They say many things run in cycles, and what’s old suddenly becomes new again. That’s definitely true this year as preparations are well underway for the Annual Tocqueville Dinner on November 14th at a spectacular “new” location that harkens back to Birmingham’s preeminence as the epicenter of the industrial South.
The Theodore, built in the Lakeview District in 1929 as a warehouse and then converted in 1936 to Swann Chemical Company’s research laboratory, has been restored, renewed and repurposed. Exuding modern-industrial style, sophistication and character with its brick walls, steel truss ceilings and sleek masonry floors, the former chemical lab is now a fabulous event facility befitting the prestigious Tocqueville Dinner.
The Theodore takes its name from Swann Chemical Company’s founder Theodore Swann. Originally from Tennessee, Swann was a rising star with Westinghouse when Alabama Power recruited him to Birmingham in 1913. A few years later, he started his own ground-breaking chemical company in the Magic City and became a bonafide industrial mogul. However, Swann was not all business, all the time. He was actually quite flamboyant and enjoyed the finer things in life. His palatial properties, including the castle-like mansion atop Red Mountain and a river house on the Cahaba, were the scene of some of Birmingham’s most extravagant parties – all with the goal of giving guests a night they would never forget. Cindy and Ken Rhoden, owners of The Theodore, hope to honor Swann’s memory by continuing that tradition.
“We could’ve named it a lot of different things, but we just loved Theodore’s story,” said Cindy. “He was such a larger-than-life character.”
The Rhodens bought the Theodore in 2017 and restored the property with love and respect so as to honor its heritage while also maintaining its unique flair and industrial origin. Since its opening in January, the space has already played host to a variety of events, from weddings and galas to art shows and corporate events. The Annual Tocqueville Dinner will be the first UWCA event held in the space.
Another new but familiar twist on this year’s affair is the catering. Chris Hastings, the James Beard Award-winning owner of Hot & Hot Fish Club and Ovenbird, threw his chef’s hat into the catering ring earlier this year by launching Hastings Catering. At the helm of the new endeavor is seasoned caterer Katie Wilson, whose 20 years of culinary experience just so happens to include the past four Tocqueville Dinners.
“There’s something special about the relationships you form with repeat clients,” said Katie. “The team at UWCA are more than just my clients, they’re my friends!”
While she won’t give away many details, Katie notes that she’s excited about including a paella station and a new “roaming” food station this year. Both innovative concepts are in the spirit of Hastings Catering’s emphasis on custom-curated culinary experiences, tailored to the client, event and space.
The Annual Tocqueville Dinner is a way for United Way of Central Alabama to thank its most generous donors for their outstanding gifts. Each of these greatly appreciated gifts makes a huge impact on our community and helps United Way fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Central Alabama. Here’s to a history-making evening at The Theodore. Cheers and bon appetit!