By Danny Crownover
Back during his younger days, The Vagabond remembered a tall booming figure at Rainbow Church of Christ by the name of Leslie Cooper King. This towering man would grab the young Vagabond and put him on his knee and talk to him.
There are memories of when Mr. King and his wife, Gladys N. Angle King, invited folks to enjoy their home, and all of us would jump on his large trampoline or swim in his pool. Then there were the Christmases and the largest and beautifully-decorated tree that the young Vagabond had ever seen.
Gladys was always making things to give to people and church members. The Vagabond still cherishes his Christmas stocking that she made for him long ago.
Leslie’s sister, Christine King Erwin, was The Vagabond’s next-door neighbor on Fourth Street when he was growing up. Her husband George Erwin was an early vice-president of the Exchange Bank.
The Vagabond has known the Kings for many years. Leslie C. King was president of J.P. King Auction Company for many years. His family was from Tullahoma, Tenn., a few miles from where The Vagabond was born. Leslie’s father was the well-known James Polk King of Tennessee.
J.P. King Auction started in 1915 with James Polk King. The company began selling real estate throughout the Southeast by 1917 and established offices when it started working on large auctions.
Leslie King moved to Gadsden by 1936 (based on city directories) and was working as the owner of King Auction Co. located at 216 Broad Street. He was living at 627 Turrentine Street.
By 1939, Leslie King was the company’s second-generation president. He lived and worked in Gadsden and continued auctions throughout the Southeast and continued to sell subdivisions and farms and perform work for banks. His father died two years later, in 1941.
In the 1940s, Leslie King was listed in the city directory as working for Fitt’s Realty. Leslie once had offices called the King’s Building at 526 Chestnut Street about 50 years ago.
J.P. King III took over as third-generation president from 1961 to 1985. In 1966, a large owner with numerous properties in Mobile hired J.P. King to sell its properties. In order to facilitate that sale, J.P. King pulled all of the buyers into a local hotel ballroom and sold them all the properties from that location instead of following the then-practice of going from property to property. This ballroom auction is a property auction practice often used in the industry today.
Craig, Scott and Christie King entered into company business in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
During that time, Cecile and Ken Striplin were instrumental in developing a part of the company’s business of selling condominiums, starting along the Gulf Coast and eventually all over the country. Scott launched an effort in New England, and the company conducted a lot of business in that region.
J.P. King Auction Company recently celebrated its 100th year in business. Soon afterward, Craig King approached the Etowah Historical Society for information and history on the old building at 414 Broad Street. J.P. King was interested in relocating the company’s offices from Rainbow Drive to downtown Gadsden.
Craig and his wife Cindy King purchased and began restoration efforts in December 2016. B. Craig Lips-comb was the architect, Perman Engineering Company, LLC, with Michael White Construction were the contractors, FuturePast was the historic tax credits consultant, and Danny Crownover provided historical documentation for the 6,250-square foot two-story, $800,000 rehabilitation in the heart of the historic di-strict. It is part of the National Register of Historic Districts
Constructed of red brick masonry, the building contains a recessed front entry with show windows. The second story windows are distinguished by stone jack arches with keystones. The façade is capped by a molded pressed metal cornice with console brackets at the sides decorated with acanthus leaves and lion heads in bas relief. The interior first floor structural brick side walls have been left exposed and clear-sealed. The entry floor is black and white hexagonal ceramic tilework. On the second level, the original hardwood floor and plastered walls remain.
The historical society was able to research information back to 1885. In many of the downtown buildings, one can find old insurance maps, perspective maps, city directories, old photos, vertical files, ancestry.com, newspaper.com, etc., used to get the history of each buildings.
What was found was an amazing history of the King’s building.
On July 4, 1883, almost the entire city block on the south side of Broad Street was destroyed by fire from Third Street westward to the bricked Kyle Opera House that was located at the recent Hicks Shoe Store. Twenty-one stores were destroyed. The fire happened when a horse-swappers convention of more than 1,000 people was being held in the area.
One of these structure that burned was at 414 Broad Street. It was originally the Sam Powers Dry Goods store. A well was located in the middle of Broad Street across from this business for many years.
After the fire, merchants started rebuilding with brick walls beginning around 1885. Research shows that 414 Broad Street was a vacant lot until between 1888 and 1894 before the present building was built.
By 1907, the first building built was McCluney Dry Goods Company. The original walls can still be seen. It was the first recorded after the fire and owned by Virgil Lee McCluney. His family is Irish and came to America by 1772. McCluney was born on June 2, 1864, in Maple Grove, Ala., and lived in Etowah County by 1870. He was renting a house at 316 Haralson Avenue.
Then came the store called Ory’s Ladies Ready-to-Wear/Guarantee Shoe Store owned by Nathaniel Edward Ory (Oritsky), and managed by Alexander Ely Brod. Both men were Russian immigrants from Ukraine. Nathaniel was married in 1903 to Jennie L Gottlieb, also from the Ukraine.
After that came Brown’s Dry Goods and Department Store owned by B. Brown and his wife Ann, who lived at 1905 Hill Avenue and 105 Seventh Avenue.
Next was Rosenburg A&H Shoes and clothing owned by Hyman “Herman” Roseberg. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant from Minsk, Belarus.
Hyman was born July 14, 1903, in New York and married Freda Schwartz, whose family was from Jarostan, Austria.
In 1997, the City of Gadsden gained listed this location as well as the entire downtown Gadsden on the National Register of Historic Sites.
For over 100 years, J.P. King has infused the traditional auction industry with its entrepreneurial spirit. With its new/old building, one will find a lot has changed over the years, and more changes are in store as we look forward to the next 100 years.