Churches are often photographed for Preservation in Pink, so here’s a good round up of beautiful architecture for good thoughts from all seasons.
Before visiting Ave Maria Grotto I imagined it to be a collection of folk art in a farm field in the middle of nowhere, a true roadside attraction. In my defense, my friend described it as such, though he had never visited. Intriguing folk art, roadside America, and the fact that someone said I should definitely see it (being a preservationist) was all the convincing I needed. We drove 45 minutes north of Birmingham, AL to Cullman, AL, a town that was sleeping on that Sunday or more likely at church and brunch.
After navigating our way through Cullman with only a few u-turns (it took one driver, one navigator, and two backseat drivers) we found our way to the St. Bernard Abbey, where the Ave Maria Grotto is located. To our surprise, we didn’t find a farm field; but rather a parking lot and large visitor’s center / gift shop.
What is the Ave Maria Grotto? It is widely known as “Jerusalem in Miniature”. It is a four-acre landscaped park that is home to the lifetime work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine Monk at the St. Bernard Abbey. His work is 125 miniature replicas of historic and famous buildings throughout the world, constructed of stone, concrete, materials such as glass, marbles, cold cream jars, costume jewelry plate chips, tiles, and more.
Brother Joseph Zoettl (1878-1961) worked on the Grotto from 1934-1958, always studying photographs of places (he had never visited the places he replicated) and working with the materials with extreme patience and commitment. The Ave Maria Grotto is 40 years worth of Brother Zoettl’s work. After his death, a man who had worked with Brother Zoettl continued the artistic tradition, adding new miniature replicas to the site.
Ave Maria Grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for Architecture/Engineering with a historic and current function of landscape as well as recreation and culture.
When visiting, you may take a self guided tour or a guided tour. We were able to do a bit of both tours, beginning on our own but reading the plaques in front each replica as well as the pamphlet we received with our tickets. Towards the end, the man who currently works on the Grotto was giving a tour, so we followed along to listen. The entire experience is fascinating; especially when you imagine Brother Zoettl working years on these pieces and moving them and deciding on how each structure relates to another.
You may think that it’s a destination for those who would consider themselves religious, since it is in the St. Bernard Abbey. However, visitors can make it whatever they want. To some, it is a religious experience, but to others it can be a cultural or architectural experience. Many of the buildings are from Jerusalem, but just as many are not. There is a memorial to Red Cross workers, Hansel & Gretel’s house, a fairy cottage, the Roman Coliseum, the tower in Newport, Rhode Island, and others. Regardless of your religious background and beliefs, it is a unique site to see and well worth it.
See the gallery of images below. Click on a picture for a larger version.
Vulcan Park in Birmingham, Alabama offers an expansive view of the city and is home to the world’s largest cast iron statue, named Vulcan. As you may recall, Sloss Furnaces, also in Birmingham, is famous for its role in the iron industry. At the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham wanted to highlight its industrial accomplishments and abilities, so city leaders hired Giuseppe Moretti, an Italian immigrant already well known for large statues. Vulcan was chosen because he is the Roman God of the Forge. The project took only six months to complete and was ready for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. After the World’s Fair, Vulcan was sent back to Birmingham, where he sat in a variety of locations before the WPA created a park in 1939 on Red Mountain in order to give Vulcan a respectful home in the city.
Read “About Vulcan” on the Vulcan Park and Museum website for a more detailed history and interesting facts about Vulcan including his days of holding a coke can, a pickle, a light that indicated if there was a traffic fatality that day, his variety of paint colors, ;and how the hollow statue was filled with concrete. In 1999 the Vulcan Park Foundation formed to raise money to restore Vulcan after the statue suffered from years of deterioration. The statue was disassembled, repaired, recast when necessary, and reassembled piece by piece in Vulcan Park atop the original pedestal. Since 2003, the park has been open to visitors with a history museum about Birmingham on site.
We visited Vulcan Park late in the afternoon, and thus didn’t have time to venture up to the observation deck or into the museum. However, we were able to spend time looking at the Birmingham skyline, read the historic markers, gaze at Vulcan, and explore the giant stone map that is next to the pedestal.
Although it was a cloudy afternoon, the grey skies appropriately matched Vulcan’s paint color. What immediately struck me about Vulcan was the giant antenna in very close proximity, which detracted from the viewshed. Also, the elevator/stairs to the observation deck create an odd aesthetic alteration.
However, aside from the conflicted thoughts about the addition, I enjoyed the visit to Vulcan Park. And it brings to mind interesting discussion topics about additions and accessibility and things like cell phone towers or radio antennas. Thoughts, anyone?
While Vulcan is very impressive, my favorite part about the park was, however, the giant stone map of Birmingham. It is drawn to scale and features neighborhoods and important landmarks.
Admission to Vulcan Park is free if you just want to walk around and not visit the museum or the observation deck. It’s a nice spot in Birmingham to learn a bit of the city’s history and get a visual overview of the city. And, who can pass up visiting the world’s largest iron statue? Now that is some roadside architecture.
[Summarized from the plaque, seen above]. The park has a long and interesting history. In 1871 the city plat map identified the space as “Park” but was then called “Central Park” before being named “Capitol Park” in 1881. At that time, it was the center of residential neighborhood. In 1918 the park was renamed “Woodrow Wilson Park” and a master plan in 1919 proposed that this site be the civic center of the city. Soon after the plan, an auditorium, a library, and the Jefferson County Courthouse were built. They still surround the park today. Over the next few decades, the remaining houses were demolished to create lots for City Hall and the Birmingham Museum of Art. The park was renamed Linn Park in 1980 to honor Charles Linn, the city’s first banker and industrialist.
Today, one entrance to the park greets visitors with statues honoring the Spanish-American War and World War I. Beautiful reflecting pools and a waterfall welcome people to sit and linger and enjoy the warm weather. A flower garden in the shape of the state of Alabama is obviously more visible to workers in the skyscrapers rather than those of us on the ground, especially when attempting to read “Reach for the Stars” in the design. While it is almost impossible to read from the ground, it is nice to know the businessmen can be connected to park dwellers. Spring and summer seasons bring concerts and other events to Linn Park, and the gazebo provides a perfect stage.
On this beautiful spring weekend, walking in the water felt perfect. It was a shame that it wasn’t concert season. If you are visiting, definitely take a walk through Linn Park.
The Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham is called the “Showplace of the South”, with good reason. Built in 1927 by the Paramount-Publix Corporation, it is gorgeous beyond words, and welcome change to a typical, modern theater experience. Generally speaking, for most of us, a theater means a school auditorium, a modern movie theater that is built solely for function, or for beautiful theaters – opera performances, or something we do not frequent. From the exterior, I did not expect anything spectacular, but as soon as I stepped inside, I was amazed. Seldom will you visit a theater as beautiful as the Alabama. Photographs from a point-and-shoot camera cannot capture the detail, and the flash does not substitute for professional lighting, so I took only a few shots before I settled on gazing at the interior. For much better photographs, see the HABS collection. Or view the virtual 360 tour of the theater.
The Alabama functioned primarily as a movie palace for its 55 years of life, though it olds fame as a practice location for the Mickey Mouse Club and the stage for the Miss Alabama Pageant. The theater closed in 1987 after a few changes in ownership, but in 1998 underwent a complete restoration from cleaned carpets to repair of or repainting the gold leaf details. The theater is still home to the Wurlitzer Theater Organ, which was used to accompany silent films and is one of the few remaining, functional Wurlitzer Theater Organs in the United States.
Today the Alabama Theater is home to special events, stage performances, dance competitions, a summer film series, and more. If you are ever in or near Birmingham, a visit to the Alabama Theater is well worth your time. Despite my adoration for architecture, few buildings have left me in such a state of awe as this one. For more information visit the website or view the photograph collection at the Birmingham Public Library (found through wikipedia).
Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama is a National Historic Landmark and the only 20th century blast furnace in the country to be preserved and interpreted as a historic industrial site. Sloss Furnaces began operating in 1882, and in the 1920s, at its height, 500 workers produced 400 tons of pig iron per day. Pig iron is smelted iron ore and coke (fuel derived from coal) that is used to make wrought iron, cast iron, and steel. Birmingham is often referred to as the Pittsburgh of the South, for the abundance of iron producing resources located within 30 miles of the city: minerals, coal, ore, and clay. The furnace, just one of many around Birmingham, operated until 1971, after undergoing modernizations and holding out in a dying industry to due changing production methods.
Sloss Furnaces has been a National Historic Landmark since 1981, the first industrial site of its kind to be considered for this designation. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documented the site. To see the documentation (photographs, data pages, documents, measured drawings), see here, in the American Memory project of the Library of Congress. Today Sloss Furnaces serves as a historic site as well as a location for community and civic events.
Visiting Sloss Furnaces was a unique experience. We could walk almost anywhere we wanted to, gaze at old engines, furnaces, pipes, and other unidentifiable (to us, anyway) mechanisms. We arrived with about 30 minutes to spare before closing, but could have easily spent much more time wandering around inside and outside. Without having industrial knowledge, it is difficult to describe. Yet, it was my favorite place in Birmingham. To walk around in this place and imagine how it must have smelled, the sounds, the dust, the employees working long hours in the heat, is almost like stepping back in time.
There were a few engraved, informational plaques throughout the furnaces, but mostly it was unguided in all senses of the word. Nothing was blocked, though common sense tells you not to walk down the basement stairs that will lead to two inches of standing water in the same way that it tells you not to climb up the ladder to the ceiling even though it’s open and within reach. Having only experienced places where everything is so guarded, an opportunity to roam free and see everything on your own was amazing. The downside was that we couldn’t really answer our own questions, whereas a guide could have helped. However, we did not visit the gift shop and information desk before walking through (again, we were short on time) – but it would have been a good idea.
It seems like there would be many liability issues with open stairwells and so many mechanisms (albeit nonfunctional) within everyone’s reach. But I hope that the freedom for visitors of Sloss Furnaces remains because being able to slip around a corner and not feel like you’re on this forced path is a rare chance at historic sites. Some paths are clearly marked on the outside, but once inside it was the free roaming experience. Most of us cannot imagine what it was like to work during the industrial age. Visiting Sloss Furnaces increased my appreciation and awe for this period of history. I would gladly go back to spend a few hours (with more information to enhance my visit).
Because there are so many pictures to share, I’m including a gallery. Click on the photograph to get the larger image. Depending on your browser, you may be able to zoom in further. Some remain unlabeled because I do not know what it is.
Sweet Home Alabama, where the skies are so blue.
As some vigilant readers may have noticed, Wednesdays tend to be travel days here at Preservation in Pink. This past weekend, Vinny and I visited a friend in Birmingham, Alabama. Our friend is a wonderful host and catered to our interests, which included a lot of preservation related sites. Thus, Birmingham posts will be a series. This is Alabama post #1, the Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham. Alabama posts will appear on Wednesdays for the next few weeks.
The Civil Rights District in downtown Birmingham, Alabama is a six block area recognizing important events of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Among these sites are the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. The 16th Street Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark, is the site of a September 1963 bombing that killed four young African American girls. The church had become the site of civil rights demonstrations and after the bombing, the United States and other nations around the world openly condemned segregation. See the HABS documentation of the 16th Street Baptist Church here from the Library of Congress – photographs and historical research and measured drawings.
On the opposite corner of 16th Street Church is Kelly Ingram Park, formerly known as West Park, where police and fireman attacked civil rights demonstrators in May 1963. Men, women, and children were hosed with high pressure fire hoses, beaten with policemen’s night sticks, and arrested. One man attacked by a police dog. Men, women, and children as young as six years old were arrested and jailed. Images of these tragic incidents were broadcasted all over the world. Seen in the above photograph is a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the park.
Today, the four acre is park is home to the Freedom Walk, which leads visitors in a circle around the park through sculptures of the police dog attack, the fire hoses, and a jail cell. The park was named Kelly Ingram Park in 1932 for Osmond Kelly Ingram, a sailor in the U.S. Navy who died in World War I and received the Medal of Honor posthumously. In 1992 the park was renovated and rededicated with the Civil Rights Institute. Visitors may take an audio tour or their own self guided tour to enjoy the peacefulness of the park today. Seen below is the police dog attack sculpture in the park.
The park fountains.