Alabama #2: Downtown Birmingham Streets & Buildings

 A series of Wednesday posts about Birmingham, Alabama and the surrounding area. See Post #1.  This is Post #2.

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Most everyone who asks about our trip to Birmingham wants to know our first impressions, since they have not visited nor do they think of Birmingham in the modern day sense. What is there, they ask.  My preservation influenced first impressions? Downtown Birmingham is an interesting place. And no, I don’t know what I expected because I hadn’t imagined visiting Birmingham until recently.

The afternoon began in the Arts district at a great locally owned coffee shop and cafe, Urban Standard.  With exposed brick walls, locally made gifts, delicious food and cupcakes, antiques, wifi, and great coffee, it is certainly a nice place for breakfast, lunch, or coffee. This part of downtown was fairly busy, including the company of a herd of skateboarders going up and down the street while being filmed.  Down the block are loft apartments and a few stores. It seems like the area is experiencing a resurgence of interest from citizens and many buildings are undergoing rehabilitation into apartments.

Urban Standard

Urban Standard

Interesting home accessories for sale

Interesting home accessories for sale

Brick walls and coffee

Brick walls and coffee

A beautiful latte sitting on the counter, an antique store display case

A beautiful latte sitting on the counter, an antique store display case

We walked around on a Saturday afternoon, a truly beautiful day with 70 degree, sunny weather, the first nice weekend of the season.  Despite this, the city felt very empty in places. Near the government offices, this made sense since most people do not work on weekends. A few people, but not a crowd by any means, sat in beautiful park, Linn Park, in the center blocks of these buildings (courthouse, libraries, city hall). And the skateboarders appeared again. Linn Park will be the subject of a separate post.

After Linn Park, we walked down a typical historic streetscape, but one with very intriguing buildings that call upon decades earlier. Once again, this section seemed oddly lacking pedestrians. Some stores were in business, others in transitions, and still other buildings sat vacant.

Third Ave in downtown Birmingham

Third Ave in downtown Birmingham

More of the Third Ave streetscape

More of the Third Ave streetscape

One store, formerly Kessler’s, showcased an unusual storefront window.  Today this building is being converted into seven loft apartments with commercial space on the first floor. See this University of Alabama – Birmingham article for a discussion on downtown Birmingham lofts. This was my favorite building and these pictures cannot do it justice (cars would have obstructed better photographs).

Entrance to Kessler's

Entrance to Kessler's

Kessler's storefront - quite impressive! Note the matching floor and ceiling swirl and curved glass windows

Kessler's storefront - quite impressive! Note the matching floor and ceiling swirl and curved glass windows

Another interesting storefront was the California Fashion Mall.

On the corner of Third Ave and 19th Street

On the corner of Third Ave and 19th Street

Further down on Third Avenue is the Alabama Theater, the showcase of the South, and one that deserves its own post.

Downtown Birmingham is large and small at the same time. Obviously, there is a lot to talk about – it won’t fit in one post. Before citizens of Birmingham correct me, let me clarify that I realize that Kelly Ingram Park is also in downtown Birmingham, as some other sites I mention will be; but some places such as Kelly Ingram Park deserve their own post. Granted, some of the talk is about empty buildings; however, don’t let that lead you to assume that Birmingham is sleeping and a boring place. As our friend and host said, you have to look for something to do, but there is a lot to be found, from little shops to events to art galleries to good restaurants and more. See his recommendations at bhamsandwich.com.

For those interested in early to mid century architecture, the streets of Birmingham provide endless entertainment. Birmingham seems like it’s an up-and-coming place, one that will revitalize itself with years of hard work by citizens and growing interest from the students of the numerous universities in and around Birmingham.  Parts of downtown are a bit lonely, but not lonely in the sense of rundown and abandoned – just missing people. I would expect that more people will find their way downtown in the near future. But, now would be the time to visit so you can see the before and so you arrive before prices increase! It is an intriguing place.

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More posts about downtown Birmingham attractions to come next Wednesday.

5 thoughts on “Alabama #2: Downtown Birmingham Streets & Buildings

  1. Lance says:

    Thank you for the wonderful look at B’ham. I miss it dearly, in Atlanta for the last decade now, and still wish it had the feel that Birmingham does. There are so many great new things to do in downtown and some wonderful new places to live, Seaboard Yard for one (I LOVE this development) that I think a weekend trip is in order.

    Again, thanks for the honest look at my favorite little urban oasis.

    Lance

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