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.]
In other big cities, neighborhoods like this have put together a redevelopment plan for their own communities and created non-profit redevelopment entities to get the plan implemented. So far, we have been very timid about such things in Birmingham.
Yes–excellent point, Charles. Another example of why we need a redevelopment authority in this city. More on this shortly.
The reason for so many vacancies at and around Five Points is because the rents are incredibly high in these economic hard times. Just look around and you will notice a very large number of ” for sale/ for rent” signs all over town and even in the wealthy suburbs.
As for the Hassinger house, I think it’s best use would be as a house. Question is who can afford it even in today’s depressed real estate market ?
And who would want to live next door to a fried chicken joint ?
You are right, we shouldn’t forget the economy has affected everyone from the Summit shopping center and Mtn. Brook Village to more humble neighborhoods. I do feel that, as Charles points out in his comment above, with a strong redevelopment authority in place, this city could be doing a much better job of steering development and stabilizing neighborhoods. So we don’t have to sit wringing our hands every time a Chick-Fil-A threatens a drive-through or a Hassinger house looks like it’s about to come down. There’d be a plan preventing these things in place already.
This is an area at a critical crossroads – the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation will assist anyone with an eye toward preserving the historic resources that remain.
Thanks David–please stay vigilant!
Jeremy…this makes me so sad…I remember when there were more of those beautiful homes…and my grandfather grew up in a house like that at the turn of the last century (I have pictures someplace!)…I would rather see the facade of the structures be preserved regardless of what’s inside (offices, retail, etc…). Is there no mechanism for the City to offer incentives for people to preserve these buildings?
Jim–would love to see a picture of your grandfather’s! As I’ve lamented elsewhere, without a redevelopment authority with the power to enforce planning, offer incentives or mandates, and strategically implement long-term goals—decisions about development and preservation tend to lean towards the whimsical and political, unfortunately. That has to change.
It’s the landowners that create this problem.
Unimaginative, greedy, stuck-in-1968 landowners.
Then, there’s the issue of living in a state where people don’t comprehend urbanism, they’re afraid of urbanism, and they don’t WANT to experience all the goodness and joy urbanism has to offer.
That, and the fact everyone has to run to Hoover to shop where it’s “safe”.
Yeah, if Gail Kahn & George Barber could be “encouraged” to sell off some of their holdings, allowing people with IDEAS & INNOVATION to come in, Five Points South would pop back up fairly quickly, I think. But, that’s not going to happen, so I like to spend my time and money at Pepper Place, where enlightened minds and thoughtful developers seem to be the norm, not the exception.
On a positive note, I watched “Taxi Driver” the other night, and marveled at the skanky New York City of 35 years ago. If the Big Apple can get better, so can Birmingham. We still have A LOT of positive attributes that Cleveland & Detroit don’t. What needs to change, however, is the old monied guard. Get rid of them, and we’ll see a whole new paradigm here.
Todd–of course other cities have their own problem with unenlightened landlords, but at least some of these cities have redevelopment authorities with good plans in place to sway these owners (either with incentives or by mandate). With none of that here, landlords are left adrift to do as they please, for better or worse.
“On a positive note, I watched “Taxi Driver” the other night….”
I’d hate to see what the negative note might be. haha.
Great film though.
At least the historic looking house behind Southside Baptist toward UAB appears to be getting some work. Apparently an arts center of some sort?
That’s “ArtPlay”, home for the Alys Stephens Center’s education and outreach programs: http://alysstephens.uab.edu/education/artplay.php
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I wanted to clarify an error – The former owner has not “departed.”
Thanks for clarifying. My understanding was the former owner had left, which made way for the sale of the structure (and subsequent renovation in to a bed and breakfast set to open shortly, which has occurred after the date of this blog post). Fill me in on some additional details if I had that wrong. Thanks again.
I realize this is an old article but I was just researching the house that I was raised in. Perhaps in the future you should perhaps ask some more questions. The reason you saw items on the porch is because my family was preparing the house TO BE renovated. This should be obvious at this point. We have loved this house for our entire lives and I get so angry when I people don’t have accurate information. Another example is that it is DanielS, with an S and Mrs. Daniels is alive and well although reported on other sites to have died in 2010.
Thanks for your information–this is a blog site, and doesn’t purport to be a newspaper of record. It’s meant to be an open forum where people may comment, provide suggestions, or corrections to the material. I appreciate your interest!
Also, while Mrs. Venoa Daniels was no longer residing there at the time of this article, family was working to prepare the home for restoration. Mrs. Daniels passed December 13, 2012.
Thank you for clarifying this!