Just 20 blocks north of the BJCC’s new entertainment district is the commercial center of North Birmingham, an important early satellite city of the early industrial region, which was incorporated into Birmingham proper in 1910. This center has an incredible urban fabric, considering its economic woes–and considering the ill-advised attempt a few decades ago to “suburbanize” its downtown (above): an entire half-block was demolished for a parking lot, with existing and “modernized” storefronts facing it, with the whole venture branded as “North Birmingham Shopping Center.” Bunker-like landscape elements line 27th Street where buildings and businesses used to front.
Above we see the former Kress Five and Dime, whose size and detailing is testament to the former importance of this commercial center. Despite the misguided demolition around the corner, much of the historic fabric is intact (the above shot is along 27th Street looking north towards 30th Avenue).
More testament to the fine urban fabric is the great neo-classical former North Birmingham Trust and Savings Bank (1926) and adjacent Art Deco former supermarket (above) which have been recently purchased by a young local design firm Regarding Architecture to renovate into a mixed-use development. The architects are planning a sensitive restoration of the exteriors (the former supermarket became a drive-through for the bank a while back!).
The photo above is from perhaps the late 1930′s, illustrating the same buildings. The fantastic building stock on these blocks is ripe for forward-thinking pioneers like RA, who are breathing new life into the district.
Another recent investment is the Ecoscape garden that replaced a vacant lot (above). A project of the local neighborhood, Wells Fargo bank (which recently renovated their local bank branch), Birmingham Southern College, and Main Street Birmingham, it’s another example of a positive new direction for this place.
A less positive note for the neighborhood are the proposed alterations to an historic building (above right), whose fake mansard and blocked-up storefronts puts it at odds with many of its better-preserved neighbors. The Design Review Committee yesterday denied the business-owner’s request for a new neon sign–which has already been installed anyway (without approval). The owner also proposed stone infill to one side of the entrance–adding insult to injury on this facade. The business is a nightclub (The Mansion) that seems to have been operating without proper licenses, proceeding with interior renovations without a permit, etc. It also seems the owner has chopped down city trees on the sidewalk, an outrageous act in any neighborhood–but to this day has not replanted anything.
While a nightclub has a right to be in an urban district, wouldn’t it be great if it was a good neighbor–applying for permits properly, working to renovate its facade in a manner more in keeping with this place? My hope is that this neighborhood will see more of RA’s effort, and less of The Mansion’s.
[Historic photo courtesy Birmingham Public Library]