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Craig and wife Leigh

If bricks could talk - memories of the Hotel Talisi

By Craig Hethcox

Not everyone passing thru the double doors of The Woodall Hotel left under the allusion they’d just had a Five Star experience. It was not the Waldorf Astoria but it was Tallassee’s Treasure on the Tallapoosa for close to a century. And it was enough stars for us. We loved it!

The church crowds made a bee line to the hotel buffet when the sermons were over. The race was on between the Baptists and Methodists every Sunday. But when the Baptist pulpit committee (all hotel buffet fans) hired a young minister that preached only 20 minutes and ended the service early each week, they were first in line.

Nothing upstaged fried chicken and lemon ice box pies. Not even the Good Word.

When the 1960’s brought a name change, the Hotel Talisi expanded its reputation and attracted a second wave of starving parishioners held captive until 12:30 by a long-winded minister.  Late arriving guests made mid-afternoon dining the new thing. When the hotel took over the business space of Maddox Variety Store, crowds soared and Sunday dinner rolled on past 3 o’clock.  'They’re out of food,' could be heard sometimes.

People dressed in Sunday’s finest sat beside college students wearing jeans and peace t-shirts. One year a rumor was flying that a rock band had played in Auburn on Saturday night then slept in the hotel. True or not, two long black buses were parked behind the Company Store one time. And long hair clogged the tub drain in Room 5 one time, I heard, so that made the rumor true in my mind. The hotel was a mixture of people and families from places near and far looking for one thing.

1928 photo at the newly opened hotel. Courtesy of Bill Goss, "Images of America - Tallassee"

Many famous people ate and slept there. Who’s to say Elvis didn’t drop by for a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich when he was promoting his record at WTLS? We know senators and congressmen and governors and other important types graced the hotel food line over the decades, shaking hands and kissing babies, as they saying goes. Most went back for seconds, and then again. Winton Blount, construction magnate and Postmaster General told me at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, 'I ate at the hotel in Tallassee just last month.'

Downstairs there were family reunions, weddings and receptions, Rotary and Lions Club meetings, and business deals - all built around a glass of strong sweet tea and cornbread. I spied a tall bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag under the table once, but since I was sitting next to the preacher's wife I never inquired further. 

There were singings sponsored by the Garden Club and the mingling of people at the dessert table who didn’t speak for whatever reason. There was family and there was food, and when those two are put together in the same room, there are memories of being a child, then of being an adult, still eating at the hotel on Sundays.

The Friday and Saturday night crowds were subdued, but always present, and ordered off the menu. And when Bailey’s closed and Doug Howard’s Rexall Drug Store shuttered, its grill silenced for good and all the hamburger business shifted to the hotel. And what a treat they were. Your bad if you never ordered a hamburger with home fries on Friday nights…or got a burger “to go” on a paper plate covered with tin foil.

The downstairs were delightful. What went on upstairs was not everybody’s business. I plead the fifth on the burden of proof, but “it was said” a few upstanding citizens took advantage of the home away from home setting. 

Whether or not the hotel served as a doghouse for men who had been kicked out of the house for a night or two—and the names of those men—cannot be revealed here on this page, be assured it happened quite often. Upstairs was also a final meeting place for business-people who always began their conversations downstairs. For some reason the deal was inked somewhere beyond the top of the staircase. 

Hotel guest rooms even became a full-time residence. Neptune workers relocating from New York lived on the top floor for years and became family to hotel servers and Tallasseeans alike. Once in a while, cars with license plates from places like Missouri and Virginia lined the street. One Christmas, somebody driving a truck from Arizona stayed there for a week. And when Tuscaloosa’s football team played in Auburn for the first time in 1989, the hotel sold out.

It became a castle for some. Even one of Tallassee High’s Most Likely To Succeed took up residence for years. It was a safe place, the upstairs haven, with comfort food always available downstairs. This hotel was not a scattered, smothered and covered place. The sleep and food and security were, in a word, peaceful.

The Hotel Talisi never reopened after the 2009 fire

But the hotel had its dark moments. The back alley behind the hotel was the only place Log Circle residents could dine. A timid knock on the back door was the code. I saw it many times riding my bicycle there. I saw that, and I saw the slop man filling his five-gallon pail from the leftovers after the final customer left the back alley. 

I even saw a three-piece suit slip inside that dark door late one day around nightfall. That was in the early days, the gone days. It took its sweet time, but the hotel grew up and became a family place for everyone in Tallassee—for those in Jordanville and everyone on the east side of the river.

There are so many stories, mostly true, that could spawn laughter or ignite a revolution among surviving family members. Can bricks talk, and if they can, will they? I, for one, think they can. 

Stay with me here for a moment. Particles in a solid, such as a brick, rotate, vibrate, and generally move around in a fixed position. I’m losing you, I know, but hear me out. When heated by the sun, atoms and molecules move faster and become ‘alive.’  Look it up.

Can bricks speak? Who’s to say if they can tell a story or not?  Can I prove they don’t speak when, in fact, they are living?

If bricks can tell all, please let us hear some of the tales. What did Governor Brewer really say about the Graveyard Creek Bridge on the hotel sidewalk that was ‘off the record?’ Did George Wallace actually eat everything on his place and burp out loud? Tell us about the family reunion when the prodigal son showed up after a 25-year absence. Let’s hear about the baby shower…and the wedding rehearsal…and the slow dance the Class of 1966 still talks about. 

Bricks, tell me more family stories where everyone hugged and cried and promised to get together again next year. I want to hear feel-good stories…stories that make me remember Hotel Talisi.  The place was loved. Its workers were loved. It was part of growing up in Tallassee.

I would love to hear the stories recanted again. Bring to me some of those landfill bricks and let’s line them up on the table for a night of Q and A, a night of memories.

I have lots of questions, too. Who accidentally broke the glass lamp in Room 8, or was it thrown against the wall? Who sneaked whom into Room 2 one Friday night after Tallassee beat the daylights out of Wetumpka?  What kind of celebration ensured that unforgettable evening? How was the deal that brought Neptune Water Meter to town consecrated and how did a hand full of $100 bills and a pearl necklace get left behind? Who was the out-of-town preacher and how did he get a key to the back door?

I would like some answers. Go find three of those landfill bricks, especially those whose molecules have been warmed by the sun. Stand them up, please, for an interrogation so I can clarify some things.

Hotel Talisi was loved. But now it’s gone, along with some of Tallassee’s great treasures. No more Sunday buffets. No more fried chicken. Santa no longer stands in the front door, bell a’ringing. There will be no more covered dishes delivered to second-shift workers at the cotton mill. Both institutions have been marginalized to a trash dump, a heap of stones and bricks and timbers filling a hole in the land but not the one left in our hearts.

Rest in peace discarded dinner plates. Sleep well crushed windows and doors. And to you, bricks, oh, especially you. Conceal everything you know with tight lips…and a gentle smile.

Tearing down the local landmark