Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Woodlawn. A nearly revised neighborhood

The Woodlawn area of Birmingham was settled by Huguenot farmers in 1815 who traveled from South Carolina to settle in Alabama.  The leaders of this group were Obadiah Washington Wood and his son Edmond.

Edmond was granted 1200 acres of his father's homestead and went on to form a small community known as Rockville in 1832.  It was just a small group of homes near the roadway.

When the railroad came through in 1870, the area was renamed Wood Station and with the advent of the railroad through this area, it began to grow.  But the end of the 1870's, Woodlawn Academy had been created to educate the children of the approximately 90 families that called Wood Station and Rockville their home.  By 1891 Wood Station was recognized by the State of Alabama and it was incorporated under the name "City of Woodlawn".  In 1895 the residents erected their first city hall and jail.

In 1922 the gothic inspired and historical Woodlawn High School opened.  It is still a thriving high school and truly a landmark in the Woodlawn area.

By 1910 the city of Birmingham had annexed Woodlawn but the sense of community in Woodlawn remained strong.  The Wood family had turned their estate on Georgia Avenue into a park for Woodlawn complete with a spring fed swimming pool and named it Willow Wood Park.  

Unfortunately in the 1970's a culmination of events saw urban blight take over.  Some of those events were the tumultuous race riots of the 1960's, white flight, the aging population in Woodlawn and the desertion of Woodlawn by its younger residents as they moved elsewhere in search of employment.

As for notables who were raised in Woodlawn, Richard D. Zanucks wife, Lili was from Woodlawn as was Hop-a-Long Cassidy's wife, Dorothy.  Dorothy Sebastian was raised at 801 N. 49th St.  Follow the link below for a street view of what her childhood home looks like today. https://www.google.com/maps/@33.537845,-86.762978,3a,75y,90h,81.73t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sGj1X8RJ45Fi_kQ_r64RWcQ!2e0 

Of course no town would be complete without a cemetery.  The Wood family still owns and maintains a private cemetery located on 57th St. N. across from the Woodlawn High School. The descendants of the founders of Woodlawn maintain the cemetery themselves.

There is another cemetery in Woodlawn.  This one is a lot larger and a bit more notorious.  It is known as Greenwood Cemetery and is located by the airport.  

Some years ago, the airport took many acres of the cemetery and expanded their runway system.  They were supposed to move all the graves in their paths in order to accomplish this but there are doubts that this occurred.  A part of the interstate runs on the edge of the cemetery which again raised some suspicions as to whether the graves they disturbed were properly moved as well.  

For years folks had complained about not being able to find their loved ones but no one ever paid much, if any, attention to them since the cemetery itself was not always properly maintained.  This fact coupled with the common knowledge that vandals frequented this cemetery led authorities to take the families complaints with a big fat grain of salt and they simply replied that the graves in question simply could not be found - but certainly were still there. Perhaps the headstones had been vandalized?

Then in 1998, the sister of Addie Mae Collins went to visit her sister grave for the first time since Addie Mae was killed in the 16th St. Baptist Church bombings of 1963.  The owners of Greenwood had gone bankrupt in the 1970's and the cemetery was nearly in shambles and had been completely deserted.  A few times a year the city would go out and have it mowed and would have the police patrol it from time to time, but that was all the maintenance that it ever received.  The City of Birmingham estimates the have spent approximately $250,000 maintaining the abandoned cemetery. 

Addie Mae's family wanted to move her to another cemetery.  One that was better maintained and perhaps had security to keep the vandals away.

They found the marble headstone marking her grave but when the workers dug, they didn't find a coffin.  To this day, no one knows what happened to the coffin containing the body of this young girl who was killed in the bombing of her church.

The original fire station for Woodlawn still stands.  It was built in 1929 and was one of the most interesting fire stations in the area as it was not built in the usual square box like fashion.

When Woodlawn hit its lowest point in the early 1980's the fire station was all but abandoned and sat empty and boarded up for 20 years.

Then in about 2008 a drive was founded to restore the formerly beautiful building.  Below is what the fire station looks like today.

There are a lot of buildings in the Woodlawn area that are still in decent shape.  The downtown area of Woodlawn is attractive and for the most part well maintained.  It could be brought back to its former glory and when that happens, the rest of the area will follow suit.

Other neighborhoods in the Birmingham area such as Avondale, Crestwood, South Side to name a few have all had their ups and downs but once their commercial area began to be refurbished and revived, the residential areas followed suit.

Woodlawn is a stones throw from downtown Birmingham.  The trendier neighborhoods of Avondale and Crestwood sit on its borders.

The original City Hall is still standing.  It has been repurposed as a funeral home and is well maintained.

Below are a few more shots of downtown.

The downtown area of Woodlawn has a nice urban feel to it.  I can imagine coffee shops, art galleries and perhaps even a community theater there.  The trendier neighborhoods are so close to Woodlawn that I am positive these residents would bring their business to Woodlawn rather than drive further down the road to Forrest Park or South side to get their Sunday cup of coffee while watching the traffic and reading their paper.  

All it would take are a few investors with a few good ideas.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Why do you want to Move?

Why do you really want to move?  Need something larger, smaller, cheaper, nicer?  Maybe you want more land or less land.  Like to live closer to work or maybe as far away as possible? There are a bazillion reasons that people move.  All of them perfectly legitimate.  But sometimes folks think they have to move when they really don't.

After all, moving is not a quick or inexpensive chore.  Just trying to remember everyone I need to notify of my new address is enough to make me want to stay put.

If you want more land or less land than what you currently have, I'm afraid moving is your only option.  But if you like your location and lot size but don't think you have enough interior square footage or your space just seems tired and boring, sometimes that's a problem that can be solved.

You would not believe the number of people who move because they don't think they have enough storage space or they think they've "outgrown" their space when in fact, they didn't. What they did do, is try to cram more stuff into their house than it would hold.

I've always said that these types of people are bordering on being hoarders with money. People who have money and good credit can always buy a bigger house when they've succeeded in stuffing their present one to the gills.  The ones without money and good credit show up on that reality TV show about hoarders.

The things  that seem to overwhelm people and make them want to throw their hands up in the air and move are (1) clutter from their children (2) cluttered entryways/mudrooms (3) kitchens that they think are too small and (4) playrooms and/or bedrooms that seem too small. 

So let's address these one by one.

(1) Clutter from Children.  

Want to know why there's clutter from the children driving you nuts?  It's really pretty simple.  The children have way too much stuff, they are not taught how to pick up after themselves or both.  

Look at the picture below.  No child needs that many items out at the same time....as a matter of fact....no child needs that many items at all.

Even children as young as 3 can do simple chores. At that age, if you slap on a bright enough smile with a happy enough voice, they will do it in record time and be super excited about it. The key is not making it appear to be a chore and be consistent about making them put their own toys away.  

Children should be taught very early on that if they get a toy out, they have to put it back when finished before they can get another toy. Once children form a habit of picking up after themselves, it become a habit that they will keep throughout their lives.  But it all has to begin with the parents.  If mom or dad makes them pick up their toys today but then tomorrow, they allow the toy to remain in the middle of the floor.....they have to begin all over again with training.

Studies have proven that children have the ability to concentrate and actually engage in playing with a maximum of 3 toys at any time. So don't allow the kids to drag out every toy they own.  It's pointless and creates an unnecessary chaos in your living space. A very important thing to remember is boredom.  If your child sees the same toys all day every day, they grow bored with all of them and then they want more - but they don't want to get rid of any of the old ones......see the cycle?

Now what about children clutter that is caused by the adults?  Parents do you really need to have car seats, strollers, bouncy seats, play pens, changing tables and high chairs in every room?  As a matter of fact do you really even need these things in view when not in use?

Some parents, especially first time parents, go nuts when they have kids.  They go out and buy every piece of child furniture, accessories, clothes and toys that they can find.  Somehow all those things inevitably wind up strewn about the common areas and entryway.  Then the parents wonder why they have "outgrown" their house.  

(2) Entry ways and/or Mudrooms

Houses get a bad rap from entryways.  The rest of the house can be awesome but if that entryway is small and/or cluttered, people soon develop a bad attitude about the entire house. Entryways were designed to be exactly what the name implies....an entryway.  They weren't designed to house all your coats, shoes, boots, strollers, backpacks, etc.

It's so much easier to take off your coat and boots and then carry them to your bedroom than it is to trip over them in the entryway.  Another plus to taking them with you when you enter the house is purely logistic.  If you take off your coat and boots and leave them at the door, then tomorrow when you get ready to leave the house, you will grab another pair of boots and another coat and wear them to work or school.  Then when you come home, you'll leave those by the door and when you get ready for work or school the next day.......see how it can all pile up and get out of control?

Does the picture below look like your entryway?

If you simply cannot or will not take your belongings with you, then how about purchasing a bench with storage inside?  Sit on top to take off your boots, open the lid and toss them inside. Out of sight.

(3) Kitchens

Nearly everyone that mentions moving mentions the kitchen.  It's too small, there's not enough storage, it's outdated.  The kitchen below would make me want to move pronto!

This is actually a good sized kitchen with plenty of storage.  However, every single surface has something on it.  There is nowhere to even sit a cup.  

I used to be bad about fridge magnets.  Every inch of my fridge (including the sides) were covered with them.  I began using them to keep schedules on the fridge, or notes to myself or other family members or to showcase the kids artwork or schoolwork but somewhere along the way, I collected so many that it just took over.  Once I put them in a box to donate, I marveled at how clean my fridge looked and how much larger my kitchen felt.  The same effect was achieved when I took my pot rack down. While I loved it and loved the convenience it offered me, the feeling of spaciousness after I took it down was well worth the extra step of bending over to get a skillet.

A clean and uncluttered room gives you serenity and induces a calmness.  I don't mean to imply that you should toss out everything you own and go minimalist - I hate minimalist - I'm simply saying maybe toss half and what you don't toss, hide.  If you use your crock pot every day, keep it on the counter.  If you only use it once a week or once a month - it can go to a cabinet or into the pantry.  Same thing applies with toasters, mixers, blenders, etc.  Anything you don't use on a daily basis should not be seen.  

Lots of people will read that and reply that while it sounds nice, it's just not feasible to do this because the cabinets are already filled with dishes, drinkware, etc.  The key to accomplishing this trick is to reduce the amount of items already housed in your cabinets. 

With plates and drinkware, I keep 8 of each in my cupboards, the rest of them go into boxes and sit on the floor in my pantry.  If I have company, I take them out if needed.  With cookware/bakeware, I keep the ones I use the most in my cabinet by the stove.  The rest of them, again, are boxed up in my pantry.  When I have company for dinner or for holidays, I take them out but once I'm finished - back into the pantry they go.  See?  I didn't throw them away or donate them.  I just hide them away which makes plenty of room for me to store the things that once lived on my counters.  

As a result of the above tips, I have a kitchen that I enjoy being in.  I have a kitchen that never feels cluttered or out of sorts and I am never embarrassed whenever anyone pops over unannounced.

(4) Playroom and Children's Bedroom

If you follow my advice about drastically cutting down on the number of toys you allow your children to keep, then you shouldn't have any issues with maintaining order in their playroom or bedrooms.

A few bookshelves, toy chest, light colored paint and furniture that is smaller in scale will open these rooms up and make them appear much larger than they are.  They will become places where your children will want to be.

Check out the before and after below.

Now we're back to the original question.  Why do you really want to move?  Obviously you liked your house enough at one time to actually move into it.  At some point you simply fell out of love with it.  It's time to figure out why you fell out of love and fix it.

If decluttering it still doesn't do the trick, try rearranging the furniture and painting. Bedroom causing you fits?  Google bedroom ideas and you will see a ton of ways to enhance your bedroom making it feel brand new once again.

I have written on the topic of how to fall back in love with your house before.  I am a firm believer that unless you want more or less space or unless the surrounding area has become unsavory, there's really no reason to go through all the hassle and expense of moving.  Just grab that paint brush and those boxes and get to painting and donating.

Enjoy your space!