HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) The revitalization of downtown Huntsville has been a dream in the making for years, now a major step towards that dream is complete with the opening of the Belk Hudson Lofts.
Since early last year the historic brick building at the corner of Holmes and Washington in Huntsville has been under construction. Husband and wife developing team Charlie and Sasha Sealy have worked to keep parts of the historic building in place while adding 75 lofts, a gym and underground parking garage.
According to the owners, the building was constructed in 1922 when downtown Huntsville was the hub of commercial and government activity, the Belk Hudson Lofts building has its own unique history of occupants. The building also tells a story that reflects the rise, fall and revitalization of downtown commercial districts across the country and in Huntsville specifically.
The R.O. Mitchell Realty Company and the City Café were the first tenants of the building when it opened in 1922, and they were joined by the Cicero Grocery in 1924.
1929 brought a complete turnover of occupants to the building. The French Meat Market, F&F Café and City Shoe Shop, and the R. C. England Barber Shop all operated here until 1931 when Fowler Brothers Department Store and Beauty Shop opened and occupied the entire building.
Fowler Brothers provided one-stop dry goods shopping for Huntsville residents in this location until it relocated up the street in 1940. Burgess and Glover, Inc. took over the space from 1940 until the Belk Hudson Department Store moved into the building in 1943. Belk Hudson continued to operate in this location until 1959 when it moved into another nearby address. Belk Hudson occupied the building for the longest continuous timeframe of any tenant.
After Belk Hudson relocated in 1959, the building was once again divided into multiple spaces. Through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the building was home to many businesses and retailers including Busch Jewelry, Huguley’s Credit, Allen’s Dress Shop, Scottie’s Variety Store, Modern Wigs, Holmberg Hilding Men’s Wear and an American Army and Navy Surplus Store.
The changing uses and occupants of the building during those three decades stemmed from a social change that occurred throughout the 1960s. During that time, suburban developments sprang up across Huntsville and enclosed shopping malls became fashionable. The Heart of Huntsville Mall opened in 1961 with great success, followed by The Mall in 1966. Many businesses began the migration from the downtown commercial district to the malls, causing the commercial district to shrink. The economic tides started to significantly turn for downtown Huntsville.
1985 marked the highest vacancy rate for all of downtown Huntsville, and half of the Belk Hudson Lofts building was available for lease. The other half was occupied by the Surplus Store and Mary’s Shop for used clothing.
By 1988, Downtown Huntsville was showing signs of life again as newly opened restaurants and businesses began to thrive. Fuqua Hughes & Osborn P.C. opened on part of the property and operated there as Fuqua Osborn Architects until 2010. Also, Huntsville’s first microbrewery, Old Towne Brewery, opened on another part of the property in 2004 and added to the liveliness of downtown until it was destroyed by a fire in 2007.