Perils of historicism
Today at Design Review Committee the developer of a new hotel on the west side of 20th Street South a half block south of the fountain in the historic Five Points South neighborhood presented a revised exterior scheme. We last saw this proposal over a year ago; since then the exterior has traded its “bland suburban” character for something more attuned to the Art Deco surroundings of the area (above). However, the proposal was denied, and the applicant asked to return to a special subcommittee that would work with him further.
Part of the issue is that the new structure sits on an historic base–a former music club and, previously, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store–and that base is unsuccessfully integrated with the new facade above. While the new facade is certainly an improvement over the earlier design, the devil is in the details (and no true details have been presented yet). If all those vertical bits and chamfers will be formed out of synthetic stucco, we may be end up with poorly-executed historicism. We’ll have to see how this one progresses.
Also denied was a revised Pepsi advertisement (above), designed to wrap around the electronic message board at Two North Twentieth, the former Bank for Savings building at Morris Avenue and 20th Street North. The Committee found this new design still too inartistic and commercial to warrant such a huge, full-color, singular statement on the City skyline. A frustrated building representative may consider appealing this ruling. This City was built on commerce, and the old electric sign is grandfathered. But the Committee is clearly drawing a very firm line here.
[thanks to Rakesh Patel for the hotel sketch, and Harbert Realty for the banner]
Communicating a brand big time
Today at Design Review Committee, Harbert Realty presented a proposal to wrap the electronic message board atop Two North 20th (corner Morris Avenue and 20th Street North, the former Bank for Savings building) with a massive vinyl advertisement for Pepsi (rendering, above). This is probably an unprecedented request, but the message board itself is unique to the City and Alabama, and therefore presents a special context for debate.
The latest technology, ca. 1971
The giant electronic sign, with its ability to scroll messages with some 1,280 incandescent light bulbs, went up in 1971 as a symbol of a new, modern Birmingham emerging from the turbulent 1960’s. Above, we see the new sign in context over a soon-to-be-greened 20th Street North (note the billboard on the right for the new First National-Southern Natural building, now Regions Center). Over the years, the cost of maintaining the sign has caused it to change hands and go dark periodically. Harbert stated today that they can no longer afford to run the sign as-is; they want to convert it to LED technology when economic conditions permit. Until then, they want to hit the off switch, and rent it out for the Pepsi advertisement.
Despite the obsolete technology, and the fact that no sign like this would ever be approved today (there were no design review approval districts back in 1971), there is a certain civic fondness for the quirkiness of the sign. Committee member Mark Fugnitto lauded the existing sign for both its retro quality and its ability from a distance to blend into the urban context. Cheryl Morgan wondered why Pepsi wouldn’t agree to a more custom, artistic banner that would be tailored for Birmingham in lieu of the generically commercial design presented. In the end, the Committee refused the applicant, and asked for him to return with another design.
There is no question the sign is about to go dark; at issue is whether it just sits dark, or gets the Pepsi banner. Harbert’s representative was pessimistic he could convince Pepsi (through local distributor Buffalo Rock) to modify the banner. This unique part of the skyline can be allowed to change with the times. Keeping it special and beloved will be a challenge.
[thanks to Harbert Realty for the rendering, and bhamwiki for the historic photo]
We'll all drink to that
It’s been reported in today’s Magic City Post that Harbert Realty, the property manager charged with repairing the exterior of the building on the 1800 block of First Avenue South, had worked out a plan to restore the historic 1950’s mural after all (see our previous post here). Just two days ago the Design Review Committee voted to allow the Nashville owner to remove the mural.
More details will be forthcoming as they emerge. Have a great weekend everybody.
[thanks to vintagebrowser.com for the 1956 image]