Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Some Alabamians in New Orleans

I've done a few posts on this blog devoted to topics with only slight connections to Alabama history or culture. One such was "Two Alabama Natives Visit the Garden of the Gods". Mostly they are excuses to show a few pretty pictures. That's basically what's going on here, although there will be some minor Alabama stuff before the end.

Son Amos moved to New Orleans last year from Baton Rouge, and in March we finally went down for a visit. I had been to the Big Easy a few times before, mainly for professional meetings, but I was glad to get back and see more of the city. Dianne had never been to New Orleans except for a quick trip through on I-10 years ago.

Amos lives in the Lower Garden District just a couple of blocks from St. Charles Avenue. Some of the sights we saw that weekend are noted below.

Of course, one of the main attractions of New Orleans is the food, and we did our best to experience some of it. On Friday night we ate dinner at Cochon on Tchopitoulas Street. The place was packed, our wait was long, but well worth it. This "contemporary Cajun" restaurant is located in a renovated warehouse. 

Saturday breakfast came courtesy of the Trolley Stop on St. Charles Avenue not far from Amos' apartment. The meal involved another wait, but the big French Special breakfast was excellent. We had lunch in the Quarter at the French Market Restaurant; the seafood kept us fueled for the afternoon. Dinner that night found us again on St. Charles Avenue, this time at the upscale Lula Restaurant Distillery. They distill vodka, rum and gin and claim to be the only restaurant-distillery in the southeastern U.S. I had the rum lacquered shrimp. 

For brunch on Sunday morning we walked down Magazine Street to the DeVille Coffee House and Creperie. We all had the smoked salmon crepes, and it was superb. The coffee was good, too. Our final meal together took us once again to St Charles Avenue and the St. Charles Tavern Restaurant and Bar. This place is low key, and the boudin balls and seafood special were great!

We can pause here to mention one of the Alabama connections in this post; this one centers on Magazine Street. In 2004 a movie called A Love Song for Bobby Long came out, directed by Shainee Gabel and based on the novel Off Magazine Street by Ronald Everett Capps. In the film John Travolta plays Bobby Long, once an English professor at Auburn University who now lives in New Orleans with one of his former graduate students, Lawson Pines [Gabriel Macht] and their female companion, jazz singer Lorraine. She dies, and their house is inherited by her high-school dropout daughter, Pursy, played by Scarlett Johanssen. Most of the film follows Long and Pines as they help Pursy learn enough to graduate and bring her into their circle of strange but loving friends.

The film trots out some usual Southern stereotypes and accents, but is filled with compelling characters and humor. Travolta, Macht and Johanssen are all surprisingly good. And we get to see Travolta in an Auburn t-shirt and make a trip back to the campus at one point. Oh, and a lot of great authors make appearances throughout via Long and Pines' ongoing battle of the literary quotes. 

I've yet to read Capps' only novel, but have a copy and plan to do so. He married an Auburn student, they both taught school in Brewton and have lived in Fairhope for some years. Their son is singer-songwriter Grayson Capps

Some additional comments about our trip are below the photos.   

In 1981 engineers noted that Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower was sagging and the cause was a restaurant placed on top of it. The 1937 addition was dismantled and efforts made to place it elsewhere in Paris were unsuccessful. 

An opportunity to buy it fell into the lap of American John Onorio. The 11,000 pieces were shipped to New Orleans, reassembled and reopened as a restaurant in 1986. The venue, located on St. Charles Avenue just outside the Garden District, currently operates as the Eiffel Society.  

Just down St. Mary's Street from my son's apartment are two houses permanently decorated for Mardi Gras. You can see a bit of the purple one to the left.

Since Dianne had never been to New Orleans, we spent Saturday afternoon in the French Quarter. One of the funniest sights was this little guy collecting dollar bills from passersby. He was totally cool and calm and obviously an old hand at his routine. 

One of the places we visited in the Quarter to show Dianne was the Hotel Monteleone with its revolving Carousel Bar and displays of books by authors who have stayed there over the years. Of course the bar was packed so we moved on. 

I recently read Jeff Weddle's 2007 book Bohemian New Orleans, which covers the city's literary scene primarily from the 1950's into the 1970's. However, writers throughout New Orleans' history also make appearances. The above plaque is on the wall near where son Amos and I are standing in the photo below in Pirate's Alley. 

William Faulkner lived in New Orleans in the 1920's and wrote his first novel A Soldier's Story in this building. Faulkner Books, well worth a visit itself, is on the ground floor now. In the background you can see the round sign of the Pirate's Alley Cafe and Absinthe Bar which provided us with a table and a few beers for an hour's worth of people watching. Just across the alley, out of the photo, is St. Louis Cathedral, seen further below.

That day in the French Quarter and Jackson Square was a beautiful Saturday with a mild temperature and bustling with tourists but not overcrowded. The street artists, poets and entertainers were out in full force, and we also got to see a couple of wedding parades. 

St. Louis Cathedral towers over Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The first church was constructed on the site in 1718 and raised to cathedral rank in 1793. The cathedral as seen here is the third church on the site and is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the United States. 

Amos has taken one of the cruises on this beauty and said it was well worth it.

Here's Amos on Sunday morning in the DeVille Coffee House and Creperie where we had those delicious smoked salmon crepes. And good coffee!

Dianne and Amos found a big tree root growing over the sidewalk near his apartment. The view below is looking down his street.

Classic street cars still rumble in New Orleans, and on Saturday we rode the Historic St. Charles Avenue Line into the French Quarter. The line has operated since 1893. The current cars were built in the early 1920's and refurbished between 1988 and 1994. In 1973 the line was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That day it was a warm and crowded but fun ride!

Amos is an urban planner, and  he works for the city in this building.

Very close to where Amos works is the Eagle Saloon, currently empty. Efforts have been going on for some time to redevelop the historic property built in 1851. The saloon was once in the bustling African-American business district of the city, and was a frequent stop of early ragtime and jazz greats such as Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and many others.  

Now we come to another Alabama portion of our story. Amos has these items above the door into his kitchen. 

On a wall in his kitchen a framed copy of this Sun Ra album is displayed. He was a jazz composer, musician and bandleader born in Birmingham. 

We did spot this product on the shelves at a local Wal-Mart; does that count?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Updating Pelham's Historical Marker

In conjunction with Alabama Bicentennial activities, new historical markers are going up all over the state. One was recently placed in Pelham in front of the City Hall building on U.S. 31. 

The new marker actually replaced an older one, which can also be seen below. I've written a blog post about the older marker

Over the life of this blog I've written a number of posts about Pelham; you can find a list here.

A few further comments are below. 

The name was changed from Shelbyville to Pelham sometime after the Civil War ended, although exactly when and by whom are not known. John Pelham was born in Jacksonville, Alabama, and is buried there. 

However, the name Pelham appears on an 1876 map of the state and in an 1880 city of Birmingham directory.

Current state highway maps distributed at welcome centers and rest stops along the Interstates include a community named Pelham in the northeastern corner of Choctaw County. I have been unable so far to locate any information about this place. Google Earth doesn't show much there but houses, trees and roads; perhaps I'll drive down one day and check it out.

Here's the original marker, which had the same text on both sides. The date of installation in the lower right is hard to read but appears to be 1976. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Vestavia's Little Red Barn

One of our longtime friends is Druscilla Defalque, a fiber and mixed-media artist who lives in Hoover. She is a member of the Artists Incorporated Gallery on Morgan Road in Vestavia, just across from the Western Supermarket off Rocky Ridge Road. Each year she is one of the featured artists for a month, and I recently attended the opening reception for her month. The gallery is located in an interesting building, which is fodder for this blog post.

The place is known as the "little red barn" in keeping with its history. The area was once the Joe Beardon dairy farm; the barn was built in 1926. Once the structure ended its original use, various other businesses have operated there over the years, including the Jackie O'Neal School of Dance. The gallery opened in 1999, and features striking art in various media by a number of local artists.

I think I've read somewhere that the "barn" is the oldest remaining commercial structure in Vestavia. You can see a much older photograph on page 44 of Rebecca Walden''s 2014 book, Vestavia Hills. 

The gallery has recently opened a second location in the Shops at Grand River in Leeds. That location is not yet historic. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Sad Memorial at the Birmingham Airport

I've written several posts on this blog that might be classified under a "history in unexpected places" category---things like markers or plaques in very public places that most people pass by without noticing. One such post discussed the Hillman Hospital Annex cornerstone and another a plaque inside UAB's Jefferson Tower. I've also written one about a memorial plaque for Dr. Bernie Moore, an important figure in the founding of Crestwood Hospital in Huntsville.

I remember another such encounter vividly that took place a few years ago on our trip to Boston to visit son Amos. We stayed at a b&b in Cambridge, not far from his apartment, and each day he would meet us, and we walked several blocks to the nearest subway stop to begin our adventures. On our final day I noticed we had been walking right by a marker commemorating Watson's Corner, the site of an April 19, 1775, skirmish connected with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Who knows how many people walk past the marker and never see it, much less stop and read it. The Boston area is crowded with history, even along the sidewalks.

In the Birmingham airport recently I noticed just such an item on the ticketing and departure level---the plaque below, which is located on one end of that floor. This memorial acknowledges the death at that spot of Luke Bresette. The ten year-old, his two siblings and parents were passing through Birmingham on their way home to Kansas on March 22, 2013. After an extensive renovation the terminal had reopened only nine days earlier. The family happened to be in front of a free-standing arrival and departure board when the structure fell over. The father was uninjured, but Heather Bresette and her children were pinned under the sign that weighed several hundred pounds. 

The mother was taken to UAB Hospital and the youngsters to Children's. All survived except Luke, who died later that day. You can read about the incident in more detail and its aftermath here and here. You can see a photo of the cabinet that fell over taken the day the terminal reopened on the BhamWiki site. The plaque below is located on that portion of the wall behind it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Selma's Concordia College Closes

On April 28 Selma's Concordia College held its final graduation in the school's gymnasium. About 150 students received degrees in the 92nd graduation ceremony. Concordia had 445 students registered in the fall 2017 semester.

School funding had been in crisis for some years, and enrollment was falling. In February 2018 the decision to close was announced. The Selma campus was the only historically-black one in the Concordia University System of ten schools operated around the U.S. by the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

The school opened in 1922 as both a high school and college to train church workers. The college closed during the Depression. Eventually the college reopened, and the institution became known as the Alabama Lutheran College and Academy. The name was changed in 1981. In 1997 two 1928 buildings, Bakke Hall and the Dormitory, were listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. In 2010 the campus had expanded from 22 to 57 acres. 

The school competed in several men's and women's sports, and fielded a football team from 2005 until 2015 when costs became prohibitive.

Alabama has 14 other historically-black universities, four-year colleges and community colleges currently operating. Daniel Payne College, opened in Birmingham in 1880, previously closed in 1977. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Harris Transfer & Warehouse Company

For a number of years one of our favorite places to eat in the UAB area has been the Fish Market Restaurant located very close to the Kirklin Clinic on 6th Avenue South. In 1982 George Sarris bought the operation from his uncle Jimmy Hontzas. In 2007 Sarris moved the eatery to its present location in the former Harris Transfer and Warehouse Company facility. The place has a Greek touch with a large menu, very good food and reasonable prices. The location in a former warehouse adds an interesting aspect to the dining experience.

Naturally, I've wondered about the history of that building, so let's investigate.

As the 1888 notice below tells us, a freight transfer line was established in Birmingham by George C. Harris in 1881. That first office was located--"conveniently"--upstairs at 5 20th Street. By the time this item was published, the firm even had a telephone. The business was "well and favorably known" and moved household goods, freight and even safes, which they would position for the customer.

In the 1910 U.S. Census we can find some information about Mr. Harris. He was born in Alabama in 1849, and had been married to wife Jamie for 35 years. He owned his home free of any mortgage and could read and write. His household had a total of ten people, including George C. Harris, Jr. His occupation is listed as "transfer man". The Alabama Deaths & Burials Index 1881-1974 gives his death date as January 26, 1912. 

As the BhamWiki entry on the company tells us, the firm's success continued in subsequent decades. By the late 1930's Harris Transfer Company had sixty trucks and three warehouses. You can see a photo of one of those trucks on that site. The company became one of the early partners with Allied Van Lines in creating a long-distance hauling system. 

In the 1990's the company fell on hard times, filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated. Floors above the Fish Market are used in a self-storage business.

Source: North Alabama Illlustrated, 1888, p. 144

A recent photo of the more or less outside dining area; main dining is to the right

Friday, April 20, 2018

Alabama Photos of the Day: the 1969 Sesquicentennial

The state of Alabama is currently in the midst of a multi-year bicentennial celebration. Congress admitted the Alabama Territory to the union on December 14, 1819. The Territory had been created on March 3, 1817. Events have been taking place all over the state to commemorate these important milestones and will continue through 2019.

In July 1968 Alabama Governor Albert Brewer established a Sesquicentennial Commission to develop and oversee activities commemorating the state's 150th  anniversary the following year. Below are some photographs and other materials related to that event and some further comments.

Sesquicentennial Commission at a restaurant lunch meeting in 1968

Left to right: Joe Farley, Judge C. J. Coley, Paul Felts, Mrs. William Nicrosi, Governor Albert Brewer, Katherine McTyeire, Harry Pritchett, George McBurney, and Milo B. Howard Jr. Howard was the director of the state archives. 

Another photo of a luncheon meeting

Left to right: Paul Felts, Judge C. J. Coley, Mrs. William Nicrosi, Joe Farley, Milo B. Howard Jr., Robert Rockhold (state coordinator, an employee of the Commission), Governor Albert Brewer, Katherine McTyeire, woman from Luckie Forney, Inc. (advertising firm employed by the Commission), and Martin Darity (with his back to the camera).

Members of the Alabama congressional delegation standing with the 22-star United States flag created by the Alabama Sesquicentennial Commission. The flag flew at the U.S. Capitol between 11:30 a.m. and noon on September 18, 1969. Among those pictured are George Andrews (third from left), John Sparkman (center), Katherine McTyeire (chairman of the Commission), and James B. Allen (fourth from right). 

Alabama's 22-star flag flying at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The flag flew between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Because Alabama was the twenty-second state admitted to the union, one of the commission's projects was the creation of this 22-star United States flag.

Milo Howard and Katherine McTyeire with a security guard before hoisting Alabama's 22-star flag over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

This stamp was issued on August 2, 1969, in Huntsville.

A variety of medals were issued celebrating the Sesquicentennial. You can see more on eBay

This book was an "Official Sesquicentennial Guide" and contained eight chapters on various "History Circle Tours" through the state.