Terrace Court is a landmark apartment building at the corner of Highland Avenue and 20th Street South near Five Points South. The six-story was developed by Richard Massey for $180,000 and billed as the first high-class apartment building south of Washington D. C. The original configuration included 24 apartments arranged in an H-shape around deep light-filled courts. The ground floor and first floor provided leasable spaces for retailers and office tenants.
The building was designed by William Weston and represented a rare early use of reinforced concrete. The exterior was clad in gold-toned pressed brick with dark-brown terra cotta trim. Wrought-iron balconies served each apartment. A grand stair of white marble led to the porticoed entrance on the main courtyard. The design incorporated several innovative amenities for tenants. Sand was packed into the voids in the wall tiles and floor arches to help sound-proof the building.
Terrace Court was constructed during turbulent economic times, and Massey employed non-union labor. According to Massey's daughter, workmen from a builder's union, then striking, raided the site, murdering a night watchman and sabotaging the plumbing system. Nevertheless, the landmark project was completed in 1907. It was "christened" by Miss Lucille Gaston at an invitation-only event on the evening of Friday, November 6. Governor William Jelks remarked: "There may be other Terrace Courts in the future, but those who erect them will be copyists."
Notable early tenants included J. F. Leary, T. Ashby Weller, and Robert McLester, all on the fourth floor. Others included physician I. J. Sellers, Edward Cullom, and George Crawford. Mrs Helen Gewert operated a public restaurant in the building in 1910.
In January 1934, Massey told Hill Ferguson in a letter that his return on the Terrace Court investment had been very small, and would have run into debt had he borrowed to finance construction.
In 2006, Boothby Realty and its investment partners announced a $5 million plan to redevelop Terrace Court as the Terrace on Highland Condominiums. Plans called for 26 condominiums, ranging from 875 to 1,928 square feet, designed by Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds architects. The units were to be priced at $298,000 to $695,000. The courtyard and lobby areas would be restored closer to their original appearance, including a pre-Nazi party swastika design in the lobby tile. A fitness center and concierge were planned amenities for residents. Completion of the renovations was scheduled for 2007. Only the spot occupied by Dave's Pub would remain as commercial space. That plan did not proceed, and the property was foreclosed on by Regions Bank.
The pre-Nazi swastika was, of course, not meant to be an homage to Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, even though the party popularly known as the Nazis had been founded in Germany in 1920. Hitler wasn’t appointed chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg until 1933. He quickly consolidated power into a totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich. So why is there a swastika in the lobby of the Terrace Apartments and in other places around Birmingham? It so happens that swastikas are an ancient symbol found in many cultures and the Nazis only appropriated it for their own malevolent ends.
Swastikas pop up in Native American culture. Apparently, there was a small tribe in what is now known as Jones Valley in Jefferson County that used the symbol, and it was incorporated as a tribute to the original residents of the Birmingham area. When Nazi Germany made a reversed version of it part of its national flag, it forever turned the pattern into a symbol of hate.
Not only is this building filled with charm, character, and history but the views from this property are pretty amazing.
In 2009, The Red Mountain Development Group purchased the Terrace Court Apartments for $3.8 million and undertook the complete renovation. Terrace Court now features 40 modern, loft style apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space. The property has been a catalyst for the revival of the historic 5 Points neighborhood.