In 1993, and probably to the present time, the primary industry-seeking agency in our State was the Alabama Power Company. Its efforts in that realm overshadowed that of the State itself, as well as those of the various Chambers of Commerce of the larger cities of the State. Thus it was Alabama Power that invited to Alabama, and became the host of, numerous financiers and dignitaries of worldwide stature. One of the many problems which the industry seeking arm of the utility company faced was the absence of an appropriate hotel accommodation anywhere in Alabama in which to house, say, a chief of state of some country which might be considering an investment here. As Alabama Power CEO Elmer Harris pointed out, it was embarrassing to fly their distinguished guests back to Atlanta for their night’s rest right in the middle of a visit to our fair State.
A few years prior to 1993, to provide a more legitimate front for its industry seeking activities, Alabama Power formed the “Economic Development Partnership of Alabama,” and invited Alagasco and BellSouth to be token partners. I think the EDP, as we called it, drew 90-percent of its support from the power company, and for all practical purposes, was a private arm of that utility.
All of this leads up to a request from the EDP to Dr. Bronner that it be allowed to construct two suites of high-end, swanky bedrooms on the 22nd Floor of the Tower in which to host the scores of internationally known guests that, unbeknownst to the general public, move through our city each year in pursuit of sundry economic and political agenda. On May 18, 1993, after a month of indecision, Bronner wrote to Charles Snider, the titular head of EDP, demanding that they quit talking and consummate such a lease, or else the RSA would make the space available to other prospective tenants. Faced with that ultimatum, Snider and the EDP quickly agreed and the deal was set.
EDP’s theory of operation for the endeavor held that the Capitol City Club, a part of which was located on that very floor, would be available to feed the distinguished visitors or to cater any affair that might be appropriate for any particular guest. The PH&J forces were very concerned that the suites would, at the worst, be utilized as world-class rooms of ill repute by local politicos, and at the very least, would be so accused. We were afraid that, in either case, the RSA would suffer from the inference. In any event, the accommodations were to be kept secret, and to this day, no mention of the suites appears on the Tower lobby directory or elsewhere in the structure. Many people that work in the tower and on that floor are unaware of them.
I’ll not belabor the personality conflicts and errors of judgment manifested by PH&J in the design of the “suites.” I will only admit that such did occur and that yours truly was not the primary culprit. The hotel rooms took on a different character than the balance of the structure. Thus these spaces do not evince the rich but restrained elegance inherent in most of the building, but rather they exude a kind of gaudy international opulence. The PH&J design was thrown out in a cost-cutting frenzy, but ultimately an equal sum was expended in the re-design. I recall that the final cost of the EDP suites added up to almost $800,000 per bedroom.
The Deficient Program
The suite concept initially presented to us by the Economic Development Partnership was for four grandiose bedrooms arranged in pairs, with each pair connected to a living room and kitchen. I challenged the program, insisting that they also needed a separate, less grand but adjacent, bedroom which might be occupied by a staff person or a bodyguard. Heads of State and Titans of industry, I reasoned, travel with executive secretaries, assistants, or what have you–who should be nearby in a lesser degree of luxury.
“Suppose a lecherous potentate’s female secretary refuses to share the same suite, what then?” I asked. “Do you expect the luminary’s bodyguard to stay in the Madison Hotel across the street, or is he to sit up all night?” I continued. The EDP officials looked at me like I was insane. Bronner knew I was right, however, and in a later meeting he directed that we quietly proceed with such a room until the EDP came to its senses.
That is exactly what happened. The small motel size room was fitted out, was finally accepted by the EDP and turned out to be the most used room in the 5-bedroom facility. It’s the one routinely utilized by Elmer Harris himself when he’s in Montgomery. Harris was the longtime CEO of Alabama Power, and the man who was behind the scenes making all the decisions.
Then there was this issue of an attendant’s room, over which I also challenged the EDP planners. “Ignoring the matter of where the dignitary’s bodyguard is to stay, where does the host’s attendant or maid sleep?” I asked. “Do you expect this important personage to sleep all by himself on the top floor of an empty building? suppose he gets sick? What if he wants a midnight coffee, or spills something? Do you think the Capitol City Club staff is going to stay the night? Surely Alabama Power will have a functionary of some type to spend the night nearby and be on call.”
All that logic again fell on deaf ears. In response, Ron Blount and I took it on ourselves to rough-in a tiny sleeping room and bath on the attic level at the head of the west stair, immediately above the Elmer Harris room. I do not know if it has been used, but if not, I fear for the many dignitaries who have betaken of the accommodations.
It was 1997 before the Tower was sufficiently complete to allow the EDP hotel suites to house distinguished guests. Alabama Power officials were virtually frantic in 1996 to get its spaces ready for a planned trip to Montgomery by Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Britain. She would certainly be a worthy first guest to christen the facility. But if we couldn’t get it open in time for her visit, Willie Brandt, the Premier of Germany, was scheduled for a trip to Montgomery a short time later. As you might guess, the building contractor, HH&N, was unable to finish the work in time for either momentous occasion.
Finally, early in ‘97, Huber-Hunt managed to complete the building and the suites. EDP moved quickly to bring in the expensive furnishings, the finest appointments and a luxurious inventory of toiletries. The spaces were stocked with the finest soaps and lotions, the softest towels, vintage wines, the most elegant china. No accoutrement of luxury was spared. Everything was ready, but as ofttimes happens, no guest was due in the next few weeks. Everyone wondered which world-renowned illustrious person would be the first to enjoy the sumptuous accommodations. Perhaps we would affix a plaque to commemorate the event.
During that lull, when on a routine visit to check on their new creation, a minion of the EDP found that the inside night latch was on when the attempted to enter the premises. Frustrated, he sought the assistance of the building manager to secure access to the suite living room with an override key. When the corridor lock clicked open, there was a rushing about within, and the connecting bedroom door closed. When the management group entered, it was obvious that the living space had been well used. Wines and other delicacies had been opened and sampled. The furniture cushions were in disarray. Who was in the suite?
An emergency key was used to open the bedroom door, but at the same time, the privacy lock clicked shut on the bathroom door. Now it was readily apparent that the bed had been slept in. The fine percale sheets were rumpled, and the expensive coverlet was tossed onto the floor. The master override key was used to open the bath, and in turn the same click emanated from the toilet stall door. In the bath the special soaps and shampoo bottles had been opened and the wall-to-wall mirror was steamed. The brand-new towels were damp and strewn about.
As soon as the shock passed, the passkey was employed again, the stall door was opened, and there cowering in the tiny compartment was the most disreputable, unkempt street bum you can imagine. The shower and ill-gotten rest had failed to improve him. Somehow, he had managed to sneak into the partially occupied building, make it up to the 22nd floor and gain access to what was Alabama’s most prestigious and luxurious guestroom. Once in, he had spent the night and availed himself of every amenity the space afforded. I understand that the bum straightened up when cornered and sashayed out with head held high, never looking back. They say the derelict made it all the way to the street before he was corralled and hauled off to the hoosegow to face charges of trespass filed by the EDP.
At least we know who had the honor of spending the first night, but there is no plaque on the wall to memorialize the incident.
I understand that, discounting the episode of the street guest, the hotel facilities have been quite successful toward their purpose. We even hear of occasions where the Secret Service has taken command of all the elevators in the building, which says that our Commander-in-Chief has slept there. Considering the predilections of President Clinton, perhaps my early worries over the reputation of the place were not ill considered. Who knows?
Elmer Harris, Alabama Power’s CEO, has declared that the EDP suites were the finest such facility in the entire world. You and I can doubt that, but it must be a winsome concept despite my disdain for the decor.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)