Sunday, April 2, 2017

Another Installment of "Did you know"

Did you know that the first speech given in the south by a sitting President occurred in Birmingham?

When Birmingham Alabama was founded in 1871, it was a model city.  It boasted railroads, blast furnaces and steel mills.  There wasn't a more bustling industrial giant in the south at that time.  So it was no wonder when in 1921, President Harding decided to give a speech in the south that he chose to do so in Birmingham, Alabama. The remarkable part of this story is the fact that this was the first speech given in the South by a sitting president in which he called for racial equality.

The city threw a huge birthday party which lasted two days on its 50th anniversary in October 1921. President Harding arrived at the Birmingham Terminal Station at 8:45 A.M. aboard a special train from Washington.  A grand parade began at 10:00 A.M.  Sitting in the lead car President Harding greeted thousands of onlookers waving American flags.  His motorcade eventually traveled to the Tutwiler Hotel where the hotel's balcony served as the reviewing stand for the President and his party as the parade traveled past.  The parade included Civil War veterans, groups of industrial workers and National Guardsmen.  It seemed that the whole city had turned out for the Presidential visit.

Harding’s official address to the city was delivered in Woodrow Wilson Park in mid-morning to a large crowd. He planned to use this speech as his first public show of support for the Republican National Committee and their plan to reorganize in the South.

President Harding spoke of the great migrations of black laborers to the North during World War I and the meritorious service given by black soldiers during the war.  He then spoke of political equality as a guarantee of the U.S. Constitution: “Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.”  White listeners fell largely silent, the African American spectators cheered from their segregated section of the park.  In his call for “an end of prejudice” Harding went further than any president since Abraham Lincoln.
President Harding also participated in the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Masonic Temple and was given an honorary degree by Birmingham-Southern College in ceremonies conducted at the First Methodist Church.

The President observed a parade which included 67 women who selected by the different counties of Alabama to be their "Queen", and 1,000 members of the American Legion selected from every post in the state. Each Queen was provided a decorated car for their use in the parade.

(Jefferson County's Queen - Mary Elizabeth Caldwell)
To mark this historic event, commemorative coins were also made that same year. The coins were half-dollars issued in 1921 to honor the 100th Anniversary of Alabama Statehood, which occurred a few years earlier in 1919 but war time conditions had delayed the production of the coins until 1921. The coins were first placed on sale in Birmingham on Oct. 26,1921 in connection with Birmingham’s celebration and the first coin was presented to President Harding. 
Also, a special postage stamp was made that year in honor of Birmingham’s anniversary. It was the first postal commemoration of Birmingham.  Surviving copies are very rare.
The official start of this celebration began at noon on the 25th of October with the blare of bands and the blowing of whistles at every industrial plant in the district. The ceremonies started at Woodrow Wilson (Capitol) Park with a speech by Chairman Sydney J. Bowie.
President Harding arriving for festivities
The festivities began at noon and continued on into the night.  Highlights of the festivities included a fashion show by the Fashion-Industrial Exposition that took place in a long tent that extended the full length of West Twentieth Street. The Birmingham municipal band provided music. Henderson and his flying circus performed in the air over the middle of the city. His act ended with death defying stunts from an airplane while gripping the rope with his teeth.
In addition to the above activities, there was a children’s costume and baby parades on Friday with prizes awarded.  Baseball at Rickwood Field took place with a double-header. The first game was according to rules in 1871 and second according to rules in 1921.  Free bank concerts and orchestras continued throughout the event. Some orchestras came all the way from West Virginia to perform for the President.  
There was the Queen of the event contest, a Masquerade carnival, pageant at Avondale Park, and a Queen’s Ball at the Tutwiler hotel on Tuesday night.  These are just to name a few of the many events held.
While the President was in town, he also somehow made time to head the grand civic parade, attend a luncheon given by the Semi-Centennial committee at Tutwiler, attend the opening of Alabama division of American Cotton Association at Tutwiler, attend the Birmingham-Southern College inauguration of Dr. Guy Snavely where the President received degree of LL. D. Ceremonies were held in First Methodist at Sixth Avenue and Nineteenth Street, North.
As if his day wasn't already packed, the President also attended a reception in his honor at the Birmingham Country Club and witnessed mine demonstration at US bureau of mines station at West End. To round out his day, he took an auto ride through the city.

While I'm sure everyone involved needed a restful vacation after this week of constant festivities, overall, it was a very successful event.  Certainly never seen before or since.

Birmingham's West End

The West End area of Birmingham is an historic community situated west of downtown Birmingham.  It's largest employer is Princeton Baptist Medical Center.  This area is considered to encompass the neighborhoods of Arlington-West End, Germania Park, Oakwood Place, Rising-West Princeton and West End Manor.  It covers roughly 4.708 miles and boasts a population of 16,707 (as of 2010).

The general population density for the entire city of Birmingham is 1,420 people per square mile but in the West End it is 3,549 per square mile.  Some of the difference in the numbers could stem from the fact that this area of Birmingham is a little flatter than the rest of the city giving the West End more suitable area for development.  The majority of the houses in the West End were built between 1940 and 1959 when the West End experienced it largest growth spurt to date.

Birmingham as a whole boasts home ownership of 64.7% of the population.  The West End numbers are slightly lower at 53.8%.  This number should excite potential investors as it means that out of every 100 residents, 46.2 of them are renters.  Almost exactly half of the population are renters.

The majority of the houses in this area are small working class dwellings.  Bungalows are plentiful, ranch styles are next in popularity with bi-levels liberally scattered about.  Below are a few examples of the most common types of houses.

32% of the City of Birmingham is considered to be below the poverty levels as established by the US government.  The area of West End is at 45%.

The average sale price of houses in this area last year was $39,167 which equates to an average of $26 per square foot as compared to $116 per square foot average for Birmingham as a whole.  In the West End, 1% of the listed homes sold within 6 months of listing.  Of those listed 50% were foreclosures. (these numbers were taken from

The potential for investors is enormous in this area.  The extremely high renters percentage coupled with the extremely low per square foot price makes this area a prime area for investors looking to build their rental portfolios.  There is also an abundance of affordable properties for sale.

West End was a thriving community from 1929 to 1983.  Obviously, the local economy had the largest negative impact on the area, but also the existing housing situation was a contributing factor as well.  Most of the houses built in the area were either small starter homes or apartments.  The scattered large houses were either falling into disrepair or had been subdivided into apartments.  This left the up and coming homeowners or potential homeowners little or no choice but to move from the area if they wanted an upgrade.

Below I've listed some of the notable landmarks in the area.

Alabama State Fairgrounds

I have not been able to locate an exact date that the Fairgrounds opened.  However, I can ascertain that it was open and active prior to the 1904 World's Fair. 

The statute of the Roman God of Fire and Forge (Vulcan) was displayed at the World's Fair that year. Commissioned by the Commercial Club of Birmingham and created by an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Moretti, the Vulcan is the largest completely cast iron statue in the world.  Coming in at 57 feet tall, it was shipped to St. Louis in pieces and reassembled there.  It was awarded the "Grand Prize".  Once the fair was over, it was disassembled and shipped back to Birmingham.  However, due to unpaid freight charges, the statute was unceremoniously dumped next to the tracks where he stayed for many months. 

Eventually he was put back together and was on display at the Alabama State Fairgrounds.  However, he was without his spear as it had been lost in St. Louis.  He became the largest advertising vehicle at the time due to his lack of a sword.  At various times he would come to hold a bottle of Coke, an ice cream cone and even a jar of pickles. 

He remained on display at the fairgrounds until 1939 when he would receive his own park atop the Red Mountain on the border between Birmingham and Homewood.

In 2001 the Alabama State Fair was disbanded and officially ceased to exist.  They cited poor attendance and high crime as their reasons for disbanding.

Legion Field

Adjoining the Fairgrounds was the Legion Field sports center.  For many years it was called the "Football Capital of the South".  At its peak it sat an impressive 83,091 fans.  It was colloquially called "the Old Grey Lady".

Some of it tenants included:
The University of Alabama Football Team (1927-2003)
Auburn Tigers (1927-1998)
UAB Blazers (1991-present)
Dixie Bowl (1948-1949)
Hall of Fame Classics (1977-1985)
All American Bowl (1986-1990)

Rickwood Field

A short distance from both the fairgrounds and Legions Field is the Rickwood Field located at 1137 2nd Avenue West.  Rickwood Field is the oldest surviving professional baseball park in the United States. Initially it was built for the Birmingham Barons in 1910 by industrialist and team owner Rick Woodward.  It is now owned by the City of Birmingham and is considered a "working museum". 

Some of its tenants included:
Birmingham Barons (1910-1986)
Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League (1920-1960)
Pittsburgh Pirates used it for spring training in 1919
Philadelphia Phillies used it for spring training in 1911 & 1920

Arlington House (Mudd-Munger House)

The Arlington House or Mudd-Munger House is located at 331 Cotton Avenue SW.  It is the only original antebellum mansion in the city of Birmingham.  It was built in 1822 by Judge William Mudd who was one of the 10 founding fathers of Birmingham.

During the civil war General James H. Wilson, who conducted the largest union raid into Alabama in the spring of 1865 established his headquarters there, effectively saving the mansion from destruction and allowing it to escape the war unscathed.  Today it is both a museum and an events venue. 

Below is a photo of the house taken in 1959.

There are a few buildings on the Alabama Register of Landmarks in this area.  One of them is the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church which recently celebrated their 106th birthday.

Another great building in this area is the West End High School.

During the heyday of this area, the West End Park was the place to be for residents.  Below is a postcard dated 1906.

One of the first open air malls in the area was built in the West End.

The West End has seen more than it fair share of ups and downs.  However, it is still a popular place for renters with its close proximity to everywhere and its reasonable rent.  Not a bad place in which to invest.