There was nothing organic about the founding of Birmingham. No river, no deep water port, no verdant valley. In fact, the creation of the town can be traced to a specific date - June 1, 1871, when a small group of Southern planters, investors, and railroad men organized the Elyton Land Company to buy 4,150 acres of raw land in north central Alabama. Their new town would be sited at the crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North Alabama railroads nearby known deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone. The Elyton men were not burdened by any romantic images for their proposed town; the name they chose announced their vision for the enterprise - Birmingham, after the leading industrial town in England.
Early growth was stunted right at the start by an outbreak of cholera and a national financial crisis in 1873 but the dollar signs attached to those mineral deposits insured this was going to be a town to be reckoned with. The boom hit with a vengeance in the 1880s and would continue through the Great Depression of the 1930s. In that half-century Birmingham became the industrial center of the South with steel mills and blast furnaces going full bore, railroads building in every direction and mines operating 24 hours a day. Around the country Birmingham became known as “The Magic City” or “The Pittsburgh of the South.” The population grew from 3,000 to over a quarter million residents.
The Depression doused the explosive growth in the city but the decline in American manufacturing affected Birmingham less than many Northern towns. Steel production continues around the city and the financial sector blossomed into one of the nation’s leading banking centers. The University of Alabama at Birmingham emerged as a major medical research facility and is now the area’s leading employer.
The Birmingham streetscape mirrors its economic history almost exactly. The major commercial buildings arrived so fast and furiously in the early 1900s that one intersection was billed as “The Heaviest Corner on Earth.” Then, from the 1920s until the 1960s not one significant new commercial property was developed. Our walking tour to trace this history will begin at the head of 20 Street North, Birmingham’s “main street,” in a shady plaza named for the man who, more than anyone else, believed in what the town could become when all anyone could see was “a poor, insignificant Southern village” not even worthy of Union attack in the Civil War...
1. Linn Park
20th Street between 7th Avenue North and 8th Avenue North
The original plat for the Birmingham had space marked off for three parks; this was Central Park. From the town’s earliest days there was thought of wrenching the state capital away from Montgomery and this was the spot reserved for that capitol building that never materialized. In the meantime an iron fountain was installed here and then a 52-foot obelisk to honor Confederate soldiers and sailor sin 1905. Sinewy paths were carved through the park to attempt and unify the haphazard evolution of the open space. The park was renamed for President Woodrow Wilson in 1918, about the same time a formal plan for the city, including the park, was announced. Not all the planned improvements came to fruition but enough materialized to transform the park into Birmingham’s main public space. In 1988, it was renamed to honor someone who actually had a tangible connection to Birmingham - Charles Linn, who set up the town’s first bank and landscaped its first park down 20th Street at 1st Avenue.
WALK OVER TO THE WEST SIDE OF LINN PARK, TO 20TH STREET AS IT PASSES THE SQUARE.
2. Birmingham City Hall
20th Street North between Park Place and 8th Avenue North
This is the third City Hall for Birmingham, constructed in 1950 to complement the Jefferson County Courthouse across Linn Park. A sculpture at the south entrance was crafted to incorporate the cornerstones of the two predecessors. If you look closely you can discern contrasting bands of limestone and granite blocks to create the vertical elements of the composition.
FACING CITY HALL, TURN RIGHT AND BEGIN EXPLORING THE BUILDINGS AROUND LINN PARK BY WALKING CLOCKWISE.
3. Municipal (Boutwell) Auditorium
1930 8th Avenue North at 20th Street North
The Municipal Auditorium was constructed by the city in 1924 as a hall for conventions, balls, speeches and performances. A panel of local architects, guided by America’s foremost theater architect, Thomas W. Lamb, generated an oversized red brick structure with seating for 6,000. A 1957 renovation created new space in front of the original facade with a modern stone and glass addition. The building was renamed to honor Albert Burton Boutwell, a mayor of Birmingham and lieutenant governor of Alabama.
TURN RIGHT ALONG 8TH AVENUE AND WALK ALONG THE NORTH SIDE OF LINN PARK.
4. Birmingham Museum of Art
2000 Reverend Abraham Woods, Jr. Boulevard (8th Avenue North)
The museum was founded in 1951 with its roots in the Birmingham Art Club as far back as 1908. The collection is one of the strongest in the Southeast; the assemblage of Wedgwood is the largest outside England, for example. Local architects Warren, Knight, and Davis created the museum building in 1959.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK UP INTO THE CENTER OF LINN PARK. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
5. Jefferson County Courthouse
716 Richard Arrington, Jr Boulevard (21st Street North)
This is the third courthouse to serve Jefferson County. The cornerstone for the monumental granite and limestone structure with over a half million square feet of space was laid in 1929. The stripped-down classical Art Deco design was drawn by Chicagoan Jack B. Smith. Get close and look up to see sculpted relief panels of allegorical figures designed by Leo Friedlander, a future president of the National Sculpture Society.
NEXT DOOR, ON THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF THE SQUARE IS...
6. Linn-Henley Research Library
northwest corner of 7th Avenue North and Richard Arrington, Jr Boulevard (21st Street North
The first books were checked out in Birmingham in 1886 when John Herbert Phillips, then superintendent of the public school system, set up a library in a room next to his office. The City of Birmingham took over the lending library , then in City Hall, in 1913. When City Hall burned in 1925 the collection was destroyed. The rebirth of the public library system took place in this Neoclassical structure in 1927, executed in Indiana limestone on plans drawn by John Miller and Hugh Martin. Books streamed in from donations across the country. The Central Library served until 1984 when a new depository was constructed across the 21st Street. This building was renovated as a research library and renamed for town pioneer Charles Linn and Robert Henley, whose combined trust helped fund the restoration. An enclosed pedestrian bridge connects the library to the third floor of the new central library.
EXIT LINN PARK ON THE SOUTH SIDE AND TURN LEFT, WALKING AROUND THE LIBRARY TO 21ST STREET (RICHARD ARRINGTON, JR. BOULEVARD). ACROSS THE STREET IS THE NEW LIBRARY. TURN RIGHT.
7. Tutwiler Hotel
Richard Arrington, Jr Boulevard (21st Street North) between 6th and 7th avenues
Edward Magruder Tutwiler was a Virginian who was attending Virginia Military Institute during the Civl War with teenage cadets were pressed into duty in the Battle of Newmarket on May 15, 1864. He came to Birmingham when he was 35 as a civil engineer working for the Georgia Pacific Railroad. The year was 1881. Much of the line’s business came from the newly developed coal and coke industry and Tutwiler was appointed general superintendent of mines. In 1893 he founded Tutwiler Coal, Coke and Iron Company. After 20 years he sold his interests to Birmingham Coal and Iron and invested the proceeds into two properties, the 13-story brick and limestone luxury Tutwiler Hotel and the Ridgely Apartments. The Tutwiler Hotel was demolished in 1974 and this Tutwiler Hotel is actually a 1986 reincarnation of the name onto the converted Colonial Revival Ridgeley Apartments. If you are confused perhaps you could ask Edward Tutwiler himself - his ghost is said to haunt the building and especially favors the kitchen.
8. Redmont Hotel
2101 5th Avenue North
This is the oldest hotel building in Birmingham that is used as a hotel. The first guests checked in on May 1, 1925 to find their own private bathroom (a rarity at the time) with chilled water and ceiling fans. The 14-story, 160-foot brick tower was designed with classical influences by Geoffry lloyd Preacher, an Atlanta architect. The Redmont, named for the iron-rich Red Mountain ridge south of Birmingham, endured a stint as housing for the elderly but a multi-million dollar renovation in the 1980s reduced the number of rooms from 240 to 110 and re-established the property as a hotel.
9. First Presbyterian Church
2100 4th Avenue North
This congregation began in what was then Elyton in January 1858 as the Old School Presbyterian Church. In 1872 the wooden meetinghouse was dismantled and carted to this site and became the first church building in Birmingham. The membership was small, but ambitious. In 1888 the current Victorian Gothic sanctuary was constructed to replace the smaller building. It has been remodeled here and there but retains much of its 120+-year old traditional look.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH AVENUE AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO 20TH STREET.
10. Clark Building
northwest corner of 4th Avenue North and 20th Street North
This crisp, century-old brick building was erected by Louis V. Clark, who was an insurance man, real estate developer and theater operator. The Clark Building housed multiple businesses until 1986 and then dodged the wrecking ball to get a thorough restoration in 1998.
LOOMING BEHIND THE CLARK BUILDING IS..
11. Wells Fargo Tower
southwest corner of 5th Avenue North and 20th Street North
This has been Birmingham’s tallest building since it was completed in 1986. For twenty years the 454-foot tall grey granite structure was Alabama’s tallest skyscraper but that title has been usurped by the RSA Tower in Mobile.
TURN LEFT ON 20TH STREET.
northeast corner of 3rd Avenue North and 20th Street
Julius Blach, a German immigrant, set up his first store in Birmingham in 1885 and until Blach’s closed over 100 years later it remained family-owned. This was the Brach’s flagship store since 1935. It began life in 1890 as the Hood-Yielding General Merchandise Store and was converted into the 100-room Bencor Hotel twenty years later. To prepare the building for the arrival of Blach’s the ornamentation was stripped away and the original brickwork was stuccoed over to give a fresh “modern” look to the emporium.
13. Watts Building
northwest corner of 3rd Avenue North and 20th Street
ThomasWatts first built on this land in 1888 when a four-story Charles Wheelock-designed French Second Empire was erected here. Watts tore that down in 1926 to make way for this 17-story Art Deco apartment/office building. The architectural firm of William Tilman Warren; Eugene Herbert Knight; Charles Eayres Davis, who were busy in Birmingham for a half-century, designed the terra cotta-clad tower. Interestingly, Charles M. Allen and son, who had helmed the construction of the first Watts Building, ushered this $1 million project to completion.
14. Farley Building
southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 20th Street North
John Miller and Hugh Martin were New York architects at the turn of the 20th century who teamed up and came South to get in on Birmingham’s building boom. This nine-story, 126-foot tower was their first stab at a high-rise building and its graceful proportions helped establish their reputation. James A. Lewis would join the firm in 1914 and the trio would go on to design many important buildings in Birmingham and on the campus of the University of Alabama. The Farley Building, the town’s fourth skyscraper, was bankrolled by John Farley, a merchant from the tiny hamlet of Benton, south of Montgomery.
15. First National Bank Building
northeast corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue North
Carl Erik Engelbrekt Sjödahl was a seafarer born in Finland of Swedish parents. As a boy he ran away to sea, suffering first as a stowaway and later at the hands of brutal officers who did not understand his language. During his eventful career at sea, Linn rose from cabin boy to captain, crossing the Atlantic 53 times. All this before he was 24 years old. He came ashore in 1838 as Charles Linn in Montgomery where he opened a mercantile store and soon added farming to his holdings. He went back to sea as a Captain in The Confederate States Navy and after the Civil War Linn was more or less retired. In 1872 he was encouraged by friends to open the first bank in the newly hatched town of Birmingham. With $50,000 in gold Linn did just that, chartering the National Bank of Birmingham in 1872. To hold his business Carl Linn built an exuberant three-story building, by far the most ambitious structure in a town whose future was much in doubt. Linn doubled down on his bet on Birmingham by founding the Linn Iron Works and the Birmingham Car and Foundry Company with skilled workers brought in from Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio. By the time Carl Linn died in 1882 the town was firmly established and shortly after his death his bank merged with City Bank of Birmingham and the bank became The First National Bank of Birmingham. This ten-story bank headquarters was completed in 1903 as the city’s third skyscraper. In 1939 it was named for bank executive Frank Nelson and currently houses the Birmingham School of Law.
16. Bromberg’s Building
southeast corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue North
Bromberg’s lays claim to being the second oldest family-owned retailer in America, tracing its beginnings to 1832 when a young silversmith and jewel merchant left the family castle in Prussia and sailed to New York City. Frederick Bromberg found work as a silversmith and a bride, Lisette Cunigarde Dorothea Beetz, a nativ eof the home country in Hamburg. On the advice of friends the Brombergs ventured south to Alabama, sight unseen, and opened Bromberg & Company in Mobile in 1836. The store started by peddling musical instruments, pianos and sheet music, and eventually jewelry and gifts were added. In the first few years the venture was struck by the financial Panic of 1837, a fire that burned down the store and a yellow fever epidemic. Undaunted, Frederick Bromberg persevered and today Bromberg’s is Alabama’s oldest business.
It was not until the third generation that Bromberg’s came to Birmingham. This stylish building came along in the 1940s, designed by J. Gordon Carr, an architect with Tiffany’s New York 5th Avenue flagship store on his resume. The Brombergs stopped selling diamonds out of this location but renovated the building as the company’s administrative offices. The display windows at street level are still kept up to date.
17. Birmingham Trust and Savings Building
112 20th Street North
Birmingham Trust and Savings took its first deposits in 1887 under the leadership of Henry M. Caldwell. In the Panic of 1893 when many banks in the South suspended payment, Birmingham Trust and Savings paid cash over its counters for all demands. In 1902 the bank moved into a Renaissance Revival vault at this location, designed by go-to Birmingham architect Charles W. Wheelock. In 1922 a new, larger Neoclassical home, clad in white Georgia marble, was erected to contain the bank that would grow into a regional presence with branches in nine states. After morphing into SouthTrust the bank, with 117 years of history, was acquired by Wachovia Bank in 2004.
JUST AHEAD AT THE NEXT INTERSECTION WITH 1ST AVENUE IS “THE HEAVIEST CORNER ON EARTH.”
18. Empire Building
northwest corner of “Heaviest Corner on Earth”
This was the tallest building in Alabama when it was topped off in 1909. William T. Warren and William Leslie Welton, architects in the fabled New York shop of McKim, Mead and White, forged a partnership and came to Birmingham in 1907 to work on this tower, their first important commission. After going out on his own in 1910 and staying in town, Welton would become the go-to architect for many important projects in Birmingham. A classical entrance is framed by massive pink granite Doric columns and the entire facade is faced in molded terra cotta rising to one of Birmingham’s most ornate crowns. If you look all the way up you may be able to make out the row of shields at the roofline, each with a white “E,” representing the developer, Empire Improvement Company.
19. Brown Marx Building
northeast corner of “Heaviest Corner on Earth”
The wedding of the town’s leading real estate broker, Eugene L. Brown, and an investment banker, Otto Marx, produced this 16-story tower in 1906 with financing provided by the Tennessee Coal Iron and Railroad Company. It began life as a slender skyscraper but it proved to be such a money-maker from the start that the building was doubled in size by 1908, assuming a U-shaped plan that brought natural light into every office. Today most of the building’s original architectural details have been removed, most in an Art Deco streamlining makeover in the 1930s when the building was made even beefier. For many years this was the largest office building in the south, with most of its offices leased by United States Steel.
20. Woodward Building
southwest corner of “Heaviest Corner on Earth”
Before this ten-story tower was constructed in 1902 Birmingham was a town of two- and three-story buildings. This was Birmingham’s first skyscraper, its first steel-framed structure and by far the largest office building in town. Many doubted that Birmingham’s business community could absorb such a glut of office space. But the Woodward was fully rented when the mortar of the light brown brick facade dried and it ignited a building boom of high-rise office towers. Three went up on this very intersection and their near-simultaneous construction led Birmingham wags to call this the “Heaviest Corner in the South.” That was small thinking and over the years it became the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.”
William Woodward, who provided the vision and financing for this pioneering building came from an iron-making family. His father Simpson worked in the iron business in Pittsburgh and West Virginia before hearing tales from returning Union soldiers after the Civil War of rich coal and iron deposits in Alabama. After investigating he purchased 550 acres of land on Red Mountain and soon snapped up another 2000 acres near Woodstock. This was the nucleus of the Woodward Iron Company. The second generation, William and Joseph, fired the company’s first coke-processing blast furnace 12 miles southeast of Birmingham in 1883. In 1886 William left the presidency to Joesph; monies from his share of the company funded his office tower.
21. John Hand Building
southeast corner of “Heaviest Corner on Earth”
The John Hand Building had a brief few minutes as the city’s tallest building with a height of 287 feet when it was constructed back in 1912. The classical design came from the busy drawing room of William Leslie Walton. The tower was constructed as a headquarters for the American Trust and Savings Bank and It spent most of its time as a bank headquarters, being renamed to honor John A. Hand, president of First National Bank, in 1970.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST AVENUE AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO THE NEXT INTERSECTION.
22. Steiner Building
2101 1st Avenue North at 21st Street North
Burghard Steiner was born and educated in Bohemia, Austria before emigrating to America in 1874 at the age of 17 where he found himself clerking in a store in Uniontown. When he was twenty Steiner was able to engage his own mercantile business in Hamburg and after ten years he moved up to Birmingham where he and his brother Sigfried, two years his junior, launched the Steiner banking house. By 1890 the brothers were successful enough to construct this imposing red brick building in the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style. Pioneered by Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential American architect of the late 19th century, the Steiner Bank displays trademarks of the form such as broad, powerful corner entry arches, rough-faced stone, miniature colonnettes and corner tower. The Steiner Bank would last more than 100 years before closing in 1994; the bank moved from this location in 1962. This lot was the site of the wood-frame structure constructed by William Nabors that was considered to be the first house built in Birmingham.
TURN LEFT ON 21ST STREET (RICHARD ARRINGTON, JR. BOULEVARD).
23. Florentine Building
southeast corner of 2nd Avenue North and 21st Street
Mississippi-born Henry Upson Sims, an influential chancery lawyer and writer, set out to construct a building for the private Florentine Club in 1925. Sims wanted a building that resembled the lavish palaces he had seen in Florence during a trip to Italy in his youth. Architect David Oliver Whilldin, who created buildings in Birmingham for almost 60 years, delivered two stories of Italian-flavored arcades supported by marble columns and awash in colorful terra cotta ornamentation. The exuberant structure was said to have been the most expensive building per square foot in Birmingham. Sims had planned for a ten story tower but the Depression scuttled those plans and ultimately the Florentine Club was unsuccessful as well.
24. Comer Building/City Federal Building
northwest corner of 2nd Avenue North and 21st Street
In the early go-go days of the 20th century every few years brought a new “tallest building” in Birmingham. That ended in 1913 with the topping off of the Comer Building at 27 storiesand 325 feet. The Neoclassical skyscraper, designed by William Weston, was the tallest building in the Southeast and remained Alabama’s tallest until 1969; it would be Birmingham’s Sky King until 1972. By that time the tower had been re-named for City Federal and tomake the new name stick neon signs were installed on the roof and vertically down the southeast corner. By any name, th estructure was abandoned and a multi-million dollar renovation converted the space to condominiums.
25. Bankers Bond/Massey Building
southwest corner of 3rd Avenue North and 21st Street North
William Leslie Walton designed one of Birmingham’s most ornate buildings in the 1920s for Bankers Bond. Walton tapped Moorish influences for his eclectic decorative flourishes which include spiral-fluted columns around the entrances and pointed elements evocative of minarets at the parapet. Bankers Bond did not survive the coming Great Depression and the building’s name reverted to its developer, Richard W. Massey. The first two county courthouses in Birmingham were constructed on this intersection.
TURN LEFT ON 3RD AVENUE TO BEGIN EXPLORING THE MAIN SHOPPING AND COMMERCIAL ARTERY IN BIRMINGHAM. CROSS OVER 20TH STREET.
26. Burger-Phillips Building
1914 3rd Avenue North
This brick and limestone and terra cotta commercial structure came online in 1924 a showroom and warehouse for Oster Brothers Furniture. In 1933 the space was purchased by Burger-Phillips department store and given an Art Deco facelift. In the 1980s the building was at the center of a large redevelopment effort to bring offices and residences to the block.
27. S. H. Kress Five-And-Ten Cent Store
301 19th Street North
Samuel H. Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. This was one of the chain’s latest structures, designed by chief architect Edward F. Sibbert, and executed in 1937. Sibbert moved on from the exuberant Kress style of the early Art Deco period and incorporated a more streamlined Art Moderne style here for the creamy mottled terra-cotta and steel-framed structure. The store was closed in 1978, and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
TURN RIGHT ON THEATER STREET.
28. McWane Science Center
200 19th Street North
Adolf Bernard Loveman was 21 whencame from Hungary to the United States in 1865 and traveled into the South. He wound up in Alabama running a dry gods store in Greensboro. It took more than 20 years but Loveman was finally ready to come to Birmingham where he teamed with Moses Joseph of Selma and Emil Loeb and the trio developed what would become the largest department store in Birmingham. By 1911, A. B. Loveman’s Dry Goods Emporium was widely regarded as the most magnificent shopping palace south of the Ohio River. The Romanesque brick store was destroyed by fire in 1934 and was reborn in an Art Deco-inspired skin. it was the first large-scale store in America to be fully air-conditioned and patrons could ride Alabama’s first escalator. Loveman’s closed in 1980 and the building was renovated in 1998 for today’s McWane Science Center.
29. Graves Building
1816-20 3rd Avenue North
This four-story brick commercial building with terra cotta decoration was constructed by W.S. Graves in 1912 for his Graves Shale Brick Company. The design came from the busy shop of Harry Wheelock. For much of its life the century-old building did duty as a furniture shop.
30. Alabama Theatre
1817 3rd Avenue North
This anchor of Birmingham’s Theater District opened as the town’s largest movie palace in 1927 with 2,200 seats. The Alabama was constructed as a jewel in Paramount Studio’s chain of theaters and studio president Adolph Zukor hailed it as “The Showplace of the South.” It was the first public building in Alabama to have air conditioning and boasted the state’s largest screen. The facade was meant to mimic New York’s Paramount Theatre in patterned brick with terra cotta ornamentation. Opening night December 26 featured the silent comedy, The Spotlight, with Esther Rawlson in a starring duel role. Like most of America’s grand downtown theaters the Alabama spiraled downhill into closure in the 1970s. But it was one of the lucky ones; the opulent theater was saved and restored.
31. Alabama Walk of Fame
south side of 3rd Avenue North, between 18th Street North and 19th Street North
Taking its cue from the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Alabama Walk of Fame honors Alabamians of note in the arts. The first induction took place in 1989. Stanleigh Malotte, the house organist in the Alabama Theatre for many years, is the only inductee to be neither born nor raised in Alabama, but was declared a “citizen of Alabama” by a special gubernatorial proclamation. From 1936 to 1955 Malcotte worked his magic on “the Mighty Wurlitzer,” one of only 17 ever built and one of only three still in its original location.
32. Goldstein Building
1801-1811 3rd Avenue North
Look up above the altered street level storefronts to see the Romanesque-flavored brickwork of this two-and-a-half story commercial building. This corner was slated to be occupied by the Alabama Theatre when it was built in 1927 but the owners refused to sell and the Alabama was reconfigured into an L-shaped structure. The most enduring tenant was Goldstein’s Furs, who departed in the 1980s. The Spanish tile roof is a later affectation.
33. Lyric Theatre
1801 Third Avenue North
This is the oldest surviving theater in Birmingham, built in 1914 as part of the chain of B.F. Keith vaudeville houses. Benjamin Franklin Keith began as the operator of a curio museum in Boston and evolved into a live performance promoter, becoming the impresario most responsible for the transformation of variety theater into vaudeville. The biggest names in show business took bows in front of the gold leaf curtain - Will Rogers, George Burns, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Mae West among them. To keep customers cool in the summers, air was fanned across two tons of ice every day. In the 1930s the Lyric became a second-run movie house and carried on until 1958. The building, designed by C.K. Howell, is awaiting a restoration to reverse decades of neglect.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK TO 17TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT. BEFORE YOU DO, HOWEVER, LOOK TO YOUR LEFT. THE LONE SKYSCRAPER IS...
34. Leer Tower
1631 2nd Avenue North
This was the lavish Thomas Jefferson Hotel when it was opened on the cusp of the Great Depression on September 7, 1929. It was the brainchild of developer Henry Cobb and was the last major work for prolific architect David O. Whilldin in Birmingham. After stops and starts and construction over-runs the final price tag for the 19-story Neoclassical tower was was $2.5 million, more than a million dollars over budget. The rich and famous signed the guestbook here for over 50 years; a special suite was reserved for Bear Bryant during fall football games at Legion Field. The hotel was shuttered in 1983 and after more than 20 years of vacancy the Leer Corporation announced a planned $32 million renovation in 2005 but financing fell through. The structure you see on the roof was a mooring mast intended for use by “lighter than air” dirigibles similar to the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg that exploded and burned in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937.
WALK TO THE NEXT INTERESECTION AT 4TH AVENUE.
35. Carver Theatre
1631 4th Avenue North
The Fourth Avenue corridor was the business an entertainment heart of Birmingham’s African-American community and the Carver Theatre, named for scientist George Washington Carver, opened as a first-run movie theater in 1935. It picked up an extensive facelift in 1945 and behind the Art Deco marquee were 1,300 air-conditioned theater chairs. Following a recognizable arc, the Carver slipped into disrepair and disrepute until it closed in the 1980s. The City of Birmingham, however, bought the property and remodeled the buidling intoa live-performance venue with seating for 508. The Alabama Jazz hall of Fame can be found here.
36. Colored Masonic Temple
1630 4th Avenue North
This seven-story Renaissance Revival building was raised in 1922 for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama. Three ground floor rooms were used for the Booker T. Washington Library, the first public lending library open to African-Americans in Birmingham. Look up above the rusticated stone base on the 4th Avenue facade to see an engaged Corinthian portico crafted from limestone set against the golden bricks.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH AVENUE.
37. Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park
southwest corner of 18th Street and 4th Avenue North
Growing up in Birmingham, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams sang together in a church choir and eventually the boys formed a doo-wop group called The Cavaliers. In 1957 they left Birmingham to embark on a musical journey that took them to Detroit and a recording contract with Motown Records in 1961 as the Temptations. After starting as background singers for Mary Wells, the Temptations became Motown’s most successful vocal group ever, with Kendricks usually out front. When his singing career waned Kendrick would return to Birmingham where he would die of lung cancer in 1992 at the age of 52. This small park, featuring a memorial garden, bronze sculptures of the Temptations and recorded music, was dedicated in 1999.
TURN LEFT ON 18TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 5TH AVENUE.
38. Robert S. Vance Federal Building and US Courthouse
1800 5th Avenue North
Behind a parade of white Georgia marble Ionic columns stands Birmingham’s fifth post office. The Neoclassical building that fills most of a block was completed in 1921. The post office has always shared the space with federal courtrooms which became the primary function here after the post office moved on to a sixth downtown location. The building was named in honor of Robert S. Vance, a Birmingham jurist who was killed by a mail bomb in 1989 after a civil rights ruling.
TURN LEFT ON 19TH STREET.
39. First United Methodist Church
518 19th Street North
Birmingham’s Methodists convened early in 1872 in a storehouse, beginning a peripatetic existence for two decades until they settled into this handsome Romanesque-styled church in 1891. The architect was George Kramer who helped popularize the Akron Plan for church buildings that featured a diagonally oriented auditorium with curved seating and a pulpit platform in one corner. The brownstone sanctuary was spruced up in 1973.
TURN RIGHT ON 6TH AVENUE.
40. Cathedral Church of the Advent
southeast corner of 6th Avenue North and 20th Street North
In February of 1872, for the sum of five dollars, the Elyton Land Company deeded to the Episcopal Church one quarter of a choice downtown block. Here would be raised a wooden meetinghouse suitable for 200 worshipers by 1873. The cornerstone for a more substantial sandstone church was laid in 1887 but the building, with Romanesque and Norman influences, would not be ready until 1893. In 1982 the Church of the Advent became a cathedral for the diocese and a year later the church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
TURN LEFT ON 20TH STREET AND WALK UP INTO LINN PARK AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.