Masonic Building – Part 3
Walter C. Weems relocated his insurance agency from the street level space of the Masonic Building in 1948 to a basement office in the Wilson Drug Co. building on Middle Street. As noted in our last installment, the Montevallo Times began operating out of the building’s basement in 1933 and was still located there when Weems’ move created the 1948 vacancy on the floor above. W.M. “Mack” Wyatt, a newspaperman from Clanton, bought the Times in 1935, moved to Montevallo, and took over operations of the Times that summer. During the years between 1935 and 1948, Wyatt had not only breathed new life into the Montevallo newspaper and increased its advertising and circulation but he also upgraded the business’s printing equipment and expanded what was a small print shop into a commercial printing business called Times Printing Co. By the time that Weems vacated the Masonic Building, Wyatt was in need of more space so he took advantage of the opportunity and leased the street level space from the Masonic Lodge. This decision gave him more breathing room for printing equipment and paper storage as well as a more welcoming public entrance with easier access to a relocated newspaper office.
Wyatt was also elected Mayor of Montevallo in 1948 and began to serve the first of his five unopposed terms that ended with his death in 1966. Being a civic minded city official, Wyatt volunteered for the Times office to serve as one of Montevallo’s polling places for state and national elections, so several make-shift “secret ballot” cubicles were brought in for use on election day and then shoved into a corner until they were needed for the next election.
Wyatt branched out from news coverage of the Montevallo area exclusively when he expanded into the town of Calera with the addition of the Calera Herald in 1951. He published the Montevallo Times and the Calera Herald as separate newspapers for a period of three years until he made the decision to consolidate them into a single paper with two editions, The Shelby County Times-Herald. The Times-Herald did well until Wyatt concluded that he was no longer the young, energetic journalist of his youth, so in 1959, he ceased publication and sold his paper to the Shelby County Reporter of Columbiana. Times Printing had grown and expanded its capabilities during the 1950’s as Mack Wyatt brought his sons, Jimmie and Pat, into the business. By 1961, Jimmie had been lured away to manage a Birmingham printing company while Pat had been given more and more responsibility for the business by his father. In 1961, Times Printing Co. moved across Vine Street into the basement of the brand new Whaley Shopping Center, directly under the Food Center, and set up their printing plant and offices in a space that was much more suited to the kind of work now being done for their many customers.
With the departure of Times Printing from the Masonic Building in the early 1960’s, Montevallo native Zane Nathews made the decision to open a men’s clothing store in the street level space. Alabama College had begun admitting men just a few years earlier and Nathews saw this influx of male students into Montevallo as a ready market for a business offering the repp ties, button-down oxford cloth shirts, khaki trousers and blazers, and penny loafers that were popular at the time with college age men. Nathews had most recently been in the insurance business, but his father, uncles, and cousins, were veteran retail merchants having successfully run various clothing stores in Montevallo and nearby Centreville and West Blocton. After a few years getting established, Zane’s soon became an institution on Main Street and the store of choice for outfitting local men of all ages. One of the keys to Zane’s success was his ability to change with the times. As styles evolved from the dressy look of the early 1960’s to the blue jeans, casual, and athletic clothing that followed, he kept pace and worked to always give his customers the contemporary garments and accessories that offered them quality, style, and good value. Zane’s was a one-man operation, so he could be found at his store six days a week and only left long enough to go across the street to the post office or the gas station coke machine. He was a great sports fan, so local coaches, athletes, and other sports fans could be found visiting the store at any time of day, and there was always good natured joshing, ribbing, game replays, and story swapping going on. Zane Nathews operated his unique and highly popular men’s store on Main Street until 1986 when he reached retirement age and closed his doors for good.
Soon after Zane Nathews ended his 25 year run as street level tenant in the Masonic Building and said goodbye to Main Street, attorney Mitchell Spears, another local boy, opened his law office in the same space. Over time, Spears came to serve the legal needs of many in Montevallo and central Alabama and earned a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most wise and reliable counsels and confidants a client could turn to in the area. A former U.S. Marine and Cumberland Law School graduate, Mitchell Spears was also a lifetime member of Central Lodge No. 70 (Masonic Lodge) and enjoyed a 34 year career practicing law in Montevallo, most of them from his office in the Masonic Building. His run with the Masonic Building came to a sad end when he was struck down by disease in the prime of life at age 64 in 2016.
Following the untimely death of Mitchell Spears in 2016, Bradford Real Estate Group found itself in the awkward position of having to vacate the Main Street building it had occupied for a number of years in order to make way for the new Taco Bell that was coming to town. Once again, the departure of one excellent Masonic Building tenant opened the door for someone else to come in, put down roots, and make it their home. Josh and Julie Smitherman bought Bradford Real Estate Group in 2007 and moved into the street level of the Masonic Building in 2017. Unlike other tenants who came to the building and adapted what they found to suit their needs without much change or fanfare, Josh and Julie decided that an entire facelift and rebranding was in order for the building to properly represent their approach to their business and how they want to be perceived by potential clients and customers. Because of the circumstances they found themselves in, the Smithermans and their employees had to move in and then live through a total gutting and rebuilding of their primary work area. Walls were removed and replaced, wiring and plumbing were reworked, floors were refinished, and a new HVAC system added. In the process, the old tin ceilings from an earlier era were exposed and restored and married with a contemporary looking decor that now speaks to the competence and professionalism of this energetic young Main Street business. If Montevallo is lucky, Bradford will walk in the footsteps of its predecessors and remain as a prosperous tenant of the Masonic Building for many years to come.
Thank you Clay Nordan, Vice President of Montevallo Historical Society, for this information!