You know the John Hand Building as one of new Birmingham’s iconic spaces — housing chic Loft District homes, a rooftop event space, and an exciting local startup. What may be less familiar is its history, which we say is an elegant omen for downtown’s current trajectory.
The John Hand Building has sat on the southeast side of the Heaviest Corner since 1912, a location that its application to the National Register of Historic Places called “nationally significant.” The corner’s imposing buildings “represent the city’s best visible documentation of the rapid growth and development which was taking place and which was giving the young city a new scale,” according to the application.
The application also called the building’s original 21 stories “an exceptionally fine local example of a Neo-Classical style skyscraper which features elegant lines and rich ornamentation.” A 1940 addition on the 20th Street Side was in keeping with the building’s style, the application noted, making no aesthetic comments about a 1955 addition along First Avenue. But the wholly different approaches offer appealing options for a city now in the midst of extensive renovations.
The building’s own revival era began in 1997, when James Taylor led the purchase of the then-empty property, according to the Birmingham Business Journal. Renovation costs — including public and private funds — were already over $32 million, the journal reported in 2005. “The highest and best use of this building in the future is residential or residential/office space,” Stanley Bailey, CEO of The Banc Corp., which then owned the property, told the journal. Of course that’s where it stands today.
Elaborate building shells have long been Birmingham’s ghosts. They’ve haunted our streets with reminders of our former promise. But a combination of Loft District living and business investment is changing that downtown narrative. Local company Shipt, which operates from the John Hand Building, recently mounted its logo on the plain brick of the building’s south side.
It’s fitting that Shipt would make its mark on the John Hand exterior, boasting the same “rapid growth” its corner location represents. The company has been instrumental both in filling the space and in building Birmingham’s regional business interests. And by leaving the grand facade intact, it’s telling a bigger story about the Loft District’s downtown revitalization:
We’re building a bold new future without giving up our ghosts.