Tag Archives: Walgreens

Design Review Alert

It’s historic too

Tomorrow morning at Design Review Committee, the conceptual design for the proposed Walgreens drugstore on Clairmont Avenue South will be presented. The most recent plan, informally shown to neighbors and community stakeholders, was discussed in a previous post here.

The meeting will be at 7:30 AM, Young and Vann building, 1731 First Avenue North, 3rd Floor.

This proposal is important because it accommodates the historic Fire Station No. 22, while demolishing several structures in-between the Fire Station and the mid-century modern office of Henry Sprott Long Architects (in continuous operation at this location for about 50 years), shown in the photo above. The drugstore’s relationship to both historic buildings, its new parking lot and drive-through, and its formal character along Clairmont should be discussed in the morning.

The public is invited to attend.

Walgreens, Phase 2

A softer approach

Yesterday Connolly Net Lease, the developer who has acquired the historic Fire Station No. 22 and several adjacent parcels along the 3100 block of Clairmont Avenue South, held a charrette to help determine what a new Walgreens would look like. Coming off of a contentious earlier effort (which involved demolishing the Fire Station), the new plan is at first glance more pleasing to neighbors and others: the Fire Station has been saved, and will house two of the existing businesses that will be demolished on adjacent lots (Bogue’s Restaurant and Triple Platinum Salon). Connolly said the famous Bogue’s neon sign will be preserved and move it to the Fire Station; a neighborhood landmark is preserved and will have two local businesses inside. Good.  But what about the plan for the new structure and site layout?

Context is complex

The largest issue here is not the architecture per se (although it’s important), but the site layout itself. Above is Clairmont Avenue, looking west from the Fire Station. Note all the setbacks along the street–except for Bogue’s, whose setback is perhaps 5 feet or so, all structures are placed back 10-30 feet from the front property line. This is due in part to the fact the street was initially laid out residentially, with houses, porches, and apartment buildings. And lawns.

Sophisticated respect for context, ca. 1960

About 1960, the architectural firm Henry Sprott Long moved from their downtown offices to the leafier region of Clairmont Avenue, which by that point had become a less desirable residential address. They built an international style gem, with exposed steel beams, plate glass, stone veneer, and a flat roof (above). However, they were careful to respect their residential neighbors, preserving trees, keeping the scale modest–and setting the building back to match the adjacent houses.

Still historic in its own right

At the design charrette, the principals of Blackmon Rogers Architects showed a site plan that has a +/- 13,500 square foot Walgreens moved all the way to the western edge of the lot, and pulled out to the sidewalk with no setback. This awkwardly hems in Henry Sprott Long. In many cases, the correct “urban” and “pedestrian-friendly” location of a commercial building is right at the sidewalk. In this case, we’re not as sure.

A bit too close for comfort

In the architect’s quick sketch prepared yesterday above (please note: these are very early sketches in the process), an option for the new Walgreens facade on Clairmont is illustrated. They have made an effort to bring down the height to relate to Henry Sprott Long seen at the left; what you don’t see is the shadow that would be cast on the older building which is set so much further back. And to the other side of the Walgreens is…

an urban void

…a large surface parking lot, the extent of which can be seen in the second part of the sketch above (note the diminutive Fire Station to the far right). Having this much surface parking running along Clairmont is not good. If I were to redesign this site, I would place Walgreens more in the center between the international style and Spanish-style historic structures (and yes, they are both historic); I would make it longer and skinnier along Clairmont to put more mass on the street; I would set it back a very modest amount from the sidewalk; and parking would be contained at the rear. As it is, the Fire Station feels marooned in isolation at the end of the sea of parking, and Henry Sprott Long has the opposite problem: it’s being strangled by its much larger new neighbor.

Contextual in Oak Park

While certain participants yesterday asked for “historical” elements in the design, what actually emerged as a favorite “prototype” was the new part of the Oak Park, IL Walgreens, shown above (the other part is a renovated existing historic structure). It’s decent, if conventional, corporate architecture. It’s much better than your standard Walgreens, which is good. And it’s good the neighborhood gets to have input into materials. It’s also good activists were able to save the Fire Station from demolition, and the developer plans to relocate local independent businesses there.

Unfortunate siting--but still early

But the neighborhood should also insist on a better site plan. The current plan (sketched crudely above by this author) does a disservice to both historic buildings. The architects are at least on the right track with a “21st century” style that doesn’t cheapen the Fire Station by mimicking it.  Hopefully, the developer will reconsider the site plan so that the block can feel more whole, and the beautiful little modernist building can breathe again.

[Thanks to Blackmon Rogers for allowing us to show the elevation sketches; Oak Park Walgreens pic courtesy of Walgreens]

Demise of the corner drugstore

Not anymore at a corner near you

Chalk it up to the ubiquity of national chains such as Walgreen’s and CVS; to the low prices and convenience of in-store pharmacies at Walmart or Publix; to the poor economy; or to causes less obvious and more mysterious. Whatever the cause, or combination of causes, MedTown Pharmacy closed its doors this week. As the sole surviving full-service drugstore on the northside of downtown (within the 200 block of 20th Street North), this comes as a blow to not only the daytime business population in the CBD, but to the many downtown residents (including this author) who chose MedTown as their drugstore of choice. MedTown joins the ranks of other downtown drugstores (such as Dewberry’s, at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Richard Arrington Blvd., pictured above in 1939) which have closed over the last couple decades. As recently as 1998, there were still 4 independent drugstores operating within a few blocks of MedTown (itself formerly a Big B Drugstore). Now there are none.

Another blow for 20th Street

The closing of MedTown is sadly in sync with the generally haggard feeling of Birmingham’s “Main Street”. Despite some bright spots–Trattoria Centrale, Brick & Tin, Cafe Dupont, the private residence designed by Appleseed Workshop–recent years have seen the shuttering of the old First Alabama Bank building (and the failure of the proposed Marriott Renaissance Hotel there); the departure of SouthTrust/Wachovia from their 2nd Avenue Branch, leaving an entire half-block of empty buildings; thwarted redevelopments of both the Empire and Brown-Marx buildings; and of course the very, very tired and dated “Birmingham Green” of 1970’s era plantings, concrete benches, and low concrete walls that’s in desperate need of renovation.

Sign of the times?

It seems emblematic of Birmingham, in a way, that our “Main Street”, symbolic center of town, has been allowed to become so frayed. Other areas of downtown are brimming with promise and interest–but the energy dissipates where it instead should be united in full force on 20th. An encouraging sign: I heard members of the Mayor’s staff and the Horticulture department walked 20th Street last week discussing how to overhaul the landscaping to bring it in line with more modern, sophisticated efforts such as Railroad Park and the proposed streetscapes around the Pizitz project. And just seeing the crowds spill out of Trattoria for lunch, dinner, or brunch–no matter how desolate the immediate surroundings–also gives hope. Hope that other entrepreneurs will take initiative to renovate buildings and bring new businesses; hope that the Mayor will continue to search for ways to improve the City; hope that other nearby developments will exert pressure on 20th Street to revive.

Of course, some of us also hope that a drugstore will open up in the neighborhood again, and soon.

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.

The bulldozers are coming

The way it's usually done

Over in one of our alternative papers, Black and White, associate editor David Pelfry has an editorial exploring the relationship of developers, municipalities, and citizens—and the large imbalance often inherent in this relationship which can lead to the loss of green space, beauty, and community values in the name of tax revenue. Whether you are concerned about the current Chick-Fil-A and Walgreen’s projects in the City, or recent shopping center, mega-subivision, and other developments in the greater Metro, it’s a very interesting read.

[thanks to Robert Burnham for the aerial pic]

Saved?

The City’s Economic Development Committee this afternoon unanimously voted to recommend the Walgreen’s project on Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street to the full Council.

Still fighting fires in 1976

Originally Walgreen’s had planned to demolish Fire Station No. 22–and two neighboring long-time businesses, Bogue’s Restaurant and Clairmont Auto Repair–for a new store and parking lot. After an explosion of neighborhood opposition to the demolition, and frustration at the lack of public awareness of the City sale of this property, Walgreen’s amended its proposal. Now, the company promises in writing to preserve the Fire Station and make efforts to move Bogue’s into it, or find another neighborhood tenant. The new drug store would be placed in the middle of the block, leaving the historic corner building in its role as gateway marker to the Highland Park, South Avondale, and Forest Park neighborhoods.

Once Walgreen’s changed their plan to include preservation (the community had reminded the developer, Connolly Net Lease, that Walgreen’s had agreed with the National Trust to not demolish buildings on the National Register some years ago), a lot of opposition died away. While it is true that the current proposal is immensely better than the previous, it is probably important to remain a little skeptical–this large corporation had no initial intent to save the fire station or help displaced businesses. Let’s hope their new spirit of community cooperation is genuine.

Walgreen’s committed to holding a design charrette for the proposal, with public input. They have also engaged David Blackmon of Blackmon Rogers Architects to lead the design process. Here’s hoping for an inspired design for the new building; carefully planned and shielded parking; clear pedestrian emphasis at entry points; a skilled restoration of the fire station; and a commitment from the City to help both Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto find new homes. Oh, and a new policy that whenever the City is selling property–especially property on the National Register–they at least put up a “For Sale” sign, so the community, and not just RFP insiders, is aware and able to make proposals.

A big step in the right direction. Now come the important details. Stay tuned.

Walgreen’s and DC

An example of careful historic preservation

UPDATE:

Andrew just took this pic (on his way out of the Metro, of course) of the Cleveland Park Walgreen’s:

Walgreen's being the good urban neighbor

My friend Andrew Aurbach, who has served on Washington, DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board, sent me a link to a blog that discusses Walgreen’s moving into a restored restaurant in historic Cleveland Park (rendering shown above), as well as a neighborhood protest surrounding a new Walgreen’s proposed for the Van Ness neighborhood (below).

Similar to Birmingham, both Walgreen’s projects in DC are within a stone’s throw of existing CVS Pharmacies.

The neighbors don't like it

[thanks to DCMud for the renderings]