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."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Doc Adams Comes to Birmingham

I've always been a fan of various old TV westerns, and Gunsmoke is a favorite. Mom likes the show, too, and records many episodes, so we always watch some when I visit. Recently we saw the October 11, 1971, episode "New Doctor in Town" in which Doc Adams [played  by Milburn Stone] leaves Dodge and is replaced by a new physician, Dr. Chapman [played by Pat Hingle]. Chapman appeared in a total of seven episodes. 

Galen "Doc" Adams is an iconic figure in the American West as depicted by Hollywood, along with other characters from the show such as Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Chester and Festus. Gunsmoke originated on radio and ran there from 1952 until 1961. In that medium Doc was played by Howard McNear, even better known as Floyd the Barber on the Andy Griffith Show. The television show ran for twenty years, from 1955 until 1975, and 635 episodes. Thirty other TV westerns came and went during its run. 

Milburn Stone played Doc in 628 of those episodes. So what happened with the seven episodes in 1971 that he missed? Well, he came to Birmingham.

The article below describes the situation. In early 1971 Stone had a heart attack, and on March 6 came to University Hospital for coronary artery bypass surgery to improve blood flow to the heart. Ventricular fibrillation, or stoppages of the heart, followed as a complication but Stone survived and improved. 

Stone came to the city "because the best heart surgeon in the country is here" a spokesman explained. That unnamed surgeon would have been Dr. John W. Kirklin, who arrived at the University of Alabama medical school from the Mayo Clinic in 1966. The article also notes that Stone and Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty on the show, had been in Birmingham twice in the 1960's to appear on the Cerebral Palsy Telethon. 

Although Milburn Stone is best remembered for his role on Gunsmoke, he had a long career in entertainment by the time that show started. Born in 1904 in Kansas, by 1919 he was appearing in tent shows around his native state. He moved into vaudeville in the late 1920's and became half of the Stone and Strain singing and dancing act. In the 1930's he moved to Los Angeles and landed roles in a number of films until Gunsmoke premiered on television in 1955. 

In 1968 Stone won a supporting actor Emmy Award for his portrayal of Doc Adams. The actor died on June 12, 1980. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted posthumously into the Western Performers Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. 

Milburn Stone as Galen "Doc" Adams in Gunsmoke, 1959

Source: Wikipedia

Judith Allen and Milburn Stone in the 1938 film The Port of Missing Girls

Source: Wikipedia

Birmingham newspaper article, March 1971

Source: Birmingham Rewound

John Webster Kirklin, M.D.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Pelham As We Knew It in 1985

We moved to our first house in Pelham in 1985, and as you might expect I've written several postings on this blog related to the city or Shelby County. Historian Bobby Joe Seales and his wife Diane are currently working on Pelham Memories: A Pictorial History that will be available in November 2018. This forthcoming book made me think about the ways Pelham has changed since we moved here and what relics of that time are still around. So I made the rounds one day and photographed some places that were here in 1985 and how they look today.

Pelham is actually very old as towns in Alabama go. The town was established as the first seat of Shelby County in 1818 by the Alabama Territorial legislature. In 1826 county government was moved to Columbiana. Originally known as Shelbyville, the place changed its name to Pelham to honor John Pelham sometime in the 1870's. The population remained small for many decades even though the community was located on US Highway 31 and incorporated in 1964. By 1970 just 931 people lived in Pelham.

During that decade the suburbs of northern Shelby County began to boom, and in 1980 Pelham reached a population of 6759. In 1990 it was 9765. The 2016 estimate was 23,050 people. So when we moved here in 1985 there were probably around 8000.

Despite its long history, Pelham has few buildings that are very old. The Fungo Hollow area along Shelby County 35 has some older houses and other such residences are scattered around the city. Very few commercial buildings predate the 1970's, however.

More comments are below the photos.

This goal post in the trees is very close to the house we moved to in 1995 and currently occupy. Someone told Dianne not long after we arrived in the neighborhood that the owners of this property once had a son who was a kicker on the Pelham High School football team

A Food World operated here from January 1974 until a few years ago. Son Amos worked there for a while in high school. 

When we first moved to Pelham the town had few restaurants. None of the many eating places now at the I-65 and Alabama 119 interchange and elsewhere were available then. Sometime in the late 1980's China One opened in the Food World Plaza. We ate there many times when the kids were young. The restaurant has been known as China Cafe for some time; we haven't eaten there in years. Tao long ago became our go-to Asian place in Pelham. 

A Winn-Dixie was located here on U.S. 31 when we moved to Pelham in 1985. This commercial strip, which also houses Cozumel restaurant, is very close to where we used to live. The store closed a few years later, but one reappeared in another place in town as noted below.

Now an Italian restaurant, this building housed a Shoney's when we moved to Pelham. At that time one of the few restaurants in town, the Shoney's moved near the I-65 and Alabama 119 interchange when it began to develop. That location eventually closed; the building was demolished sometime before 2010, and a Burger King is located there now. The Shoney's sign on I-65 did not come down until late 2013. 

We used to really enjoy the breakfast buffets at Shoney's. 

When this commercial strip on U.S. 31 was built, Winn-Dixie was the anchor store where Gold's Gym is now. The grocery store closed a few years ago. 

This building on U.S. 31 near the IHOP has been Riverchase Carpet and Flooring since 1995. Yet it began life in the early 1950's as a Pan American Oil Company gas station. That arrangement didn't last long; although founded in 1916, Pan American had merged with Standard Oil in 1954 and became part of the Amoco brand.

The station was owned by the Acton family for many years. Built soon after U.S. 31 was widened to four lanes, the place offered a stop for travelers heading south from Birmingham. As seen in the photo below, the station had two service bays. The section on the left was a restaurant; the office was on the right.

At some point the station closed and an RV business operated there for a while. I seem to remember that place. When Clyde Pearce bought the building in 1995, it was dilapidated and part of the roof had caved in. Now it's a showplace, and I presume the oldest commercial building in Pelham.

Source: Shelby County Reporter 22 June 2011

This building On U.S. 31 was a bank when we first moved to Pelham, but I don't remember which one. 

This building sure looks like a former Waffle House or Omelette Shop. 

Until recently this building was Valley Elementary School. Our children Amos and Becca both went here and then on to Riverchase Middle School and Pelham High School. The Pelham school system has removed its identity, but the building remains. VES opened in 1964 and lasted until about 2016 with some expansion along the way.

This residence is known as the Lee home and sits on Lee Street near Donut Joe's and just across from the railroad tracks. Built in 1895, the house is one of the oldest structures left in Pelham. The photo above is taken from the Pelham City News, October/November 2010, page 5. That article gives more history of the house. At one time the tiny Pelham Depot was located across the street, but had no bathroom facilities. Passengers waiting for a train would instead come to the Lee home.

Pelham United Methodist Church originated on this spot at the corner of US31 and Shelby County 52. On November 19, 1898, the first sermon by Rev. Felix A. Vann was heard at the New Methodist Episcopal Church South. The church was the first to be located in the city. The sanctuary building was constructed in the 1940's. The Doc Martin Family Life Center behind it opened in 1988.

In October 2006 the church moved to new property on Shelby County 11. An auction of this site was held in April 2007. The sanctuary has been demolished and the photo below shows what remains today on the 4.5 acre site.

This Boggs Pottery business was located on US 31 across from the current Wal-Mart but closed a few years ago. The Boggs family began its pottery business in Prattville in the 1890's and continues today. They were among a number of folk potters active in the state well into the 20th century. The article "Boggs Pottery Shop Has Long History" by state folklorist Joey Brackner can be found in Alabama Folklife 5(1): 6-7, spring 1998.

This structure across US 31 from the old public library and City Hall probably originated as a residence in the 1950's or a bit later. The city has several such buildings from the 1960's and 1970's that have later been put to commercial use at one time or another. The city also has a number of houses in the Fungo Hollow area around Shelby County 35 and 72 that date from those decades. 

This location of the library closed on April 23 so that its contents could be moved to the new library at the city park. When we moved to Pelham the police department was located here; the library was on the first floor with the entrance around back.

A K-Mart was located here in 1985.

Pelham's original WalMart on US31 in the southern part of town is now the home of MasTec Network Solutions

Some other businesses in Pelham that I remember include Fran's Restaurant on U.S. 31. Oddly, even though the place opened in 1961 and operated until September 2013, we never ate there. The place was a popular spot, though. Owner Fran Driver passed away in February 2012. After Fran's closed, a couple of other eateries tried the location. The small commercial strip once housing Fran's was demolished earlier this year. The article "Remembering Fran Driver" can be found in the Pelham City News April 2012, page 7.

Another business was the Command Post, an Army surplus store owned by Jennifer and Nick Bondi who were from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Son Amos and I visited a couple of times when it was located behind Anthony's car wash. The store had opened in a first location in 1984, moved in 1996 and operated there until 2011. 

I also remember several visits with Dianne to the Gift Bag, a boutique with clothes, jewelry, purses and such. I remember the place on Belcher Drive vividly because it was small and so packed there was barely room to move around in it. Sarah Higginbotham opened the Gift Bag in March 1978 and operated it until November 2007. For more about the shop, see Jeremy Gray's article, "Failing Health Causes Boutique Owner to Close Shop after 29 Years" in the Birmingham News 7 November 2007.