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Category: Neighborhood

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016: A Year in Posts

One of the big questions we ask ourselves for each blog post is “What does this say about the neighborhood?” It’s the guiding editorial principle we use on the spots everyone’s talking about as well as the ones sometimes overlooked. As we round out the year, it seemed fitting to look through our posts by neighborhood and pick the single most representative one. These are the posts we think tell you most about eight major Birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 and, just maybe, where they’re headed in the new year.

From game-changing openings to quieter expressions of community, here are the highlights.

 

Avondale’s Live/Work Expansion

birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 avondale

“We’re so used to thinking about Avondale in terms of its food and entertainment options that we forget the ways it’s also increasingly becoming a business district. Already there are some retail options and small business locations, but we can’t help thinking the new MAKEbhm space is Avondale’s defining business moment.”

 

Crestwood’s Community Character

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestwood

“It’s that community atmosphere that stands out most in Crestwood’s neighborhood branding. Crestwood is less associated with hip amenities than places like Avondale, or downtown’s Loft District. Instead, it’s a great community with close access to other great parts of the city.”

 

Crestline’s Choice Location

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestline

Crestline is a best-of-both worlds kind of area, and that’s what we’ve tried to capture in siting our newest community development. The Gladstone location — 4447 Montevallo Road — lies between the neat single-family streets of Crestline Park and the everyday essentials available in the neighboring Crestwood/Irondale corridor. It’s convenient to the big-box resources of the Montclair Road Publix and the independent gems of Dunston Avenue.”

 

Downtown Loft District’s Landmark Re-Openings

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Downtown Loft District

Commentary on the Redmont suggests this renovation is more than just an exciting commercial project in the city center. It’s a clue to the city Birmingham once was and, we hope, an omen for what it’s becoming again.’The Redmont Hotel is important because it tells us what a particular era, the ’20s, was like in our city,’ Patricia King, then serving as a preservation consultant and as development coordinator for Operation New Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal in 2000. ‘We know it was a boom time, and the richness of the hotel supports that.’ ”

 

Five Points’s Easy Patio Vibe

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Five Points South

With its casual vibe and blues soundtrack, Delta Blues seems destined to be a neighborhood hangout, like the ultra-Southern version of everything we love about neighboring J. Clyde. We can imagine more than a few warm evenings spent on their patio, catching up with friends over baskets of hot tamales and bottles of cold beer. ”

 

Lakeview’s Retro Future

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Lakeview

“The restaurant describes itself as a place “giving a nod to the past while shaping the future,” and we’re inclined to agree. With its throwback name and place in Lakeview’s premiere mixed-use development — 29 Seven — it has feet firmly planted in both local lore and present progress.”

 

Parkside’s Public Symbols

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016

In so many ways the Parkside area defines Birmingham right now, from its new construction to its existing transformation, its corporate conveniences and Smallbox startups. Baseball season at Regions Field is the epitome of Birmingham in the summer, and now Railroad Park is offering a quintessential winter balance.”

 

Woodlawn’s Modest Transformation

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Woodlawn

There’s also something very European about the idea of a modest cafe offering truly interesting food. That’s what we see as the cafe’s real strength. And it feels at home in the artsy, up-and-coming area around REV Birmingham’s office. There’s something a little under-the-radar about Woodlawn, where truly exciting things — mixed-income housing, musical hubs, an urban farm — are quietly boosting the area.”

5 Downtown Birmingham Halloween Costumes

reed books, a downtown birmingham halloween costumes

reed books, a downtown birmingham halloween costumes

Many moons ago, we brought you a list of Birmingham-themed Halloween costumes. It’s one we still stand behind, but this year we’re taking a deep dive into one of our favorite neighborhoods: Downtown, and its Loft District. We took the timing–just over a week to go before the big day–into consideration, too, with some ideas you can pull off even at the last minute.  So without further adieu, and in no particular order, here’s our 2016 list of downtown Birmingham Halloween costumes:

Sushi

Bamboo on 2nd is kind of a phenomenon, and sushi is an easy-ish last-minute Halloween costume. Brit and Co even suggests it as a group costume option.  To make your look more Birmingham-specific, consider recreating one of Bamboo’s outside-the-box rolls. Pro-tip: the secret’s in the sauce drizzle.

Vaudeville

There’s always plenty of Halloween love for a flapper costume, but vaudeville gives you leave to be more eccentric. And if the Lyric’s re-opening isn’t worth celebrating with costume, we’re not sure what is. It’s probably worth a trip to Zoe’s in Forest Park if you choose this option, but it’s sure to make a statement.

Reed Books

Downtown’s used bookstore and “museum of fond memories” is an icon in its own right. Our resident blogger even has wedding photos with the store’s Third Avenue window as a backdrop. How do I put this one together? You might ask. To which we say, with gleeful abandon. Perhaps a Charlie Chaplin-styled suit and a Piggly Wiggly hat plus snout. Or the A Christmas Story leg lamp meets Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Both topped with a book from Reed’s

Baking bandit

It’s hands down our most low-key suggestion, but who doesn’t love the Bandit Baking Co. goodies at Feast & Forest? Our version involves a chef’s coat, a Zorro/Lone Ranger mask, and maybe a whisk. A dark chocolate sea salt cookie never hurt anyone, either.

Oktoberfest

If you witnessed the dachshund parade, you’ll understand our soft spot for Oktoberfest at Das Haus. Plus, it’s still October, so why not take a two-birds-one-stone approach? You might even be able to score discount lederhosen at this late date.

Happy haunting, y’all.

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Glen Iris

 

In many ways, Glen Iris is the westside alternative to Crestwood. It doesn’t have a huge business or nightlife draw; instead, it’s a mostly residential area of affordable housing with an easy inter-Birmingham commute. Where it differs, though, is in the uniquely contrasting character of the neighborhood, combining a history of fine old homes and immigrant enclaves to create a special neighborhood mix.

By the turn of the last century, Birmingham’s booming city center prompted its elite families to move out of downtown, first to areas like Highland Avenue and later to Glen Iris Park, according to the park’s 1983 application to the National Register of Historic Places.

Of the park, the historic registry application says: “It was the first professionally landscaped residential area in the city and utilized impressive landscape design; it was the first planned residential community whose residents adhered to strict, self-imposed rules and covenants; its architecture is varied and indicative of early twentieth century tastes; and it offers important insight into the city’s social and commercial development.”

A 1971 Birmingham News feature credited Robert Jemison Jr.’s Glen Iris Park with re-thinking patterns of residential development, beginning future trends toward residential housing along Birmingham’s Red Mountain slope, as well as the private residential communities with recreational amenities popular by the latter half of twentieth century.

But the genteel planned community at Glen Iris Park is only part of the neighborhood story. As late as 1971, a Birmingham Post-Herald feature described parts of Glen Iris as “the Lebanese community of about 100 families on Southside near the Green Springs-hwy.” Those families “came to Birmingham in the 1890s as peddler and jewelry dealers,” Southside resident Zakie Salem told the Post-Herald. Their offspring moved on to more prominent professions, she said, but the Lebanese community retained strong ties.

Part and parcel of that community are the Middle Eastern churches that remain in the neighborhood. St. Elias Maronite Church has been open since 1910 and worshipping at its present Glen Iris location since Christmas Day in 1950, according to the church’s online history. Both St. Elias and nearby St. George Melkite Catholic Church hold annual festivals highlighting the food and culture and their worshipping communities.

Since the 1970s, Glen Iris development has been driven largely by its proximity to UAB, with plans for a large apartment complex in Glen Iris Park reported by both the 1971 News and Post-Herald pieces. The Post-Herald piece described a shrinking Lebanese community and increasing neglect among the homes of Glen Iris Park. Park residents like Mrs. John Akin felt that the changing times meant single-family homes would no longer be a way of life within city limits. “The trend today is to move to the suburbs or live in apartments,” she told the Post-Herald.

But Abdulla Sawaya, who owned a Lebanese deli in Glen Iris at the time, told the Post-Herald he thought UAB expansion could help reinvigorate the neighborhood, and that certainly seems to be the pattern today. Folks who want the charm of a quiet residential area with a minutes-long commute to UAB have bought many of the area’s charming bungalows, and preservation-minded owners have given new life to homes in Glen Iris Park.

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Crestwood

crestwood1

Crestwood is an urban/suburban hybrid, which is a great real estate option if you’re committed to Birmingham living but not to the loft lifestyle. From now on, think of Crestwood as best-of-both-worlds wood.

But there are really two Crestwoods–north and south–and the differences are more than just semantic. Some of Crestwood North’s homes predate the turn of the last century, notes Greater Crestwood Inc., with Tudor homes and bungalows from the historic Woodlawn Highlands neighborhood easing into mid-century ranch designs built after World War II. (For full specs on the neighborhood’s historic housing stock, check out the Woodlawn Highlands/Crestwood North Historic District’s registration form for the National Register of Historic Places.)

 

Crestwood South is more firmly mid-century in its housing styles and neighborhood design, like older sections of Vestavia Hills without the commute. Commercial areas are limited to the outer boundaries of the neighborhood at Crestwood Boulevard and Montclair Road. The arrangement preserves a strictly residential feel while keeping amenities close by. Homes here are generally within 5 or 10 minutes of Trinity Medical Center, Home Depot, The Edge 12 cinemas, the Levite Jewish Community Center, and the Publix at Montclair Place.

crestwood2

The two neighborhoods come together at Crestwood Boulevard, where the Shoppes of Crestwood features local businesses next to the renovated Crestwood Park. The Crestwood South Neighborhood Association calls this 56th Street junction with Crestwood Boulevard “the crossroads of the Crestwood Community.” It’s certainly the heart of the area’s local business community, where Seasick Records has joined longtime favorites like Crestwood Coffee and Crestwood Tavern. The Filling Station will add pizza to the mix, and Urban Suburban is already a great place to wander away an afternoon.

Ultimately, choosing your Crestwood neighborhood is less about amenities and more about atmosphere. Crestwood South had gained ground by the early aughts, while Crestwood North’s resurgence feels more recent. If you like the proximity to Woodlawn and eastward growing Avondale, Crestwood North may be the way to go. For a more established feel, focus on Crestwood South. You might even end up with a rec room in some of the mid-century builds, a handy thing for game day hosting during football season.

 

First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham's Fitness Trail

Image via First Avenue Rocks

In our experience, folks move to Birmingham’s urban core looking for a different kind of lifestyle, for unique offerings that aren’t available throughout the metro area. With its functional fitness attitude and pop art palette, the First Avenue Rocks climbing gym does not disappoint.

First Avenue Rocks is perfect when you want a modern, minimalist fitness approach along with a sense of fun. It’s exercise for folks who like camaraderie but hate group classes. And while sitting down and watching will prompt questioning expressions in most gyms, it’s the norm here.

This gym is not the kind of place where you drop in for a quick workout. Folks hang around to watch other people’s technique and soak up the strategy used to execute a tough route. But that casual communal learning makes it especially beginner-friendly.

And unlike the large-scale climbing wall at UAB, First Avenue Rocks does not require assisted climbing. The focus is on indoor bouldering, so you can pretty literally walk in as an absolute beginner and start climbing. Individual instruction is available if you’d like some guidance, though.

Either way, we think a session at First Avenue Rocks is a great way to embrace the area.

There’s a toughness about climbing that makes sense for the gym’s semi-industrial location between the Loft District and Lakeview. For years it’s been a place that’s convenient but off the beaten path. Lying just past the coming Rotary Trail, it’s in a strip of low brick buildings that have seen a gradual sprucing as surrounding districts grow toward each other.

Soon the Rotary Trail will connect those districts and add another marker of accessible fitness attitude in the area. After all, there’s the line of trails from Railroad Park to Sloss Furnaces, free group fitness at Railroad Park, and a drop-in-friendly climbing gym, all along First Avenue South. In fact, the just-released Parkside neighborhood branding promises a health-minded mobile mindset.

We’ve heard that urban environments are good for fitness by encouraging people to move more in their daily lives. Morgan Spurlock talked about the daily fitness fix of his New York life a decade ago in Supersize Me. But the development trajectory here goes above and beyond that standard.

There’s neighborhood walkability, after all, and there’s neighborhood fitness friendliness, which is another amenity altogether. If you’re looking for a healthy community lifestyle, this might be the area for you.

What Black Market Bar Says About Neighborhood Cycles

Image of Black Market Bar owners George Cowgill and Elise Younglood via AL.com

We’re used to cycles in life, to daily circadian rhythms and the more long-form evolution of a single human span. But like 100 Houses interviewee Chris Hatcher, we think neighborhoods go through those cycles too. There’s the old business trope of a local institution and its next generation successor, the son who takes over his father’s shop, for instance. But that cycle doesn’t have to stay within a literal family. Sometimes, the neighborhood is the family. That’s how we’re reading the news about Black Market Bar’s impending move, anyway.

We’ve talked about Black Market Bar before, about its wonderfully junk/punk vibe along with tasty burgers and trivia entertainment. But it’s about to be something more than a great neighborhood hangout. It’s about to be a success story worthy of epic poetry, or at least a testament to the power of place.

As home of The Mill, Five Points South’s northeast corner was iconic for folks who remember the neighborhood of the late nineties and early aughts. And AL.com’s Kelly Poe describes The Mill as “the longtime anchor restaurant of the district.”

Since The Mill’s closure, though, it’s site has been more of a restaurant revolving door. AL.com points to three incarnations of the restaurant (including a return to The Mill branding) before opening as MetroPrime in 2011. Even in a neighborhood of loyal followings, nothing really stuck.

But the new Black Market Bar location — mere blocks from its current spot — seems poised to work. After all, Five Points has fundamentally shaped owners George Cowgill and Elise Youngblood, who got their start working together at The Mill, Cowgill said on Facebook, along with several Black Market staffers. “It’s kind of a lateral move,” Cowgill told Poe, “but we inherit the patio. It’s going to solidify that we’re a restaurant as well as a bar.”

The move was not a long planned event but one driven by opportunity, Poe reported. The corner “has a lot more visibility and foot traffic,” Youngblood told her.

As our city neighborhoods are gaining more attention, the time is right for a new permanent anchor, and we can’t think of a better one. We like the  atmosphere of Black Market Bar and think it deserves the higher profile of the new location. Five Points South is a place of neighborhood institutions, after all, and Black Market Bar has the perfect local origin story.

“We’re sitting in a postcard right here,” Cowgill told Poe. “It’s full circle.”

Avondale Park Series Offers Movies and Nostalgia

Image by Mark Almond via Birmingham Business Journal

One extra-special marker of summer is the free outdoor event. You may think an overpriced, over-air conditioned movie theater is the ultimate summer escape, but you’re wrong. Summer begins at Avondale Park.

Or, as REV Birmingham asked, “Who needs movie theater seating when you can watch classics under the stars?!” And even the best home theater system is a poor substitute for Hollywood magic on Miss Fancy’s home turf.

Besides, there’s something delightfully nostalgic about outdoor movies in Avondale. With quaint structures — gazebo, amphitheater, villa — full of charm but rarely built these days, Avondale Park is the outdoor version of the Alabama Theatre’s movie palace. And it’s good sometimes to revel in the things we’ve kept, in the bits of old Birmingham we wouldn’t design now but are happy we preserved.

Beautiful old spaces still in use can feel like a conversation with the past, a reminder that the city predates you and will outlive you, and that that’s a really wonderful thing. As crucial as people are for community, spaces matter too. And there’s a magic in Avondale Park’s historic grounds that you won’t find elsewhere.

While newer developments have their charm, the park’s South Avondale neighborhood feels like refreshingly like an older era. Located steps from the local library and the commercial center, Avondale Park is woven into the fabric of community life in a unique way. Even Railroad Park can’t boast the same setup. We’re starting to see South Avondale as a Stars Hollow within the city, and shared park movies are just more proof of it.

So plan your movie viewing with the schedule is below, all showtimes at 8:15 p.m. Additional information is available on the Facebook event page. While you’re at it, check out this Birmingham Business Journal article on how the South Avondale/Forest Park small business community is driving this event.

See y’all at the movies!

MOVIE SCHEDULE

Toy Story – June 2nd

Wall-E June 9th

The Lorax – June 10th

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – June 23rd

The Muppet Movie – June 30th

Back to the Future – July 7th (at Crestwood Park)

Why Rojo Brunch Is a Neighborhood Anchor

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Fancy a covered patio meal on leafy green Highland Avenue? Rojo, it is. Looking for a welcoming attitude toward canine meal companions? It works there, too. There are lots of reasons to go to Rojo, after all, but brunch is a very good one.

Brunch is the ultimate weekend signifier, celebrating the fact that you actually have time to linger in the middle of the day. You might even indulge in a drink or two, since you’re not expected back at work. But at most places, brunch is a single day event. At Rojo it’s a weekend affair, and that’s an unfailingly good thing.

The Rojo brunch menu is dedicated to weekend ease. Instead of creative riffs on a classic eggs benedict, there are multiple variations on the breakfast burrito. With lots of scrambled eggs and bacon and potatoes, it’s the kind of brunch that fills you up. Maybe the kind that helps you recover from the night before. It’s almost a neighborhood kitchen, really, and that’s the heart of Rojo’s appeal.

It’s the kind of place you’re best off walking to and one you can afford on the last dregs of your paycheck. And while some places favor couples or family groupings, Rojo is one of the best places to catch up with friends. This casual sociability fits the neighborhood’s range of residents and has made it the quintessential Highland Park gathering spot.

How else do you effectively mingle folks from high-rise apartments and grand old houses, after all? Latin comfort brunch and bloody mary pitchers hold universal appeal. Which makes us wonder: Is Rojo part of the reason Highland Park works? Is there something about an affordable, local brunch spot that tracks closely with neighborhood viability?

We started this series as a way to talk about restaurants beyond their lunch & dinner service. But in the course of it we’ve started wondering: Does brunch make a neighborhood?

Norwood Spotlight: 100 Houses

Image via AL.com

Talking about 100 Houses — the UAB student-produced documentary short about Norwood — could easily have been a Welcome to the Neighborhood piece. After all, the film includes historical fact, shots of architectural detail, and a compelling argument for this local community. But we realized that the story this film tells is bigger than Norwood. It’s the story of what it takes to stage a neighborhood revival.

After all, says 100 Houses interviewee Chris Hatcher, “Neighborhoods, like humans, they go through a maturation stage and a decline stage.” Unlike humans, that cycle can repeat. “If you think about the 1980s in Crestwood, that was a very grandmotherly neighborhood,” agreed Richard Dabney, also interviewed in the film. “But look at it now. It’s splendid.” So whether you’re looking at Norwood or another area that needs extra love, here are three things to consider (with handy film quotes for reference):

Are there signs of value in the area’s architecture and location?

“There’s affordable housing here that could have really nice bones that could be really big, nice houses for some people that’s a mile away from downtown.” – Keely McCown.

“We still have a wealth of value in the housing stock that remains over there. …They were built well, built to test the time, and I think we need to save them before they deteriorate to the point of no return.” – Chris Hatcher

Is there a structure for community revival in place?

“There are certain ingredients that are essential for a neighborhood to begin the revitalization process. I think, first and foremost, you have to have a common vision. An essential component is leadership. You have to be organized, you have to have neighborhood leaders and others willing to work on the neighborhood’s behalf.” – Chris Hatcher

How does it feel to spend time there?

“I think the big struggle is everybody has one perception about the neighborhood, but the perception is not based in fact. And just getting people to spend time here they kind of change that perception. …I tell everybody once you spend 30 minutes on our front porch looking at Norwood Blvd, you’re pretty much ready to move in. It’s just finding the right house. I haven’t lived in a neighborhood since I was a kid where I knew everyone on my street. That perception of neighborhood and community is not something that’s known outside of this neighborhood, and as people have figured that out, that’s really helped them change their perception.”” – Mary Jean Baker LaMay

Norwood may not be fully resurrected yet, but we’d stake our money on the value of its community. Click here to watch the film in full.

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Woodlawn

Revitalization is almost a way of life these days, with the phenomenon that is Avondale and massive historical renovations downtown. But Woodlawn revitalization looks different. It seems slower and less heralded than some other Birmingham districts. Quieter, ironically enough, despite being featured as “Birmingham’s Music Row” by AL.com. Folks not directly in the know might reasonably ask, “What’s the deal with Woodlawn?”

Like many Birmingham neighborhoods, it’s got some great architectural bones. Five Points South has strong of Art Deco and mediterranean influences, and Avondale has turn-of-the-century buildings of tidy brick. But there’s a masonic grandness to Woodlawn buildings, and not just Woodrow Hall.

Image via LIV Birmingham

In residential terms, it’s heavy on trim bungalows snuggled into neat, level city blocks. But for many years, it was about the last place you’d want to live. Construction of the 20/59 junction caused a marked decline for the once thriving working-class community, according to Woodlawn United.

These days, though, things are looking up. Philanthropists Mike and Gillian Goodrich founded the Woodlawn Foundation in 2010 to implement the Purpose Built Community model there, Sallie Mackin, the foundation’s executive director told Weld. The foundation focused the work of existing community groups on one united effort, she said.

Based on experience in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood, Purpose Built Communities created a model for broad community involvement around a single lead organization, which it describes as the most critical part of the formula on its website. In action terms, the site advocates improving a community’s “education pipeline,” its stock of quality housing at multiple income levels, and its access to healthy amenities as the key ingredients for sustainable change.

Image via Weld

Wood Station Townhomes are the splashiest part of that effort in Woodlawn. Budgeted at $13.6 million and slated to open this year, the mixed-income project is designed to spur private development efforts in the community, Mackin told Weld. “This is a platform we hope that will really build a foundation for the private market to really drive the rest of this mixed-income model,” she said. With Business Alabama reporting a 400-person wait list for units in the development, that may not be much of a stretch.

While Woodlawn is a neighborhood that’s still very much in transition, it’s one with focused efforts, large-scale philanthropic investment, and a cohesive team. And there are bright signs of progress. When Tony Bayles opens his Woodlawn business each day at 4:00 a.m., he told Business Alabama, “People are actually out here jogging, walking their dogs, riding bikes, at that time of morning, and they don’t think a thing about it.”