Monday, June 1, 2015

Historic Southside

The Historic Southside community of Birmingham is situated on the hilly and forested slopes of Red Mountain just south of downtown Birmingham.  It is one of the most densely populated residential neighborhoods in Birmingham and includes the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its adjacent hospitals.  UAB is the state's second largest employer.  According to the Birmingham Business Journal, this community has the highest income growth of any zipcode in the Birmingham metro area.

Because of the international draw of UAB, Southside is the most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the Birmingham metro area.  Each June southside plays host to the city's annual Gay Pride parade.  According to southside has 2 of the top 3 most walkable zipcodes in the metro area.

Anywhere you live in this community, you are only blocks away from a specialty grocery store, coffee shop, bar or restaurant.

Parks are in an abundance in this area.  There are more than a dozen parks in this relatively small section of the metro area.  Each boasts its own type of charm.  Some offer walking trails, others offer incredible city views from atop Red Mountain, others offer areas specifically geared for walking and exercising dogs, areas for children to play and others simply as a shaded area to picnic or relax.  There's even a beautifully maintained public Golf course.  I would be remiss not to mention the most popular and well known park in the Southside area.  Vulcan Park.

Below are some shots of Vulcan Park and the hiking trails which take you from Southside all the way up Red Mountain to the Vulcan.  Along the hike you will come upon numerous mine entrances which have long been blocked from access.  The actual trail follows a long abandoned train track that was once used to pick up ore mined from the many mines in Red Mountain.

One of Birmingham most treasured landmarks is a Five Points South sculpture created by local artist Frank Fleming.  The sculpture was commissioned in 1986 and was dedicated in late 1991.  A plaque affixed to the statue reads "The Storyteller Frank Fleming, Artist. Born Bear Creek, Alabama, 1940.  Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art.  Storytelling is a deeply rooted southern heritage.  The animals are listening to a story intended to convey the idea of a peaceable kingdom.  Fleming's deep respect for the dignity and honesty found in nature is symbolized  in these figures."

Perched atop one of the hills leading down from Red Mountain is another of Southside's more curious staples....the Quinlan Castle.  This building has been the fodder of rumors and legends for nearly a century.  The Quinlan Castle was built in 1927 to look like a medieval fortress complete with turrets at each corner.  It contained 72 efficiency style apartments.  The building is composed of two U-shaped halves connected by arched gateways on the north and south, forming a 4-story rectangle clad in light brown sandstone and punctuated with dozens of arch-topped windows.  The roofline is crested with a battlement and adorned with round turrets at each corners.  

The name of the building was taken from quinlan Avenue, the former name of 9th Ave. South, which honored Bishop Quinlan of the Catholic Diocese of Mobile.  Quinlan had purchased the hilltop and surrounding property decades before as a potential site for Birmingham's First Catholic Church.  For unknown reasons St. Paul's was built in 1872 on a site a few miles from this hilltop.

In the early part of the 20th Century apartment complexes where unmarried men and women lived in close proximity to one another were considered scandalous in the deep south.  This coupled with the odd exterior of the building provided plenty of fodder for the rumor mills.

Then in 1940, Birmingham police led a raid on Quinlan Castle because it was rumored to be a Communist Party headquarters.  Robert Hall, the secretary of the Communist Party in Birmingham at the time, apparently lived in the complex.  Police found little of interest still, the negative publicity led the owners to change the name to the Royal Arms Apartments.

From the early 1980's until 2014, this building sat empty and abandoned.  It has changed owners several times and most recently was owned by the Southern Research Institute who wanted to tear it down and add much needed parking.  However, historical property advocates blocked this move.  SRI sold the property to a private investor and restoration work began.  It is now a renovated condo complex with units nearing completion.


During the turn of the last century, Birmingham was a prime summer destination for the wealthy folks of New York, Washington D.C. and other northern cities.  Built atop mountains, the Birmingham summers, while hot and humid, offered nearly constant breezes and every street was laden with trees.  The water in the area was also touted as being pure and containing health benefits to those who consumed it.  

To accommodate these out of town dwellers who often lived in Birmingham for months at a time, the Terrace Court Apartments located at the corner of Highland and 20th Street South in the very heart of Five Points South was built in 1908.  At the time it was deemed the first "high-class" hotel south of Washington D.C.  It was also the first hotel in the country that offered its guest a kitchenette.   

This building boasted the rare and early use of steel reinforced concrete while the exterior was clad in gold-toned pressed brick with dark-brown terra cotta trim.  Wrought-iron balconies serves 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 with soundproofing. 

The Southside community in Birmingham is perhaps the most eclectic and diverse area in the entire state of Alabama.  With nearly 20,000 residents (as of 2010), it is impossible to lump it into any one class or economic sphere.  Nearly half of the 12,183 properties in this area were built before 1940 with only 194 that were built since 2000.

As of 2010, there were a total of 10 houses in that area valued at $10,000 or under and 35 valued at over $1,000,000.  The majority of houses are valued at $150,000 to $250,000.

All of these things makes Southside an interesting and great place to live! 

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