Mixed bag

Not up to its location

Not up to its location

Yesterday the state’s team which currently controls the City school system announced the system’s longtime administrative headquarters, at Park Place and 20th Street North facing Linn Park (20th Street elevation, above) will be put up for sale. The offices are slated to move to a humbler location in the 6300 block of First Avenue North, in Woodlawn. This is great news, as this prime corner which faces the park–with City Hall, the main branch of the Public Library, and the Tutwiler Hotel as neighbors–deserves a different use, and preferably a different building. The modest, mid-1960’s design (which was already dated upon completion) was never beautiful to begin with. We’d like to see a larger, mixed-use building that injects new energy into the underused park. Parks surrounded chiefly by daytime -use government bureaucracies tend to not be so vibrant, and Linn Park is no exception.

Out of context

Out of context

The above view illustrates how the current building is out of sync with its densely developed, valuable surroundings.

Wrong in so many ways

Wrong in so many ways

Perhaps most egregious is the parking deck connected to the rear, which extends along 20th Street around Sixth Avenue North. Clad with blank concrete panels, with small slits affording grim views into a fluorescent garage, this portion of the site also needs to be completely rethought.

A step backward

A step backward

Headed south on 20th Street to Five Points South, Design Review Committee yesterday approved a new paint job and storefront renovation to The Break pool hall, the former Emily Shop (above, corner of 20th Street South and 10th Avenue). This was a longtime women’s clothing store featuring large display windows along two facades, including a curved glass display at the prominent corner (it closed in the mid-1990’s). The current owner has taken out the corner glass, and replaced it with cheap, painted plywood. Oddly, the Committee approved this unfortunate change.

Thank you Regions

Thank you Regions

Directly across 10th Avenue, a Regions Bank branch sits in an historic bank building–perhaps 15-20 years older than the Emily Shop–which exhibits the period vogue for corner glass (in this case chamfered rather than curved, above). The relative integrity of this facade contrasts considerably with the cheapness of The Break.

The display says it all

The display says it all

A close up (above) illustrates all the elements conspiring against us: the strange paint colors, the boarded-up corner, the tinted glass, the huge stock-design Miller beer poster. We don’t expect pool halls to be paragons of good taste or even welcoming. But like the Board of Education building, this isn’t the best use of a great corner.



Finally, the Committee gave conditional approval to the above graphic concept for temporary signage at the new Entertainment District–now dubbed “Uptown”–adjacent to the BJCC and new Westin Hotel. The signage will go in empty storefronts, and will come down once leased.

If you build it...

If you build it…

Above, the completed district infrastructure awaits the hotel opening next month. The empty storefronts are visible to either side of the freshly paved street. With 2 restaurants and a coffee shop announced so far, we’re awaiting more announcements in the coming weeks. Now that it’s about to open, we can only wish it success. More to come on this in January.

[thanks to bhamwiki for the Board of Ed skyline pic, and BJCC for the graphic concept]




16 responses to “Mixed bag

  1. Speaking of signage, I am still holding out hope that someone will find an appropriate place to bring back the old Barber’s Milk neon sign that graced Five Points for decades. It was almost like we had our own little version of Times Square!

    I had suggested that this sign be installed somewhere in the Parkside complex to give that development an additional linkage to Birmingham’s past, but I don’t think that is going to happen. However, I think it would be a waste not to use the sign somewhere!

  2. The Board of Education was obnoxiously obstreperous when ONB and the Kincaid Administration advocated their relocation for a new hotel by the Kessler Collection, a quality hotel developer which developed the hotel in Savannah, Centennial (Florida), and a proposed noutique hotel in Mountain Brook. A missed opportunity for a large, full service hotel in the heart of downtown.

    Now there it may be possible to redevelop the site and enhance parking for the Tutwiler Hotel in the process.

    • Given all the stonewalling the Board did in the past regarding this building, it’s so refreshing to have a voice of reason demanding this, and other obsolete structures, be sold rather than continuing to drain the Board of precious resources. Thanks.

  3. Wouldn’t it be great if we got a nice street level restaurant like Parc, the French cafe, that overlooks Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia as part of the replacement of the board of ed building!

    • Any new use of this site needs a ground floor café with large terrace overlooking the park. It’s a no-brainer! And would help diversify activity around/inside the park as well. I’d be happy with Parc! Thanks.

  4. Glad to hear about the Board’s building and the possibility of having something really swell on that corner– and to do away with (at least visually) that miserable parking deck!

    I remember being at Design Review years ago, when I was working for ONB, when the covering of the Emily Shop was proposed and, after much controversy, passed. I think it’s got EIFS all over it, doesn’t it? It’s been ugly ever since, and now it’s going to be worse. How can this be?

  5. Wow, looking at a picture of the break reminds me of how ugly it is. Prime example of an empty building being a better use of space. There are pool halls, then there is the break. That place is sketch. Maybe WofB will buy it.

    • There are already enough empty storefronts in Five Points to be wishing for another one because we don’t like the siting or business in it.

      • True. Although sometimes existing businesses may repel prospective owners from filling nearby storefronts. Not saying this is an example, but it may be more of a liability than asset to the neighborhood at this point. Of course, as long as it’s doing legitimate business and wants to stay, it will hang around regardless of our personal opinions. We can at least insist those awful Miller ads come down–I don’t think those are approved by Design Review….thanks.

    • The place does seem to take on a sketchier feel each year. Maybe a new ownership is the best we can wish for as you suggest. Thanks.

      • I like playing pool and think a pool hall is a good business to have in five points, but I have been to the break and they don’t seem to care how their store looks or how people preceive it.

      • Exactly. No one seems to really care about the presentation of this place on the street. Which isn’t acceptable. Thanks!

  6. Too bad there isn’t more retail property on the back side of the 20th Street blocks for places like The Break (and, if I may say so, the hardware store), which have their place, but not as store fronts on the “Main Street” of Five Points. All those store fronts on 20th ought to be inhabited by places that are colorful and inviting to the general public and are open days, nights and weekends (and not shady). More restaurants, more cafes, more coffee shops (ice cream/yogurt?)! It’s too much of a gap (imo) between Makarios and the Chinese/Japanese/Thai/steak establishments that are up the street. Also, Sitar is a great Indian restaurant down on 20th across University Blvd. They have pretty late hours during the week and on weekends, and it’s a shame there aren’t any other establishments going down the hill to connect with it. That may be an impossible task, however, since there are major impassible structures there already: banks, medical clinics, research institutions, parking lots (ah… parking lots! maybe there’s an opening for change). Anyway, the Barber sign ought to be put right back up where it was for however many decades. It would be silly to move it somewhere else. That’s where it reigned. The whole Barber building needs a renovation, though. Unsightly, with blacked out windows and painted plywood. The old Florentine terra cotta facade is defamed by neglect! Not sure what kind of bars et al are there now.. But yes, great news about the BOE property!!!

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