Tag Archives: Avondale

Container creativity

Thinking outside the box

Thinking outside the box

An exciting new project in the Avondale neighborhood, just a short bike zyp ride from downtown, was announced in the Birmingham Business Journal yesterday (rendering above). The project is on 3rd Avenue South between 41st and 42nd Street and the architect is Design Initiative. The developer cites London’s Boxpark as an inspiration; Boxpark is created from shipping containers, and is intended to provide “pop-up” space for unique, low-cost, highly creative retail, restaurant and gallery space. Birmingham’s version–dubbed Box Row–will offer dozens of containers with simple, affordable pricing and the flexibility to join containers to create larger space. It’s high time the City embraces this type of concept, for many reasons.

If it works in Shoreditch...

If it works in Shoreditch…

We have argued in past posts that there would be a lot more retail downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods if available rental space were appropriately geared towards the young, the creative and the entrepreneurial. While a neighborhood like Avondale has land uses no longer compatible in the current marketplace (Box Row will occupy the former Anchor Motel site), central downtown has too many retail storefronts left over from an era of big department stores and the high-rent retail that clustered around them: they are too large, and rents too expensive, for contemporary urban retail. Charm  on Second Avenue North downtown would not be around if it weren’t for the oddball small space and corresponding lower rent. This could be the answer not just for Avondale, but for vacant lots downtown and in other locales.

Simple, sustainable, affordable

Simple, sustainable, affordable

The site layout (above) illustrates good urban design: rentable space lines the sidewalk, while parking is concealed to the rear. Terraces afford space for outdoor dining; the composition is a nice balance between the repetition of the individual containers and the contrasting masses of their groupings. At a reported $4.3 million investment, this is a leap forward in how we can re-imagine urban space.

Our own box concept

Our own box concept

We’re especially excited because back when the Community Foundation sponsored a 20111 competition for redeveloping a block just east of Railroad Park, our entry was a container box “pop-up” concept (above) that included retail, restaurant and gallery space (the site will now be a public plaza adjacent to the Steam Plant redevelopment). Creatively using container boxes is a proven solution all over the globe at this point; it’s very cool that developers are bringing Box Row to Birmingham. We wish them every success.

(thanks to Design Initiative and the BBJ for the rendering and site layout, and Boxpark for the London image)

Keep ’em coming

Hanging with a hipster-ish crowd

It’s worth reading today’s Atlantic Cities post on Bottletree (above) and the effect its had both on the local music scene, and on its local Avondale neighborhood just east of downtown. In keeping with our recent theme, this is yet another example of why the arts are vital to the City’s development.

And after a steady stream of corruption and bankruptcy articles, it’s nice to see such a positive story in the national press. Thanks Bottletree for all you do for this community!

[thanks to Bradley Nash Burgess for the hipster-ish pic]

A little history

A remnant of Avondale's past

This shot from 32nd Street South, looking east between 3rd and 4th Avenues towards the unremarkable LabCorp building, reveals little of the interesting history of this  block, now completely empty except for LabCorp. My attention was drawn to it last week at Design Review Committee, as the Barber Companies which owns the lot requested a permit for surface parking work.

Bowling alone

Above is the LabCorp building in 1960, when it was the fabulous Bowl-Lo-Mac, complete with illuminated bowling pin sign on the roof. A putt-putt golf course occupied a portion of the remaining block, as did Ed Salem’s Drive In #2, a well-known local burger joint. This restaurant later became Eunice Crabtree’s Cut Rate Delicatessen & Bait Shop, a gay bar that closed in the early ’90s. The building, uncared for and forlorn, sat vacant for years until Barber razed it a few years ago, completing the erasure of the formerly vibrant elements in this area.

Smoking encouraged at Ed Salem's

The busy recreational activity of this block in the 1960’s helps explain the Regions Bank directly across 32nd Street to the west, whose deliberate, almost “Miami-Modern”-Jetson’s profile is so at odds with the more prosaic warehouses in this neighborhood. Apparently, the building was originally Godwin’s, a favorite local store for purchasing and repairing televisions–although perhaps someone else could confirm or correct this assumption [Assumption corrected: Godwin’s was one block further south!]:

A period piece that's lost its context

It seems that the Bowl-Lo-Mac quickly lost business to larger, more glamorous lanes out in Eastwood, Greensprings and beyond, and of course TV purchases and hamburgers all moved out to more suburban pastures too. If nothing else, I’m grateful to Barber for giving me a reason to learn about this area’s past. Talk about looking on the bright side of a surface parking permit; I tried, I really tried…

[thanks to Birmingham Rewound for the Bowl-Lo-Mac pic, and to ussiwojima for the matchbook]

Fire Station No. 10

Hopefully better publicized than No. 22

Just a quick post on historic Fire Station No. 10 in Avondale for which the City is soliciting redevelopment proposals . Anybody who may be interested in preserving this gem with a creative reuse should respond to the Request for Proposal here.

Hopefully this RFP will be much better publicized than the one for Fire Station No. 22 on Clairmont Avenue, so we don’t all wake up surprised by a Walgreen’s!

Deadline for submission is November 15, with the Mayor announcing the winner December 15. Interestingly, unlike the ill-fated RFP for No. 22, this RFP is emphatic about the historic nature of the fire station, and encourages preservation.

Fire Station No. 4

Manning the engine for No. 4

Just a couple months before Birmingham was incorporated in December of 1871, Chicago experienced one of the worst fires in US history. Fire departments were created and modernized all over the country as a result, and the new city of Birmingham was no exception. As the city grew, numerous new fire stations were built to serve the expanding population and geography.

Last days as a station

Fire Station No.4 (seen here in 2 historic photos courtesy of Birmingham Firefighters Local 117; click on their link to visit a fascinating site) is located right up 24th Street behind my office, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues North. The older photo with the engine shows the original station designed to serve the “East End” of Birmingham; the newer and current version, pictured in 1976, was built in 1926 and decommissioned around 1980. Renovated as architectural offices in the early 1980’s, it was recently sold and the new owner, Sheppard-Harris and Associates, has moved a small accounting firm into the building.

The exciting news is that Connie Harris, principal of the firm, is committed to a thorough exterior renovation. We have designed this renovation, and it should be starting any day now. The brick will be cleaned; the 1960’s replacement windows will come out and new, double-hung windows will come in; all trim will be repainted; an illuminated projecting sign will be hung; and doors will be refinished. Oh, and bright red awnings will hang over the front windows, to recall the bright red engines that used to be visible inside.

Current facade in need of some TLC

Now, the even better news: Connie only needs a small portion of the space for her company. She is open to renovating the rest of the interior into…retail? Apartments? More office space? The sky’s the limit, as long as it makes sense. As part of that Phase 2 renovation, we’d love to take out the front windows and replace them with overhead doors reminiscent of the original Fire House doors–do I see a sidewalk cafe, or a garden shop, or a sculpture gallery? Perhaps.

By the way, those are actually window boxes under the gorgeous arches, and my friend Randy McDaniel, landscape architect, is selecting some new plants.

I will post some “after” pics now that we’ve all seen the “before.” One last note–fire stations have traditionally been focal points of civic pride. There’s a reason Birmingham spent the money on Station No. 4 with its Italian Renaissance detailing and classic proportions. Unfortunately, that same sense of civic pride is missing in many recent public buildings, and fire stations are no exception. One of the most baffling buildings erected recently here is Fire Station No. 10/22 in Avondale (on Fifth Avenue South) that, despite its location in an old neighborhood filled with great architecture, is a very, very bad suburban-ranch-style mess. Hopefully the renovation of No. 4 will take a little of the sting out of the affront over at No. 10/22.

Affront in Avondale

In the meantime, here’s hoping the firemen in all our stations have quiet days playing cards and saving cats from trees!