The Vagabond: The Phoenix Hotel in Gadsden became a house of ill repute


By Danny Crownover

Back on Feb 16, 1909, it was announced that Gadsden was to have another hotel at a neat new place on the southeast corner of Chestnut and 5th streets. It was to be known as the Phoenix Hotel and operated by Miss Theo Barry.

Miss Barry was related to Police Captain W.L. Thomas, who was associated with her in the business.

The new building on Chestnut Street was be three stories, completed, with elaborate interior decorations, steam heat throughout and water connections and wiring. Every room in the house was an outside room, which of course, made them more desirable.

The parlor, dining room and office were done by Jean Sodar, the French artist and as pretty as any in the state. The Phoenix had 37 rooms, of which were new, clean and pleasant, each one being furnished at a cost of about $100.

The furnishings were all new from parlor to kitchen and were in keeping with any hotel. The place was something Gadsden people were proud of.

The hotel was finished in the very best materials with nothing left off, and Miss Barry did her part in the furnishing of the place. Every room was furnished with drugget (a floor covering made of a coarse woven fabric), dresser, bed, etc. This place was then called Gadsden’s first-class hotel.

The Phoenix, which opened Monday, March 15, 1909, was the property of J. Nadler, one of Gadsden’s successful business men. Nadler had been in the city for a number of years and had always been a strong advocate of Gadsden’s coming greatness.

During the Panic of 1908, he purchased one-half of the Stevenson Building, which was unfinished, and finished it at a cost of $6,500, including the plumbing and steam heat. At that time, Nadler was boasting of Gadsden’s future prospects and said, “We have only begun to grow.”

However, Nadler never foresaw the hotel doing a brisk business and falling into a house of ill repute. The medical building across the street on the northeast corner was a busy place as well, treating the diseases brought about by the ladies of the evening and their clientele.

There are two versions of the fate of the two upper stories of the hotel. One states that a fire in 1930 destroyed the upper floors. The other states that the upper stories were removed on purpose to keep prostitution out of the building.

Over the last few years, the building was also known as the Leak/Southern Hotel\Roebuck Shoe and June Bug’s ceramics. The entire building ran from 436 to 442 Chestnut Street.

Presently, the building is what is left of a two-part vertical block, a three-story hotel now cut down to its first floor with storefronts. Four commercial bays on Chestnut Street; varitone red brick construction with iron-spotted buff brick face, now painted; heavily molded sheet metal storefront cornice; transom line mostly intact but occluded; metal screen above cornice but being removed on the Fifth Street side.

This was not to be the end of the Phoenix Hotel troubles. Next week – Gadsden police chief accused of operating a gambling operation at the Phoenix Hotel.

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