who took a leading part in almost every parade and public demonstration held in the town for years. 

With his two little boys, he essayed the role of the trio still seen in pictures as portraying the “Spirit of ‘76.” The man played the fife, one of his boys beat the snare drum and the other carried the flag. They dressed the part and made quite an imposing appearance.

On the Fourth Street side was the Kittrell House, one of the leading hotels of Northeast Alabama at the time. It burned in September 1886, leaving a need for a hotel in Gadsden.

At the corner of Fourth and Locust streets stood a pretty residence of the old-fashioned “L” type. Who first built it is not recalled at the moment, but in the early 1880’s Dave Vann occupied it. The spacious yard was surrounded by a picket fence that had much shrubbery and flowers. The house was removed in 1887 to provide a site for the Printup Hotel.

The Printup is a symbol of the fine traditions of the city and a reminder of the “good old days.” The building has stood over the years as one of the finest hotels in the state.

It was early in 1887 that a group of businessmen organized the Gadsden Hotel Company with the announced purpose of building a hotel at the southeast corner of Fourth and Locust streets. The incorporators were R. B. Kyle, J. S. Paden, W. M. Meeks, Herman Herzberg and W. P. Lay of Gadsden; A. B. Mullins, of Covington, Ky., and P. H. Haralson of Atlanta, Ga. The businessmen composed the board of directors. W. P. Lay was the first president.

The capital stock was fixed at $30,000 and divided into 600 shares at $50 each.

0. H. Norman of Atlanta was the architect. He was the architect for the famous Kimball House in Atlanta and drew exactly the same plans for the Printup, except on a much smaller scale. In every detail, both for the exterior and interior, Norman followed the plans of the Kimball. One of Norman’s techniques was the use of a large well of space in the lobby of the hotel extending all the way to the roof several stories above, ending in a skylight or dome.

The Printup’s sister hotel, the Kimball House, had seven floors with 31 stores, 22 public rooms and 357 hotel rooms. The structure was built to be completely fireproof and officially opened for business on New Year’s Day, 1885. The hotel was razed in 1959 and replaced by a parking deck. The building was the first of many historic buildings demolished in Atlanta during the 1960s and ‘70s.

Over 100 years later, that large open space technique became the trademark of another Atlanta architect renowned for his hotel design, John Portman. By carefully rethinking the typical urban hotel and using the idea of the Kimball House/Printup Hotel idea, Portman re-addressed the guest experience. His new hotel was to be constructed around a 22-story, sky-lit atrium with glass-cabbed elevators providing an architectural journey through the atrium to a revolving rooftop restaurant.

The re-introduction in the late 1960’s of the concept once again was new and radical. This hotel became the Peachtree Center Hyatt Regency, and its immediate popularity brought international architectural recognition to Portman and to the hotel. Thus hotels worldwide copied his idea and continue to use the Reich hotel concept.

The Printup was named in honor of Mr. Daniel S. Printup, prominent businessman of Rome, Ga., who was one of the chief promoters and builders of the Rome-Decatur branch of the Southern Railway. In 1882, Printup was able to receive permission to charter the Rome & Decatur Railroad between Rome and Gadsden. Four years later, he threw the first shovel of dirt for the railroad. The people of Gadsden are grateful that Printup built the new luxurious four-story hotel in 1888. Also in Daniel’s honor, the first engine built for the railroad is named the Daniel Printup.

The Printup originally had a tower at the corner of Fourth and Locust streets. The hotel had a large stone facade on Fourth Street for the first story. The stone was quarried near Gadsden and cut and shaped by George Beggs, a Scotsman, who helped to build the old stone docks at Liverpool, England. He was the father of the late W. J, Beggs of Gadsden.

The original building had no central heating system, but every room was provided with a fireplace. In winter, each guest was asked upon registering if he wanted a fire in his room, whereupon a bellboy was sent up with a bucket of coal and a handful of pine shavings to start a fire.

There were no bathrooms, but running water and electric lights were featured.  A reading room just off from the office was furnished with leather-covered settees, chairs and a writing table. A grate fire made it comfortable at all times.

The main dining room was on the second floor, running lengthwise with Locust Street. Every guest who entered the dining room was presented with a four-page wine list. Everything that one wanted was there on the list. The list was famous all over the South. There was a saloon down on the first floor in the rear.

The well in the lobby was one of the features that attracted tourists. One even referred to it as the tallest stovepipe in the world. That stovepipe ran from the lobby through all four stories and through a skylight that was almost as tall as a story made from an old-fashioned cast iron heater.

One other feature that home folk and tourists liked to talk about was the bridal chamber. This room was said to have been exquisitely furnished with Cupid and his bow and arrow painted on the ceilings. The parlors were handsome and roomy, to say nothing of the little round alcoves in the corner towers. Some called it the Ivory Tower.

J. D. Sublett, an experienced hotelkeeper of Virginia and Louisiana, was the hotel’s first manager. He came here with a New Orleans chef and steward.

The Printup entertained many prominent men and women of that day, including William Jennings Bryan, most of the governors and congressional representatives of the state and industrial giants of worldwide fame. 

On a tour of the South during the Al Smith presidential campaign, the great Chicago criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow was a guest at the hotel and pronounced the Printup as one of the South’s best.

In 1894, David Reich, a merchant, leased the Printup and began to improve the structure in every way. Reich did so well that he bought the property and made still more improvements. 

In 1909, a central heating system and elevators were installed, as well as bathtubs.

Reich died in 1914 and his son, Adolph P.  Reich, then in the contracting business and just out of the University of Alabama, took over. The younger Reich had the interior modernized and redecorated. 

In 1925, a small fire broke out in one of the rooms, and much damage was done by water. The hotel again was redecorated, with the same scheme carried out.

In 1929, a night fire wrecked the building’s interior. This time, the owner practically tore the hotel down and rebuilt it with concrete and steel, making the structure as nearly fireproof as possible. The tower, the lobby well and the banjo work were removed.

In 1958, the Printup had 71 rooms, with Adolph Reich as the owner and G. O. Willingham as the manager. The rooms mostly were filled by the traveling public. However, some folk made the hotel their home the year round.

In the early 1970’s, the hotel was closed for a short time. The lobby then was converted to a restaurant named for the late Adolph Reich, Poppo’s. The restaurant closed late in 1977, but the building is still used by the Dawson family.

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