The Leer Tower, which stands at 2nd Ave. North, diagonal from the Phoenix Building, and across the street from the Birmingham Police Station, was completed in the inauspicious year of 1929. That year, Wall Street crashed and Birmingham, like other cities across the country, suffered dearly. In its first incarnation, it was known as the Thomas Jefferson Hotel and then the Cabana Hotel. The hotel permanently closed its doors in 1983. Time passed. With many of the windows open, decay quickly set in. Alabama’s summer humidity has not been kind to the interior of this building. The building’s foundation has been compromised, and subterranean water floods the basement. In 2007, the building’s copper was filched, inflicting systematic damage on almost every floor of the building. After a series of false starts, litigation over ownership and financial contretemps (the condo market after the recession isn’t exactly as robust as it used to be) the building went into foreclosure. As negotiations dithered, the building continued to deteriorate. With the real estate market in a recession, the sheer scale of the building is an obstacle, built as it was at the tail-end of the bacchanal that was the roaring twenties.
Last summer, I entered the Leer Tower from street level. I wore a dust mask to protect myself from asbestos and the vile stench of mephitic black mold that pervades every floor of the building. The state of decay is so thorough that only visuals can tell the story. I’ve been in a lot of buildings, and the Leer Tower might be the most purposefully mistreated building I’ve seen thus far.
The copper pipe thief busted up most of the toilets, cast iron bathtubs and plumbing throughout the building.
Circuitry for the elevators, roof.
Few cities would allow such a grandiose building in the urban core to sit empty for decades. The Tower is only a block from the Pizitz Building, which is up for renovation. Perhaps its proximity to this landmark renovation will have a spillover effect for the Leer. Let’s hope the banks come through with some loans to finance rehabilitating the Tower, lest its menacing presence downtown scare away the kids at the McWane Center. But, despite its intentional state of neglect and flagrant abuse the Leer Tower is still an imposing building on Birmingham’s skyline.