Monday, August 31, 2015

Some More Tuscaloosa History

Dianne and I recently made a visit to Northport to visit our daugher Becca Leon; son-in-law Matt was out of town. The three of us took in the Riverwalk along the Black Warrior River, and I've posted photos etc about that stroll here and here. In this post I want to cover a couple of historical places we also saw in Tuscaloosa. I've written a previous post on some other such places in the area.

First up is the former Queen City Pool & Bathhouse on River Road. Built during the Great Depression, the complex was designed by Buel Schulyer, who studied under legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The location was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. In December 2011 the building became the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum. Unfortunately the museum is not open on Sundays, so hopefully we can see it on another visit.  

In the photos above and below you can see where the pool for the complex was located. This area is to your right as you face the former bathhouse. 

Next door to the transportation museum is the main Tuscaloosa Public Library. I worked at this library in the early 1980's just after finishing library school at UA. This front entrance looks unfamiliar to me; I always entered via the employees' entrance on the back side of the building!

The library's web site has a nice history page.  

While we were in the Tuscaloosa area we also drove around Northport trying to find a particular location there. We never found it, but we did drive a short way on modern portions of Byler Road, once a major highway through 19th century Alabama. The state Department of Archives and History has this text from an historical marker for the road. The text of such markers all over the state can be found here by county. You can learn more about Byler Road here and here.

Byler Road
One-half mile east is a portion of the original Byler Road. Legislation authorizing construction signed into law December 1819, by Alabama's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb. Built by John Byler, it was Alabama's first public road. Opened November 1822, operated as a toll road until 1834. Twelve feet wide, it connected Northwest Alabama and the Tennessee River to the Warrior River at Northport. Used by early settlers and military forces during War Between the States, it was a factor in the development of many Alabama communities.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Labor Days Past in Alabama

The creation of a Labor Day to honor workers in America was first promoted by labor unions in the 1880's. In 1887 with support of President Grover Cleveland an official holiday was established on the first Monday in September. You can read more about that history here. The Encyclopedia of Alabama has a long article on organized labor in the state. Below are some items related to past Labor Days in Alabama. 

This article describes the Arts & Crafts Show and other activities planned for a "very special Labor Day" in 1978.
Birmingham News 20 August 1978
Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

This scene from Birmingham's Labor Day parade appeared in a section of photographs in the Birmingham Age-Herald on October 8, 1916. 

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections 

Here's another photo from that 1916 Birmingham Labor Day parade.

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections

A Labor Day celebration by Textile Workers Union in Boylston, Alabama, sometime in the 1940's. The town is located between Montgomery and the Tallapoosa River.

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections

West Boylston Textile Mill around 1940

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections 

This item appeared in the Mobile Press-Register on September 5, 1956:

"A new record for Labor Day weekends was set at Bankhead Tunnel this year with a total of 57,345 cars passing through the underground structure during the four days."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Film Actresses from Alabama Before 1960 (2): Gail Patrick

Christian Esquevin, who writes "Silver Screen Modes", a blog devoted to classic Hollywood films, has called her "The Forgotten Star." Gail Patrick's screen career lasted 16 years, 1932 until 1948. She appeared in such films as Mississippi [1935] with W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett; My Man Godfrey [1936] with William Powell and Carole Lombard; and My Favorite Wife [1940] with Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. She often played the "other woman" or as Esquevin says, the "perfect bitch." 

Before she ever left for Hollywood, Patrick had established herself in a rather unusual way for a woman in early 20th century Alabama. She was born Margaret Lavelle Fitzpatrick in Birmingham on June 20, 1911. The family can be found living at 432 40th Street in the 1920 U.S. Census. Her father Laurence Fitzpatrick was born in Kentucky and worked as a fireman. Her mother "Larul" was a Mississippi native. At that census Margaret was listed as age 8; older brother Laurence Jr. was 14 and younger brother Richard was 4. All three children were Alabama natives.

By the 1930 census the family had relocated to 208 59th Place. The city of Birmingham now employed Laurence as a fire inspector. The mother's name had been corrected to LaVelle. The household had expanded by two members, a 20 year-old female lodger and a 13 year-old female listed as "lodger/orphan."

In that census Margaret's age was given as 19. By then she had probably already graduated from Woodlawn High School and entered Howard College in East Lake [now Samford University in Homewood]. After graduation from Howard, she joined the faculty and served as Acting Dean of Women for a period. 

She had begun to take pre-law courses at the University of Alabama when she decided to enter an acting contest. The event was sponsored by Paramount Studios and held at the Alabama Theatre. Paramount was looking for "Miss Panther Woman". Margaret did not get the part, but the studio offered her a contract and in the summer of 1932 she headed to Hollywood. 

In her first role she played a secretary in the film If I Had a Million. If you look at the film's entry at the Internet Movie Database, you'll find her near the bottom of the full cast list. Her part was uncredited, but she's already going by "Gail Patrick." She made eight films that first year in Hollywood.

By the late 1940's she had retired from acting. She began designing children's clothes and opened a shop on Rodeo Drive called Enchanted Cottage. Patrick and her business were included in a 1947 short film Unusual Occupations. Several of her famous customers and their children were featured. The store operated for eight years. 

By that time her first two marriages were also behind her. The first husband was Robert Howard Cobb, owner of the famed Brown Derby restaurant; that union lasted from 1936 until 1940. Arnold Dean White was her second husband; they married in 1944 and divorced the following year.

In 1947 Patrick married Cornwell Jackson, who just happened to be the literary agent for Earle Stanley Gardner. Gardner was a prolific author best known for his series of Perry Mason novels. Jackson secured the film rights to those novels, and through his company Paisano Productions Patrick became producer of the very successful Perry Mason television series. Gardner had disliked a series of film adaptations done in the 1930's, and wanted no more appearances by his character outside his novels. Apparently Patrick talked him into changing his mind.

The series premiered on September 21, 1957, and ended its run on CBS on May 22, 1966. That last episode, "The Case of the Final Fade Out", featured Patrick as a courtroom spectator and Gardner as one of the judges. 

Her marriage to Jackson ended in 1969. She married her last husband John E. Velde, Jr., in 1974. Patrick died of leukemia on July 6, 1980. According to her entry at the Find-A-Grave site, Patrick's ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. 

In her will she left over a million dollars to the Hollywood Wilshire YMCA, which named a teen center and park after her. She also gave a million dollars to the Delta Zeta sorority. 

You can read the transcript of an interview with Patrick done a year before her death here. Wikipedia has an entry for her, as does the BhamWiki. You'll find her Internet Movie Database entry here. I've include a number of Gail Patrick photographs below, along with comments as needed.

This blog post is part of a series I'm doing. The first one featured Lois Wilson.  

Update 3 August 2019: You can read about Patrick's role in one of her early films, the 1934 craziness that is Murder at the Vanities in my blog post about it here.

Until 1957 this building was "Old Main" on the Howard College campus in the East Lake area of Birmingham. In that year the school moved to its current campus in Homewood and became Samford University in 1965.  

Gail Patrick Argentinean Magazine corp.jpg

A 1939 studio publicity photo

Source: Wikipedia

Patrick on the left is an "Alabama campus belle with what it takes" in this spread on "the Southern Gal" in Modern Screen, February 1939

Advertisement for one of her films from Motion Picture Herald in 1946

Patrick in a two-page spread with actor Robert Donat in Modern Screen in 1939

Gail Patrick stands beside a statue on the lower right, posing in Movie Classic October 1935; her new picture is Smart Girl.

Patrick in Photoplay December 1936

Patrick poses with a turkey in this spread from Photoplay in 1938

Source: Find-A-Grave

Jackson in 1961 as Executive Producer of Perry Mason
Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Alabama Book Covers (2): To Kill a Mockingbird

So much has been written about Harper Lee in recent months and previous years that I will forego any comments on her. The Encyclopedia of Alabama has a nice entry

I will note the story my mother Carolyn Shores Wright tells the family. When she was in high school in the late 1940's she did some modeling for Avondale Mills. That job required occasional travel, and sometimes local people would offer the models a room for the night. On a trip to Monroeville she and another model got to sleep in the Lee house and mom in Harper's bedroom. Mom remembers a very high bed. The future author wasn't there, but mom did get to meet her mother, who served them refreshments. Mrs. Lee talked about both her daughters and seemed especially proud of the one who was writing a book. 

The show in Monroeville was held in a local department store that carried products from Avondale Mills. The models were trained by the Dallas Modeling Agency. In a store setting temporary runways would be set up across the counters. Mom opened the show as if she were just waking up and dressed in pajamas and yawning. Near the end she appeared in an evening dress. In between a day's worth of fashions were displayed.

Mrs. Lee offered mom and the other model breakfast the next morning, but they had to decline and join the rest of their group on the bus to their next destination. 

The audio book...

And of course the film....

Monday, August 17, 2015

Riverwalking in Tuscaloosa (2)

In a previous post I discussed the Riverwalk along the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa and shared some photos from a recent trip there. I'd like to continue here with more photos and comments.

This historical marker describes the river so important to ancient and modern Alabama history. The text of each marker across the state approved by the Alabama Historical Association is available on the Alabama Department of Archives and History website. They are listed by county. 

 Some colorful boats were parked along the riverbank that morning. 

 Two more pretty views of the river from the many I took.


 The Bama Belle paddle boat is docked in a cove along the Riverwalk and is available for rentals. 

 On the way to see the Bama Belle we encountered this mysterious structure across a field. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Riverwalking in Tuscaloosa (1)

Recently Dianne and I traveled to Tuscaloosa to visit daughter Becca Leon who's just taken a position as Manager of the Belk Activity Center there. The Belk is part of the extensive offerings of the Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Authority or PARA.

We had breakfast at Another Broken Egg located on the Riverwalk, a project of PARA that provides several miles of paved walking/biking trails along the Black Warrior River. As the photos below demonstrate, the walk is a beautiful place even on a hot August morning. Becca and her husband Matt say the Riverwalk is one of the best things they've discovered about Tuscaloosa. I've made some comments below and will share more photos in another post. 

Designers seemed to have added a touch of Stonehenge to the area.

The river provides some great vistas.

A few of the more unusual trees are labelled. 

Signs of humans are everywhere; we saw two trees with numerous carvings.

Nice shelters are available.

Numerous benches are located along the walk.

Something for young children is provided as well.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Quick Visit to Union Springs, Alabama

One of the towns brother Richard and I visited on our recent tour through east central Alabama was Union Springs in Bullock County. The town dates from the early 1830's. We were passing through quickly, so I only took a few photos. They are below with some comments. 

The Bullock County Courthouse has some very striking architecture. The building was constructed in 1871 and 1872; information about it and many other historic structures in Union Springs can be found here

Downtown Union Springs is a lovely place with lots of history, but was very quiet on the July Saturday afternoon when we visited. 

Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the Carnegie Library in Union Springs, but found one on the Deep Fried Kudzu site in a post with others from around town. The site is linked below. 

Back in the early 1980's I worked on a master's degree in library science in Tuscaloosa. For one of my classes I wrote a paper on the development of this Carnegie Library. In the late 19th and early twentieth century industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave away much of his fortune to many communities to build public libraries if the towns and cities would agree to fund operating expenses. About a dozen were built in Alabama. Over 2500 were built in the United States and various other countries.

Both a summary and the full report I wrote on this library are available online. 

Carnegie Library in Union Springs
Source: Deep Fried Kudzu