Woof!

Sometimes recessions bring out interesting entrepreneurial efforts (see architects selling ice-cream in my post below).  Sue and Jimmy Johnson have purchased the former Hunter Furniture building on 18th Street North and plan to open a “doggie day care” facility, the first of its kind downtown. The owners intend to create a loft upstairs for their residence. While primarily known recently for its electric turquoise coloring, this building has a special place in local urban history: when almost the entire block was razed for a promised but never-to-materialize development, Hunter Furniture refused to bend to pressure. Today it stands alone amidst a sea of surface parking, a (rare) testament to grassroots resilience to the destruction of urban fabric.

People who live downtown tend to have dogs; walking dogs in the mornings and evenings helps foster community, creates pedestrian (and canine) foot traffic, and makes streets feel safer. While most residents are happy to finally have a dog park at George Ward Park, as yet there is no dog park downtown to which people can walk their furry friends. I’m hoping that the local Bark for a Park group will find a great place soon to start downtown’s first dog park. It doesn’t have to be big. And there are plenty of physical places where, in theory, you could locate one. Take a look at the Deep Ellum Dog Park in downtown Dallas for an example of what we could do here.

I also hope the Johnsons will figure out a way to preserve the old Hunter neon sign on the building; in my opinion signs like this should be landmarked and a special fund set up to help owners preserve them (the cost of restoration and operation can be daunting). A future post will discuss the importance of projecting signs and graphic imagery in dense, urban areas. But I could not resist posting this wonderful shot of Hunter Furniture and 18th Street from the mid-1970’s, before the wholesale demolition all around it.

Here you see the old WBRC-TV studio next door, the old Pasquale’s pizza downtown location, and a series of other businesses marching up 18th Street. Almost all these businesses are now defunct or demolished; Hunter wasjust about the lone survivor from this era (it finally closed in November, 2009).

It’s a shame that after all these years, the parking lots surrounding Hunter are still…parking lots. If this site could be redeveloped with new businesses, living units, restaurants, a shared parking deck, and maybe a small (dog-friendly) park, I’m convinced that fantastic older buildings nearby would see renewed interest in redevelopment (i.e. the Thomas Jefferson Hotel).

And the Johnsons could get some more 4-legged customers.

(pics courtesy army.arch, top; JCMcdavid, bottom)

33 responses to “Woof!

  1. Hello, I am Jimmy Johnson that is mentioned in this article. We do plan on keeping the sign and changing it to read “Dog Days”. Our business will be called “Dog Days of Birmingham.” We want to preserve the history of the business and the wonderful Hunter family that ran the business since 1930. Mr Bob Hunter is one of the nicest people you will every meet.

    • Jimmy–thanks for commenting and for planning to preserve/update the sign! And I think a lot of people interested in downtown’s success are rooting for the success of your new business. From what I understand the Hunter family was indeed pretty special; your wish to preserve their own history as well is great. Congratulations.

  2. This is fantastic news–I love the creative reuse of buildings, especially downtown. And I agree about preserving and protecting neon signs (and I would add the painted advertising signs on walls across the city). Those give so much character to a neighborhood.

  3. Jane Timberlake Cooper

    I have the best memories of Pasquale’s pizza as a child! A dog park would be so great. I remember walking Broo (90 lbs. +) when we lived downtown and you could tell he just felt out of his element with only concrete to play on. We would take him to parking lots to run around on and he was like “Excuse me?”

    • I have great memories of Pasquale’s as a child too! Unfortunately not the one downtown, but in Crestline Village. It’s interesting to recall Pasquale’s was the nation’s first major pizza chain, with hundreds of outlets for a while. Now I think they’re down to 25 or so.

  4. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    When the city gets serious about the vagrants and homeless who freely choose to live & beg on the streets, those parking lots will remain parking lots.

    That, to me, is the #1 reason keeping developers and the middle-class away from downtown. For those of us who live, work & play in the City Center, it’s not a big issue. For the folks in Trussville, Blount County, OTM and surrounding areas, it’s the ONLY issue.

  5. I wonder if those people in the aforementioned “surrounding areas” are the ones that we’re really speaking to. Some people prefer the ‘burbs…they’re going to stay there. But, for those of us that require that “urban pulse” concepts such as building dog parks, preserving historical signage, and working with city leaders to re-develop existing infrastructure are all vital to preserving/restoring/progressing. My optimism enters a room before I do…I think I’ll have the pleasure of enjoying a (on-the-way-to) revitalized downtown within the next 20 years.

    • Hey LK–good point. Any great city has lots of options, including suburbs and more urban areas. Not everyone will like one, or vice-versa. The best that can be hoped for is that a city makes the most of every option it has.

  6. Hey guys…follower from the west coast. I live in Downtown LA currently with my wife, and our cocker spaniel, Tom Ford. We’re hopefully relocating to Birmingham here soon, and are excited to be part of the revitalization efforts underway there now. I’ve found this blog to be a great reference point for so many reasons, and I thought I could contribute a point of view on this particular posting, since living in dtLA has presented us with these same issues. A great resource for you guys in the dog business is barkavenuela.com. They are an amazing asset to us here in the concrete jungle. While dog parks are important and I wish more of them were built here, of equal importance are simple steps that can be taken to aid dog owners, for example, installing adequate trash bag and dog bag installations. They power wash certain sidewalks that see the greatest amount of dog traffic here, which also makes a huge difference. And building owners also pitch in. Each morning for example, certain buildings down here hose off planters and other areas that dogs frequently like to mark.

    • Hey David–thanks for writing in from LA. First of all, I’m seeing a whole new subject for a post–branding of space and monikers (dtLA)–Birmingham for some reason has a fear of it. So I love seeing that from you. Anyway, I agree there are some simple steps that could be taken. We own a building down here (Phoenix Building) and once we set up a bag dispenser the sidewalk got a lot better. We hope you, your wife, and Tom Ford make it to town soon!

  7. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    I like your attitude! I find that I’m burned out on Birmingham right now.

    I so hope you’re right, and that in twenty years things are radically different.

    I think of downtown twenty years ago (February 1990) and try to imagine all the ways today is better than then. AmSouth/Harbert Plaza was open about a year, and the city council was still elected at-large. AmSouth, First Alabama, Central Bank of the South, Colonial, SONAT, Parisian, McRae’s… these all still existed, or were separate entities. The McWane Center was yet to be announced, but it was billed as THE catalyst to transform downtown.

    There are two things keeping Birmingham’s City Center on autopilot: Racist stereotypes and perceptions about the homeless- especially trying to go to Linn Park. NOT a positive experience.

    Still, the City Center is evolving, and it will continue to become something different in each decade. We know climate change and the problem of peak oil production will create dramatically different paradigms, but how it all affects downtown is anybody’s guess.

  8. I’ve always wondered what downtown residents did with their dogs. My little princess won’t go on the sidewalk, so I’m lucky we have so many bags in Highland Park.

    PS: For the good of the neighborhood, please scoop your poop.

    • Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

      I notice them using the gutters or the alleys. Also, I’ve never seen a downtowner NOT pick up after their dogs.

      I think there are several areas around 2nd Avenue North for the creation of pocket parks. I’m a cat person, but the dog people add so much vitality to downtown, it’s worth me to one day give money towards the creation of pocket doggie parks.

      • Not to cast aspersions, but everytime I go to Urban Standard and park next to the Athens flats it can be dicey getting out of the car without getting…pooped.

        Still not as bad as my ‘hood. I have a specific pair of old Topsiders that are designated ‘poop shoes’ and I have thrown out two pairs of flip flops and a pair of asics from contamination.

      • I do think most downtowners pick up, but it just takes a few to create a problem. I believe Phoenix Building and Jemison Flats are the only properties that provide free dog bags on the sidewalk right now, by the way.

  9. Thanks for bringing up the importance of saving, restoring and preserving the various neon and painted signs.

  10. I would like to add that we will be building out the roof and making it green to take the dogs up their for taking care of their business and getting fresh air. This will be a play area outside for our guest.

  11. James – check out this link: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=49457910655 This is the Chapman Flats in downtown LA, close to me. They have an amazing roof top for dogs. Might be worth researching for you guys! Just a thought.

    • David, I checked this out and it is wonderful. Especially in such a large city like LA. We are going to do some grass, some pea gravel, some larger plant material (like a flowing tall grass, as dogs love to be more private in this.) and have a roll out partial cover for the area that dogs can get under and have a water mister. Get’s really hot in Birmingham.

      • They actually have http://www.progreen.com/ turf instead of grass. No grass that I know of can withstand the amonia in dog urine at the levels that a dog park or run would achieve. Something to think about. I know, for example, the dog run at my building had sod and it lasted about half a season.

  12. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    @James: I don’t have a dog, but this is a great thing y’all are doing!! You’ve got my support & vote for “Mr. Accentuate-The-Positive Man”.

    • @Todd: Thank you Todd for the vote of confidence. I have been out of work for a year and can’t seem to get back in the IT world so I am reinventing myself. A leap of faith but downtown Birmingham has something to offer.

  13. I have a question to pose to this group. “Do you think the blue paint on this building is a “No” or should I let it stay?” Remember this is a Daycare for dogs.

    • James–if you can do it, leave it blue. I agree with others–we have far too little color in this town. At this point, the blue is really a landmark. And regarding green roofs–we designed downtown’s first green roof (that actually got built) on a private townhouse further down 2nd. The Social Security Building finished theirs soon afterwards. Long story short–they are relatively expensive, and typically residential projects in Birmingham just can’t carry the extra cost. Hopefully that will change.

  14. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    @James:
    I hear ya! I’ve been out of work for about that long, too, so this site keeps me upbeat.

    Oh, I think the blue on the building is fine. City Center needs more color, more diversity in materials. Sure it’s loud, but I like it. We have too much putty, taupe, khaki and red brick as it is. And I’m not just talking about the buildings, either. 😉

  15. James, keep the blue. No one will miss a blue building, plus I agree that it makes the cityscape look more colorful and lively. (As you can guess, I’m a fan of the green loft building near UAB.)

    • Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

      YES!! Thanks, “c”, for the validation.

      A blue building with a green roof. Now I’ve heard it all. Love it! LOL
      For what it’s worth, I, too, really like LIV ON FIFTH’s avocado color. Is it avocado? Grass? Chromium? Anyway, I LIKE IT.
      What do you think of the turquoise/aqua panels on CHILDREN’S HARBOR on 6th Avenue? I like that, too. It’s sad, though, that ANY form of forward-looking, progressive, colorful architecture has to be relegated to “childrens’ concerns”… as if Calatrava isn’t sober enough in his clarity. I’m just sayin’.

  16. James, I forgot to mention that I’m excited to hear about the green space on the roof. When all the lofts started going in downtown, I kept wondering why we didn’t see more rooftop gardens. I understand the challenges of weight and water, but they sure do look inviting from the street.

  17. Pingback: Compare and Contrast « Dog Days of Birmingham's Blog

  18. I would like to add that we will be developing out the roof and developing it organic to take the animals up their for looking after their organization and getting fresh air. This will be a play area outside for our guest…….building signs

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