Walking through Five Points South yesterday I was struck by the number of vacancies, the “for sale” signs, and then it hit me — we are at a very crucial time. I think back 10 years ago when, heaven forbid, there was talk of chain stores (Gap, Blockbuster Video) moving in. Now that many independent retailers are gone anyway (with some very important exceptions! iii’s anyone?), and a Chick-Fil-A is the biggest recent news story, we are facing a difficult period. This should be a jewel of our downtown. Restaurants, bars, retail — all capitalizing on the huge adjacent UAB population. But it’s not living up to this potential.
Seeing the furniture and detritus on the front porch of the Hassinger home, a gorgeous grande dame of Highland Avenue adjacent to the new Chick-Fil-A development (the elderly lady living there has departed), I am reminded of what happened to the Otto Marx mansion further down Highland a few years ago, when a unique, historic structure was torn down and replaced by a new structure that could have easily gone somewhere else:
In 2003, the Alabama Historical Commission and Alabama Preservation Alliance added the Hassinger home to its “Places in Peril” list, and rightly so. This is an excellent example of the Queen Anne style as noted in the Birminhgam Historical Society‘s Guide to Architectural Style:
So many of the homes that once lined Highland Avenue have been torn down in the name of progress, or left to fall apart until there was no other choice. As readers may know, I am a big proponent of diverse communities with lots of architectural choices. But when you only have a handful of historic houses left in the City like this, the choice is clear. We need to preserve.
What could this site be? A fantastic bed and breakfast with a welcoming front porch for visitors. A bookstore. Or, to dream big, quality retail, similar to how the Rhinelander mansion in NYC was saved to create the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue:
[thanks to dystopos for the Hassinger House pic; lsyd for the Marx/Sales sign pic; Birmingham Historical Society for the diagram of the Hassinger House; Jefferson County Historical Commission for the 1910 view of Highland Avenue, and sruellen for the Ralph Lauren pic.]