Going Rogue (1)

Today’s light-hearted (yet purposeful) post is the first of many to address one of my pet peeves across the city: flagrant disrespect of the City’s Design Review process for renovation of facades (in historic or commercial revitalization districts). Downtown, Five Points, Lakeview, and other popular neighborhoods fall under the jurisdiction of the Design Review Committee, which rules on paint colors, storefront configurations, and signage proposed for buildings within the districts. Now, this is an imperfect, sometimes subjective process–but for the most part the committee strives to ensure that the building’s skin (see previous post) is up to a certain standard.


Here, at the Magic City Grill (which by the way serves a fairly tasty meat-and-three for lunch and a decent Sunday breakfast), you see the transoms covered over with solid painted panels. Not good to start with. But the paint job looks like somebody was either drunk, or paid very little–drips and blank splotches all over the place. But worst of all–the former sign box over the second bay is just painted out–and there is no main sign announcing the business on Richard Arrington (there is a fairly ugly one around the corner on 3rd Avenue). Instead, besides a sign over the fourth bay announcing “Magic City Grill Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop”–confusing since the main restaurant really serves neither–there are two cheap “Pepsi” signs tacked above the storefront. Another very prominent corner, and the place looks like a real afterthought. Good signage and good paint jobs make people want to stop in.  This has neither. And those Pepsi signs–well, they don’t belong on an historic building, period. Maybe if they were expertly painted on the alley side(to the right in the photo you can see an expertly painted sign, old school-style: House of Dixie Uniforms).

I don’t think Design Review would have possibly approved this facade “renovation.” If I’m wrong, someone let me know. And the cook in the kitchen didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the exterior improvements or lack thereof: this little post is NOT a commentary on the worthiness of the cuisine.

3 responses to “Going Rogue (1)

  1. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    The Birmingham Design Review Committee is made up of 11 members appointed by the Birmingham City Council. Two-year alternating terms expire on July 30.

    The current membership includes:

    Sam Frazier, attorney, chair of the committee
    Nolanda Bearden, commercial revitalization
    Don Cosper, architect
    Mark Fugnitto, resident
    Creig Hoskins, architect
    Richard Mauk, resident
    Cheryl Morgan, Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies
    William Robertson, building trade practitioner
    Jane Reed Ross, landscape architect
    John Schoppert, building trade practitioner

  2. The Design Review Committee would help itself out if it would:
    1. discuss only those matters under its legal purview.
    2. allow provisional approvals so that applicants can proceed with approved work without delays.
    3. resolve to err on the side of non-intervention.

    In principle, I think it better to promulgate exciting visions of what is possible and encourage cooperation (as this blog does) than to attempt to dictate the contributions of fellow stakeholders through fiat and committee.

    And I may add that those stylistic upgrades which attract one clientele may put off other potential customers who are most comfortable in establishments that fairly ooze their unstudied vernacular.

    • Dystopos–I tend to agree with your points stated above. And of course while the painted “House of Dixie” sign looks good to me, you are right–at a certain point it’s a matter of taste. That same sign may look old and sad to someone else.

      That being said, I feel strongly that vinyl “Pepsi” signs should not be allowed on historic buildings. Maybe at least most could agree to that.

      In the end, it’s a real problem there’s no central vision of upgrading the neighborhood, which could serve as a template for development. So the Committee becomes more reactively proscriptive. Which is indeed a turn-off. I will say that the quality of the Committee has improved considerably in the years I’ve been presenting, with more people educated in the different aspects of visual urban life. But yes, the system could be much more holistic and cooperative than it is now.

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