Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Visit to Bellingrath Gardens

Bellingrath Gardens and Home near Theodore in Mobile County is one of Alabama's major tourist attractions. The "Only in Your State" web site lists Bellingrath as #5 on its list of "10 Places in Alabama You Must See Before You Die." The 65 acres of developed gardens and the home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath were opened to the public on April 7, 1932. Walter was an early Coca-Cola distributor in the South, and his wealth enabled the couple to build their home and create the gardens on the property. 

Walter bought some 900 acres along the Fowl River in 1917 as a site for his fishing camp. Bessie began developing the gardens with an architect in 1927, and the large home was completed in 1935. The architect of both projects was George Bigelow Rogers who also designed numerous churches, public buildings and private residences in Mobile before his death in 1945. The Bellingrath home opened as a museum in 1956, the year after Walter's death. Bessie had died in 1943. 

More about Bellingrath can be found here and here. Many historic photographs and postcards related to the Bellingraths and their home and gardens can be found here.

Tens of thousands of visitors tour Bellingrath each year. In March Dianne and i became two of those on a beautiful Friday morning. No signs remain of the devastation caused by Hurricane Frederick in September 1979. Photos and some comments are below. We did not tour the home; perhaps next time!

We missed the peak of the azaleas but a few pretty ones were left. 

Dianne loves her orchids and was happy to see so many at Bellingrath. 

There are a number of great views along the paths, and various events are held in the Gardens throughout the year. 

Ah, the gorgeous delphine! 

Water is a big part of the Gardens.

The hydrangeas were looking good.  

The Gardens & Home are along the Fowl River.

A nice grove of bamboo grows along the path around the small lake seen below. 

A very interesting section is the bayou preserve which has a long boardwalk around much of it and numerous interpretive signs.

Dianne found a kitty cat!

Entrance to the Asian-American Garden

Edward Marshall Boehm was an American sculptor in porcelain who died in 1969. His works are in more than 130 permanent collections around the world, including the White House, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace and the Hermitage in Moscow. One of those locations is Bellingrath Gardens. Boehm specialized in birds and other wildlife. A few of his creations are seen below; many more are located at the Delchamps Gallery. 

Walter and Bessie Bellingrath on July 18, 1938

The plaque between them was donated by the citizens of Mobile in recognition of their work. The photo is signed by the couple. 

Source: Alabama Mosaic

On our way to Bellingrath we passed this chapel across the street from the First Baptist Church of Theodore. As the sign notes, it was built around 1907.

Monday, July 16, 2018

UAB Continues to Expand

Big news, right? When I started work at UAB in August 1983, I soon noticed  new construction and mentioned it to someone. That person's response? "Get used to it. It never stops." That observation was certainly true until I retired in December 2015 and continues to be the case. I can understand why the initials "UAB" are often said to stand for the "University that Ate Birmingham." 
UAB recently announced plans to demolish seven campus buildings over the next year to make way for future projects. The university had previously announced eventual demolition plans for an eighth building. Let's investigate.

Worrell Building – 924 18th Street South

This building opened in 1960 as the Doctor's Center where a number of physicians and dentists had offices. The BhamWiki article on the structure has a tenants' list and gives this description: "The modern curtain-wall building with exposed concrete frame and cantilevering floor slabs contained four doctor's suites on each floor, with the ground floor opened up for valet parking service. Construction of the building cost $500,000." A second 10-story companion was designed but never constructed.

Fritz Woehle in 1966 with a model of the building never constructed 

Source: BhamWiki

The architect for the project was Fritz Woehle, who moved to Birmingham in 1958 and remained in the city until his death in 2017. When the Doctor's Center opened, Woehle moved his office to the penthouse on the seventh floor. 

In the 1970's he bought the property at 10th Terrace South containing several abandoned garage stalls. The site was converted and now houses his antiques collection and the legendary The Garage Cafe

UAB purchased the building in 1985 with a gift from optometrist Paul Worrell and his wife Sylvia. Renovated to house the Vision Sciences program, the structure was dedicated in Worrell's honor in 1988.

The entrance to the building features some of the public sculpture seen around campus.

The Doctor's Center in 1962

Source: BhamWiki

Worrell Building Annex – 924 18th Street South

Jefferson County Department of Human Resources Building (former)
1301 5th Avenue South

Like many large universities, UAB is constantly purchasing property that comes available near campus. I imagine that happened when this county department moved downtown. I have no idea about the history of this building. The two photos below offer additional views.

Cancer Research Center – 550 11th Street South

This building on the western edge of campus would seem to date from the 1980's, but UAB obviously has other plans for the site.

711 Building – 711 11th Street South

This building and the one below housed the UAB football program offices for some years. 

Dowdy Building – 1109 7th Avenue South

1200 Building – 1200 6th Avenue South

UAB's bookstore moved here temporarily a few years ago while the new student center was built. Before UAB bought the property it was a grocery or drug store, I think. 

That "Lunch Buffet" sign belongs to the Sitar Indian Cuisine restaurant at the corner of University Boulevard and 20th Street. When I started work at UAB in 1983 and for some years afterward a drug store was located in that space. 

Purchased by UAB in 1985, the building was constructed in 1950-51 as apartments with retail space on the ground floor. Other business tenants have included Tracy's Cafeteria--I ate there a number of times over the years. 

UAB has used the facility for extended-stay patients from out of town who require ongoing care. Improved facilities will be provided for those patients. UAB is assisting Sitar in finding a new location.

Source: UAB Reporter

The Town House in the 1950's.

Source: UAB Reporter via the UAB Archives

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Alabama Photos of the Day: Dorothea Lange's Plantation House

During the Great Depression of the 1930's, many photographers traveled around the United States documenting life in both cities and rural areas. These people--men and women--were employed by U.S. government  agencies and several of them came through Alabama documenting the extent of rural and urban poverty these agencies were designed to alleviate. Dorothea Lange was one of those photographers. 

Lange was born in New Jersey in 1895 and took up photography after high school. In 1935 she married her second husband, economist Paul Schuster Taylor. They spent the rest of the decade traveling for the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration. Lange took photographs and Taylor did interviews and gathered data. They concentrated on the rural poor--sharecroppers and migrant workers. 

In 1938 the pair came to Alabama. You can see 38 of her photographs taken in the state at the Library of Congress site here. They include Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company and a concrete mixing plant in Birmingham. However, most subjects involve the impoverished people and landscapes around Eutaw, Anniston, Cordele and Eden. 

During World War II Lange took photographs inside the Japanese Internment Camps, but most of these were seized by the U.S. Army and not seen until after the war ended. After the war she worked at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute and co-founded the photography magazine Aperture. She died in 1965. 

Below are three of Lange's haunting photographs of an abandoned plantation house somewhere in the state. In the first one, the empty and broken windows seem to be the only sign of damage--although surely the interior would be even worse. And is that white patch on the porch a person? Probably not, but perhaps Lange captured a ghost of the past....And where does that road go? 

In the other two photographs the empty house is merely a backdrop to the growth of corn, some semblance of life in the desolate landscape. 

A biography of Lange is Linda Gordon's Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits [2010].  

The source of the three house photographs is the Oakland Museum of California via the University of California's Calisphere. Neither the name of the house or its location in Alabama are given.

If you know the identity and location of this house, let us hear from you in the comments. 

Lange sits atop a Ford Model 40 in California holding her Grafex camera.

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Living Wall at the Birmingham Airport

I recently posted about a sad memorial at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Now it's time for one about the facility that's a bit more upbeat.

A few years ago the airport completed a major upgrade to the terminal and its concourses. That work included the installation of a "living wall" of plants in Concourse B. As the airport's web site notes, the wall is "entitled 'Earth Wind and Water: The Landscape of Alabama'. The display is the largest living wall inside any airport terminal in the United States. The wall is 100 feet wide, 14 feet high, and contains 1,400 square feet of vegetated area." The wall is one of several works of art inside and outside the terminal.

Although born in Philadelphia in 1950, artist Murray Johnston has lived in Birmingham since 1953. His specialty is art quilts, and his work appears in many galleries, and corporate and public collections, and has been included in numerous shows over the years. 

The design was installed by the Green Over Grey company based in Vancouver. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dad Visits Montgomery in 1941

In November 1941 my dad Amos J. Wright, Jr. made a visit to Montgomery with his business law class from Etowah High School. Recently I was exploring some old photographs at mom's in Huntsville and came across these four that he snapped on that trip. My grandparents had a camera at that time; perhaps he took it or even had one of his own.

Below the photos are dad's notes written on the back of each one. I've also included some roughly contemporary images from other sources and historical information about the sites as well.

Postcard of Kilby Prison from 1940

Opened in 1923,  the original Kilby Prison sat on 2500 acres four miles from downtown Montgomery. Twenty-seven acres were enclosed by a wall 20 feet high and six feet thick. The prison was named after Thomas E. Kilby, Governor from 1919 until 1923. Alabama's electric chair operated here for decades; on February 9, 1934, five black men were put to death within a thirty minute period. 

In 1970 Kilby was demolished; a new facility had opened at Mt. Meigs the previous year. Today the newer Kilby Correctional Facility receives and processes all male inmates in the state's prison system.

Official portrait of Gov. Thomas E. Kilby

Alabama state capitol ca. 1940

The Encyclopedia of Alabama notes about the capitol building, "The first State Capitol in Montgomery was built in 1847, but it burned down two years later. The current capitol was raised on the same foundation in 1851. The Alabama Legislature met at the capitol until 1985, when it moved to the Alabama State House."