St Nicholas Hotel - Lee Hotel, Albany Georgia

Date added: October 13, 2022 Categories: Georgia Hotel Commercial
Front facade (Washington St. side) on the left; side facade (Flint Avenue side) on the right (1991)

The St. Nicholas Hotel is located in the county-seat city of Albany in the southwestern part of Georgia. While this area of the state was not opened for settlement until the 1820s, Albany soon became a trade center and its growth caused the original county to be subdivided and Dougherty County was created in 1858 with Albany as its county seat. The city's growth was insured by the advance of the railroads.

It was due to these railroads and Albany's increasing role as a railroad and commercial center that the need for a new commercial or traveler's hotel was felt in the early 20th century.

Lots 21 and 23 on Flint Street were sold to N. J. Cruger and W. W. Pace by Samuel and Richard Pattison, heirs to the pre-existing foundry on this spot, on the 31st day of August, 1906 for the sum of $11,800.

William Wilkinson Pace, son of Davis Pace (the first elected mayor of Albany), was born April 26, 1860. Receiving his education from the local schools, he was further fitted for the business life he was destined to follow by attending Bruce Business College in Atlanta, Georgia. Early in his business career he became associated with N. J. Cruger under the firm name of Cruger & Pace, who were brick manufacturers and dealers in lumber and building supplies. This firm became large owners of real estate, consisting of stores, dwelling houses and later built the St. Nicholas Hotel.

Mr. Pace was elected city councilman in 1893 and served one term. Around 1908 before the death of Mr. Cruger, the firm dissolved partnership, dividing the assets. In the division of the property, Mr. Pace became the sole owner of the St. Nicholas Hotel.

Construction began on the St. Nicholas Hotel shortly after the land was purchased in 1906, just blocks from the railroad station. The Manufacturers Record for September 27, 1906, quotes the Albany newspaper: "Cruger and Pace have purchased a site on which to erect the building. Size and character has not been determined."

The purpose of building this fine hotel was to accommodate people traveling by train. The St. Nicholas Hotel was the third hotel to be built in Albany.

While Albany's newspapers are incomplete, the special issue of the Albany Herald for October 26, 1907, highlights major buildings in town, as well as those under construction. While this hotel was obviously not completed, it was underway, as shown in the advertisement by the C. D. Smith construction company. He indicated he was now building the "Cruger and Pace Hotel". He was also the builder of the First National Bank, designed by the same architects as the hotel, Bruce and Everett. Both buildings opened in 1908.

Bruce and Everett were principals in an Atlanta architectural firm consisting of Alexander C. Bruce and Alexander F. N. Everett. Bruce had been partners with two of Atlanta's premier architects, William H. Parkins (as Parkins and Bruce) and Thomas H. Morgan (as Bruce and Morgan). Between these two firms, he had been involved in the design of many mansions, county courthouses, railroad buildings, and other structures. Everett, on the other hand, was just beginning his career, and apparently, after Bruce and Morgan dissolved their firm, he was able to form a partnership with Bruce. The work of this short-lived firm can be found all over the state, including churches (Everett's specialty, as he published a small book of church designs) and other public buildings. Everett's career continued independently into the Art Deco era, as one house designed by him survives in Atlanta.

The St. Nicholas Hotel must have opened in the late spring of 1908. The surviving newspapers for 1908 are incomplete. The first mention of the hotel's name comes in an advertisement for the barber shop on May 7th, then a full-fledged ad for the hotel is found on June 17th. This advertisement highlighted the following features of this self-described "Albany's Elegant New Hotel" which was "round the corner from the Depot": electric lights, electric bells, a large sample room, elegantly furnished, steam heat, running hot and cold water in every room, and some rooms with a private bath.

An advertisement in the 1909-1910 Albany City Directory states that the hotel had steam heat (still in operation today) and hot and cold running water in every room. The 1922 City Directory shows that there was also a telephone in every room. It is possible that the phones were added prior to 1922, as the City Directories from 1911-1921 are not available. The structure of the hotel contained several stores. A listing of the addresses and occupants follows:

300 Washington: At this address from 1922-1938 was the Pace Tire/Goodrich-Silvertown Store and from 1941-1948 the Consumer Gas Company of Georgia and, by 1949, finance companies.
302 Washington: at this address from 1922-1940 it appears to be vacant; it became used in 1941 as Price Mercantile Company.
306 Washington: from 1907-1933 this was the St. Nicholas Dining Room; from 1934-1942 the Empire Hosiery Company.
308 Washington: from 1922-1927 this was the Singer Sewing Machine Company; and from 1928-1936, vacant.

Harry Haag James, the great jazz instrumentalist of the late 1930s and 1940s, was born in the St. Nicholas Hotel on March 15, 1916. His middle name derived from the mighty Haag Circus of which both his parents were members, his father as a bandleader and his mother as an aerialist. Circus performers were just one of the many groups who traveled by train and always stayed at a hotel near the railroad on which they traveled.

In 1930, a railroad siding was added immediately behind the hotel on the other side of the pre-existing radiator company at 143 Flint Avenue. This allowed another building to be squeezed into the space between the railroad siding and the radiator building. It is presumed that at this time the archway was built to connect this new building and the radiator building to the hotel. Since this was connected, the hotel and these other buildings have remained under the same ownership.

The era of the St. Nicholas Hotel came to a dramatic end at 4 o'clock on the morning of Saturday, February 10, 1940, when Albany and the hotel were hit by the most vicious tornado that the area had ever experienced. Those who heard it and lived to tell the story said that the tornado sounded like "the noise of a thousand freight trains." Photographs of the hotel after the tornado show the extensive damage to the building.

When the hotel was rehabilitated, it reopened under the name "Lee Hotel," presumably named for General Robert E. Lee. Since the 1940s, the hotel and the area of town in which it was located have declined. In 1984 the hotel was purchased for rehabilitation and reopened as a transitional center.

Building Description

The St. Nicholas Hotel, located in downtown Albany on the edge of the commercial area, is a three-story, flat-roofed, brick building in the commercial style. The brick walls are 12 inches thick, laid in a running bond method. The roof is flat and covered with sheet metal behind a brick parapet.

At the street level, the Washington Street facade is broken up into six store units at an average width of 22 feet. There is also one storefront on the Flint Avenue side. The main arched recessed entrance contains a tiled "St. Nicholas" in the floor framed by two carved Ionic stonework columns. The Ionic pillars have capitals with scroll work. The main hotel building is 150 feet across the front and 70 feet 8 inches in depth. There is a one-story, Corinthian metal column at the storefront entrance on the southwest side of the building. The Flint Avenue store building in the rear joins the main building by a brick arch.

The upper two floors are subdivided into bays by brick pilasters. The floors include paired windows, flat arches on the second floor, and segmental arches on the third floor. There is a brick parapet at the roofline.

The interior features plaster walls and a decorative pressed metal ceiling in the lower lobby area. There are original wainscoting, wood stairs, hardwood floors, doors to the rooms, and hallway configuration remaining as well as the downstairs concrete floor with its ceramic tile. The interior walls on the second and third floors are stud construction with plaster. There is some wainscoting on a portion of the interior. All ceilings are 10 feet, and there are wooden floor joists, as well as steel columns supporting the first-floor ledger. There is a steam-radiated heat system that is still operational.

The hotel, located on flat terrain, is on the former site of an iron foundry in a commercial area in downtown Albany adjoining a railroad spur and between two major railroads.

Changes to the building include the removal of the alcove entrance and garage-type double doors added on the Flint Street side. Other changes stem mostly from repairs after the 1940 tornado and recent certified rehabilitation. The original canopy on the Washington Street front was lost in the tornado and was not replaced.