Birmingham Alabama History

hotelIn the 1920’s the Medical Arts Building craze took Southern cities by storm including Birmingham, AL, more specifically the Five Points South area in 1931.  Despite the Depression, which had devastated the local economy, the Kamram Grotto, a fraternal order of Freemasons, in that year built an eight-story office tower exclusively for the doctors and surgeons of Birmingham. Designed by local architect Charles H. McCauley, the Medical Arts Building was the first of its type in the city.  The lower floor was occupied by shops and the Birmingham Apothecary, which carried through the professional identity of the building by selling only drugs and medical related items.  McCauley studied Medical Arts Towers in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville and St. Louis, adapting their best features into an Art Deco design of brick stone, and terra cotta, with aluminum spandrels beneath the windows.  He incorporated a design motif symbolizing Five Points on the “modernistic” elevator doors of black and silver with the medical symbol.  The building was erected in just six months with no overtime, which set a record in the city.  That same year the Kamram Grotto financed the conversion and expansion of a garage around the corner on Magnolia Avenue into the Pickwick Club.  No-one is quite sure why the Kamram Grotto named their dance hall the Pickwick Club.

The building changed ownership in the early 1930’s and Walker Mattison managed the popular entertainment spot from 1935 to 1951.  Many clubs and organizations held dances and gatherings at the Pickwick Club, popular partially because of its Five Points location offered parking, convenient access to streetcar lines and the well lighted streets.  The interior was always decorated thematically:  one year nautical, the next sunny Florida.  The total effect was Depression Era flamboyance!  Hosting everything from religious revivals to Fourth of July sunrise dances, it featured the big-band sound, revolving glitter ball suspended from the ceiling, and its hobby horse for the daring, an early day version of the mechanical bull!  (Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society)

The days of the Pickwick Club have long since faded.  In the early 1950’s the popular dance club burned to the ground signaling the end of an era.  However, in the 1980’s Dr. Donald Kahn, a retired cardiac surgeon from Birmingham turned his dream into reality when he began an ambitious development project to renovate the old Medical Arts Building and surrounding area where the thriving Pickwick Club once stood. His vision was realized in 1988 when the doors of his new stylish European hotel fashioned in the old Medical Arts Building open its doors as the Pickwick Hotel to welcome guests.  The Hotel, named after the Pickwick Club, once boast an Art Deco design that adorned the original building with the medical symbols still preserved on the elevator doors in the lobby.

In early 2007, the Pickwick Hotel closed its doors to begin a new, fabulous era as one of the finest new Birmingham Alabama hotels, the Hotel Highland at Five Points South Downtown UAB. With a vast development and renovation plan, The Hotel Highland will adorn 63 rooms, 28 of those suites that have been transformed into a luxurious, upscale sophisticated boutique hotel. The Hotel Highland Downtown UAB experience is one-of-a-kind in Birmingham that offers rich, vibrant jewel tones with plush furnishings and linens in a unique tranquil atmosphere.