Monday, January 5, 2015

This once great neighborhood can make a comeback!

Norwood is an historic neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama in the northeast corner of the "North Highlands" area.
Norwood's borders follow an irregular path of creek, roads, and railroad tracks. Village Creek forms the northern border for 1.24 miles. To the east, the border comes down along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad's track to Interstate 20/59, then follows the interstate west to Vanderbilt Road; it then follows that road down to Richard Arrington, Jr. Boulevard and back to the east to the railroad and then down to the southern border. The southern border follows 9th Avenue North southwest to 31st Street North, then turns due west until meeting Arrington Boulevard; it follows Arrington briefly before turning due west again across the interstate to meet Carraway Boulevard. Carraway is the western border up to 19th Avenue North. The northwestern border follows 19th Avenue east to the Southern Railroad track, then follows the track NNW back to Village Creek.

The location of this neighborhood is ideal.  It is a 10 minute walk from the BJCC, 20 minutes from Linn Park and about that distance from the Railroad Park.  Interstate access is literally next door to the neighborhood and it lies smack in the middle between the downtown area and the airport.
The neighborhood was designated an historic neighborhood in 2012.  The main street in the neighborhood (Norwood Blvd) had been on the National Registries for many years prior.

In 2013, the popular television show and magazine, "This Old House" comprised a list of 61 historic neighborhoods nationwide that they viewed as the best historic neighborhoods in which to buy and renovate.  In the southern region, Norwood was number 2.  Nationally, Norwood was in the top 61.  The results were based on community involvement, purchase price, condition and cost of renovation as well as the city in which the neighborhood was located.
Once Norwood is brought back to life, it will be the largest restored historic neighborhood in the state of Alabama.
This neighborhood has a total of 3,510 people.  The houses  are built in the styles of Craftsman, American foursquare, neoclassical, prairie and various victorian era styles.  Prices for these houses range the gamut of well under $20,000 (for fixer uppers) all the way to over $120,000 for the more renovated and completely renovated houses.
There are over 1,000 homes included in this neighborhood.  They range in size from 2 bedroom bungalows all the way to 8 bedroom mansions.  As a matter of fact out of the 1,000 homes included 382 of them have more than 4 bedrooms and 352 of them have 4 bedrooms.
Below are just a sample of both renovated homes and homes in need of renovation as of December, 2014.

The house below is the original home of Dr. Charles Carraway.  He was the namesake for Carraway Blvd and also for the Carraway Hospital. Both of which are in the Norwood neighborhood.

When this neighborhood was developed around 1910, it was a well planned neighborhood with a gorgeous scenic boulevard running the middle.  This neighborhood was where the doctor's, lawyers and entrepreneurs built their dream houses.  In the mid 1960's, the development of Interstate 20/59 cut the neighborhood off from having direct access to the rest of the city and in effect gave the neighborhood 1 easy way in and out.  It was about this time that the original homeowners began moving to the suburbs.  Was it because 20/59 was built near their homes or because 20/59 made it much easier to live outside the city yet commute to the city for work? Probably a combination of the two.  At any rate, the neighborhood began to see a gradual decline with fewer professionals either buying into the neighborhood or staying.  After a time, people focused on other historic neighborhoods, buying up the properties, renovating them and turning them into thriving districts while Norwood was all but forgotten.  As a result, many of the stately mansions have either been torn down, burned down or left to fall down naturally.  
Beginning in about 2005, a renewed interest in the neighborhood flared.  Many young professionals who wanted to own and renovate a mansion but had been priced out of many of the historic neighborhoods began to buy and fix up those in Norwood.  The Village Creek that runs for over a mile on the edge was cleaned up and turned into the Village Creek Greenway. An involved homeowners association was developed and a group known as the Norwood Resource Center began to sponsor such yearly events as the "Couch to 5K Walk/run", the "Blvd Blast 5K", the "Garden Workday" and the "Norwood Market at the Trolley Stop".  A "Learning Garden" and community garden was developed.
Below is a picture of the running trail that follows Norwood Blvd.

The following shot is of a small portion of the Norwood Learning Gardens.
This picture is of Norwood Market at the Trolley Stop.
This neighborhood is an incredible area with tons of history as well as charm.  The rents in this neighborhood are diverse.  There are apartments that rent for as little as $350 a month and some single family dwellings that rent for as much as $1,200 a month and everything in between.
As with all historic neighborhoods, if people don't come in and turn it around, it will eventually become a ghetto wasteland.  Sadly we've seen far too many of those.  However, every time a house or apartment building is renovated, the neighborhood goes up a notch.  The property values goes up a notch and the rents go up a notch.  
Norwood isn't beyond repair - yet.  I'd live in one of those majestic mansions sitting on the winding gently sloping historic Norwood Blvd.
But that's just me.