Friday, August 31, 2018

Birmingham's New Ideal Building

Recently Dianne and I were downtown and decided to check out the Pizitz Food Hall. Since the New Ideal Building was in the same block across an alleyway, I took a few photos and did a bit of research. 

The Ideal Department Store specializing in women's clothes was founded in Birmingham in 1908 by Robert Aland. In 1928 the firm moved to the new six-story Ideal Building in 1928. Located at 111 19th Street North, the structure was designed by David O. Whilldin, an architect very active in the city from 1902 until 1961.  

When Sears moved from its store at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 18th Street, Aland relocated his business to this spot and it became the New Ideal Building. That put the store right next to Pizitz. After the Pizitz parking deck opened in 1965, the New Ideal name was painted on the side of the building at every level. 

In the 1960's one of Aland's sons took over management and another store opened at the West Lake Mall in 1969. The family also developed a local chain of several women's clothing stores under the Aland's name. 

The New Ideal closed in 1990; the final Aland's in 1997. Apartments are now located at the Ideal Building and a sign on the New Ideal proclaims its forthcoming development into lofts. Work on that project began in early April 2019. 

A few more comments follow some of the photos. 

The courtyard of the Pizitz Food Hall is partially visible in this photograph.

That fence and gate you see on the lower right leads to the courtyard of the Pizitz Food Hall. 

The original Ideal Building on November 17, 1986. 

Source: Alabama Dept of Archives & History

The iconic Pizitz building in downtown Birmingham was home to the department store from 1925 until 1988. You can read more about it and the Pizitz chain at the BhamWiki site.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Seeking Forrest Gump in Savannah

Dianne and I recently spent several days in Savannah, Georgia--our first time to visit the city. We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast, the Foley House Inn, and never left the surrounding historic district. That area is full of iconic buildings with rich pasts, parks, museums, quirky shops and great restaurants and ends to the north at the waterfront along the Savannah River. We had a wonderful time and hope to go back sometime soon! 

Fans of Alabama author Winston Groom's novel Forrest Gump or the Tom Hanks film adapted from it may know that some of the movie was shot in Savannah. From the city's founding in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, Savannah was laid out in a series of squares, four originally and currently 22 in the historic district. Right across from our b&b was Chippewa Square, named to honor American soldiers in a Revolutionary War battle. This square is dominated by a large bronze statue of Oglethorpe facing south with sword drawn to repel enemies from Spanish Florida. The statue was erected in 1910.

The park bench scene that opens Forrest Gump was filmed on the north side of this square (or maybe the south side; sources differ). Much of his wisdom is forthcoming while he's on that bench. Naturally, the bench was a fiberglass movie prop, since in the movie Forrest faced the street and the actual benches in Chippewa face inward. The Gump bench is on display at the Savannah History Museum. I wonder how many people--like us--come to the Savannah historical district expecting to see the actual bench? Maybe the powers that be should put a replica of the prop in Chippewa Square. 

More comments are below....

Across the street from Chippewa Square is the Savannah Theatre, which opened on December 4, 1818. The facility is described as "America's oldest theater".

Independent Presbyterian Church is right next to the Foley House Inn and across the street from Chippewa Square. This building was constructed in 1891; the congregation is much older. At the beginning of the movie a feather floats down to land at the bench; this church is visible in the background. 

Less than two hours after we arrived in Savannah we found the square they were so nice to name after us!

Well, not really. The square's current name honors James Wright, one of Georgia's royal governors. This square has a monument to Tomochichi, a Creek leader and friend of Oglethorpe's. 

Flannery O'Connor is one of Georgia's best known writers; her works include the short story collections A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge. She was born in Savannah and lived there until she was about 15. You can visit her childhood home. We didn't have time to tour it; hopefully we will on some future visit!

We found this very nice bookstore in the historic district. 

Caruthers was an early American novelist born in Virginia. He spent the final decade of his life in Savannah. 

We often spend time in cemeteries when we travel. In Savannah we peaked into  the huge Colonial Park Cemetery

The historic district is full of wonderful restored homes and businesses.

Some big ships move up and down the Savannah River. They call the port "The Largest Single Container Terminal in North America".

Another writer associated with the city is Joel Chandler Harris, a journalist, fiction writer and folklorist. Most famous for his Uncle Remus tales, Harris spent most of his career in Atlanta, but lived for a few years in Atlanta.

On July 4, we drove up from St. Johns, Florida, to Savannah and somewhere in southeast Georgia ended up at a gas station/convenience store offering these goodies. Only in America....

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Some Old Alabama Matchbooks

Recently my brother Richard and I were visiting mom in Huntsville. Her house is full of family treasures and memorabilia that we often dig into. This time we found a box containing mostly goodies related to a visit to the New York World's Fair that dad and his parents made in August 1940. One day I might do a blog post on that material, but today I'm looking at a few other items that were in the box--some Alabama matchbooks

Comments are below.

Oh, and to answer your probable question--yes, there were matches inside each one. We didn't try striking any, thought.

The Birmingham Municipal Airport terminal was built in 1931 and in use until the current terminal opened in 1973. I've done a blog post with additional photos of that terminal; the photos were all taken by Charles Preston in 1946  and 1947  and found in the Birmingham Public Libraries Digital Collections. The Grill is not visible in any of them. I do see a sign for a coffee shop, though!

Here's the other side of that "Airport Grill" matchbook. The Cascade Plunge was a private swimming pool with covered grandstands that opened in the East Lake area of Birmingham around 1925. The pool closed sometime in the early 1970's. 

This 1929 postcard shows the entrance to the Cascade Plunge.

Source: BhamWiki

I have been unable to locate any information so far about the Central Finance Company. I did find an M. W. Smith in Gadsden in the 1920 U.S. Census whose occupation is listed as "loans and investments." A son named Ladell is also listed; he was three and a half years old at the time. The 1931 Interstate Directory Company's city directory for Gadsden [page 154] lists a Murray W. Smith working at the Smith Loan Office at 117 and a half South 4th Street. 

The "Old Times News Bldg." mentioned on this matchbook can be seen in the photograph below. The Gadsden Times-News opened the location in 1904, but by 1927 had moved to another building. Various businesses have operated there ever since. The structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 

Gadsden Times-News building constructed in 1904

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith in 2010

Source: Wikipedia 

Interestingly, the back of the Central Finance Company matchbook opted for entertainment instead of another ad. Perhaps it kept the customers busy while waiting in the loan office.

According to this web site, the original White Palace Cafe at 504 Broad Street had been closed for many years and the art deco building empty until reopening in 2010. An interior photo can be seen here

 That venture, which even had a Facebook page, soon closed and was replaced by the Twisted Ultra Lounge. You can see a photo from October 2012 here. A comment on the Facebook page says the building housed the county Democratic Party headquarters for the 2016 election. 

Photo by Carol Highsmith on her 2010 trip through Alabama.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Kildare Mansion in Huntsville

Last month brother Richard and I spent our standard July weekend together. As usual, we started on Friday with lunch at the Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer and that afternoon took in the annual coin show at the Bessemer Civic Center. Then we did a backroads drive through parts of scenic Jefferson and Walker counties we had never seen before. We stopped in Jasper at the Oak Hill Cemetery where several ancestors are buried and drove by the Bankhead family mansion. Finally we ended up in Huntsville for a couple of days with mom. Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent in a "memory tour" of the city taking in our previous residences, schools and so forth. Several blog posts will be coming on all of that.

Richard and I did the Sunday portion without mom, and near the end we came across something unexpected and previously unknown to us--the Kildare mansion, also known as the Kildare-McCormick House. Let's investigate. 

This elaborate Queen Anne-style house was built on 72 acres in 1886-7 by Michael O'Shaugnessey, a businessman who had come to Huntsville from Nashville in 1881. He named the mansion "Kildare" after the county in Ireland where he was born.

In 1900 O'Shaugnessey sold the house to Virginia McCormick, the daughter of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper. McCormick and her companion/caretaker wintered in the house and became well-known for their local philanthropic efforts. McCormick moved out of the house in 1931, and the following year the family sold it and subdivided the acreage. In the decades following various owners have used the house as a hotel, boarding house, health spa, antique shop and brothel. James Reece bought Kildare in 1975 and began extensive renovations. The current owners bought the property in 2007.

A website devoted to the house notes that "Kildare has become the target of thrill seekers, gawkers, & vandals that have hindered the restoration effort. To curb the problems so that restoration could continue,  the current owners began construction of a privacy fence in October of 2013.  Before the final fence design was even revealed, the fence, which is proportional to the structure (the house is over 65' tall) came under fire from the city for being ugly, too tall, too weak, AND too strong.

"The current owners continue to endure car loads of juveniles (and sometimes adults) cruising around the house at all hours of the night on a regular basis. The goal of these thrill seekers is to elicit a response from the owners by honking horns, flashing lights, yelling obscenities, etc.  Of course many of the teens upload their crimes to YouTube hoping to garner fame for their efforts."
The Wikipedia entry linked in the first paragraph has an extensive description of the architecture of this 40-room, 17,000 square foot behemoth that was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Perhaps one day Kildare will be open for tours of its magnificence. More information is here and here.

"A maypole dance at ""Kildare,"" the estate built by cottonseed oil tycoon, Michael O'Shaughnessy, off Meridian Street. In 1881, Michael and his brother, James F. O'Shaughnessy, used their great wealth to create the North Alabama Improvement Company and transform Huntsville's economy by funding many business projects such as the Dallas Mill and the Monte Sano Hotel."

Undated at the source; perhaps 1890's?

Source: Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Digital Archives