Archive for the ‘Historic Preservation’ Category

>Western Tribune Column April 1 2009

April 3, 2009

>It seems that Bessemer is on the verge of a Spring time renewal of sorts, at least in the historic South Side neighborhood.

Whenever a building is unoccupied, whether it be a church, a school, a home or public housing, there is concern that the structure will deteriorate or become a haven for vagrants or those who are up to no good.

In the historic district we are especially concerned for several reasons. One, the old buildings, while built from sturdy materials with construction methods meant to last, also deteriorate quickly if not properly maintained. Two, because of the historic nature of the structures, they connect us to the past and to our roots. Third, the buildings represent architectural styles that can be mimicked but not reproduced in part because of a lack of skilled craftsmen but also because the lumbar produced today is not as dense or strong as that used a century ago.

So you can imagine the relief felt by preservationists last week when we learned that one of the most notable vacant houses on Clarendon Avenue is being sold to a couple who is interested in preserving its beauty.

Then the community’s spirit was lifted when the Bessemer Board of Education approved the superintendent’s recommendation to sell Arlington School to an individual who already has shown his willingness to restore historic properties. Preservationists have fought for years to save this building, and the Alabama Historical Commission listed the property as one of its “places in peril” in 2003.

These two items of good news came after learning that another historic property, the “neo-classical Revival temple fronted church” formerly known as South Highland Baptist Church, had been purchased and will be used to benefit the community. More about this will be revealed over the coming weeks, but at least we will stop hearing “I hope it doesn’t become another Arlington School.”

Spring time is a season of renewal, no doubt, but what’s renewal without a sense of security?

That is why the fourth item of interest is important. A new police substation is being built on Dartmouth Avenue and our perception is that this will make us safer. Perception of course, is not necessarily reality, but I can’t help but believe that the community will benefit from increased police presence. And when this community, or any community in the city is improved, the entire city benefits.

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>Arlington School Saved

March 25, 2009

>Be sure to read my Western Tribune column, which follows this post. It’s about Public Health history and the current economic situation.

At the Bessemer School Board meeting last night the Board voted to pass the following item: “Approval of the sale of the Arlington School Property located at 1901 Arlington Avenue, Bessemer, AL to ‘Housing for Birmingham, Inc.’ in the amount of $75,000. Mr. W. David Nichols is president.”

Of course, this is not a contract and although it seems from the conversation that the details have been worked out, they still have to be put in contract form and the transaction take place.

For those who are interested in details, board member Sam Morris made the motion and Hattie Aikerson seconded it. All the members with the exception of Christine Knight voted for the sale. Knight said that her no vote was because of her “passion for Arlington School” and that she knew the property would sell, and must sell. She indicated that the reason was because the board could not afford to restore the building. To me, “passion” for the building would mean making an effort to save it. But that’s just me. She seemed happy with the sale and the knowledge the building would be saved.

Would you go in this building? Well now you don’t have to. Take a tour here. A description of the building in the South Bessemer Inventory being updated for our Historic District project says “the entry-bay decorated Flemish-style parapet has been destroyed.” That’s not all, apparently.

This is the “jewel box theatre with a raked floor, proscenium stage, and horseshoe balcony” that was described as one of the treasured features of the building.


The balcony reminds me of the one in the church next door.

Of course the building, inside and out, is a reminder of what’s bad in our society.

KKK members (or wanna-be’s) were not happy so they vandalized the gymnasium about 18 years ago.


I wonder what these girls, identified as members of the Tutwiler Literary Society at the original Bessemer High School on Arlington Avenue would think if they saw the school today.

David Nichols plans to restore the building as a senior housing development. He told me this morning that he expects the project to take less than a year, once the sale is completed.

This is tremendous news, albeit belated, for the South Bessemer neighborhood. David and I spoke about renewing the effort for historical recognition. It’s going to happen. Do you want to help?

In a day or two I will be posting some information about another historic building nearby, and what the plans are.

>Arlington School and The Past

March 20, 2009

>Update: The Bessemer School Board will meet Tuesday, September 24, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the board room at their office at 1621 5th Ave N.

This is Arlington School. It was built in 1908 and was Bessemer’s first high school. It sits at the corner of Arlington Avenue and 19th Street in Bessemer. It has been empty for years. Well, empty of students. Drug dealers and vagrants and rats have occupied the building from time to time. This picture was taken two years ago, the building looks worse now.

The School Board will decide next week what to do with the building. They have had offers from developers but have refused the offers. In the meantime, the building deteriorates. The city wants to get their wrecking ball out.

I wrote about the school here and here (and several other places) and Alabama Heritage magazine described the property in this way: “A fine example of classical revival school building from the turn of the last century, the Arlington School, built in 1908, was Bessemer’s first high school. Its most distinguishing features are the decorative brick and stone facade, interior sky-lighted basketball courts, and an auditorium in the form of a jewel box theatre with a raked floor, proscenium stage, and horseshoe balcony. Once a part of a thriving middle class neighborhood, the Arlington School was abandoned in the early 1980s. Now dilapidated and out of use, the school’s state of disrepair is indicative of the decline in the surrounding neighborhood…”


The next picture was taken yesterday of West End High School in Birmingham. The school is being demolished. Just to the right of the frame was written West End High School 1930, I assume that was the year it was built. Don’t let this happen to Arlington.

This is my dad. He was born in 1916. He went to Woodlawn High School.

In 1930 my dad would have been around fourteen years old, so he may not have been at Woodlawn yet, where he became a football star. But he had football in him long before he entered high school. He probably played against West End while at Woodlawn. Maybe they even played against Arlington.


Later he married his sweetheart. Weren’t my parents a good looking couple?


They later ended up with us four boys. Guess which one is me?

See, I feel connected to my parent’s past, even though I wasn’t around. And the people of Bessemer feel connected to Arlington School. When I was campaigning for City Council the subject of the school came up with many residents that I spoke with, and they all wanted the building saved. Many of the people who attended that school are no longer with us, but their children and grandchildren are. Hopefully they will let the school board know that the building needs to be saved. The Board of Education meets Tuesday night. When I find out where and what time the Board meets, I will post it on this blog.