By Sandra Nickel
It’s not often that I am a loss for words. But some weeks ago when I received a frantic email and photo of the “addition” being constructed on Glen Grattan, words failed me. Finally, I regained my wits and inquired whether the owner had obtained a building permit. I was shattered to learn that he indeed had and that the enormous growth appended to an otherwise attractive older home was, in fact, legal.
The home is located on the far western edge of Edgewood (no pun intended) and looks across the street at Cloverdale-Idlewild. In other words, it is on the south side of the street, facing north. Sadly, had it been on the north side facing south, this post would never have been written. Because Cloverdale-Idlewild enjoys the protection of local historic designation by the City of Montgomery and the ordinances regulating same would have stopped the project before it ever got started.
The Edgewood neighborhood, on the other hand, enjoys no such protection. In fact, Edgewood has only very recently begun a real effort to establish a neighborhood organization. Such groups, unfortunately, usually emerge only after a group of concerned citizens feels that something about the life they have enjoyed is menaced by one or more unfortunate developments. If there is a silver lining to the Glen Grattan building project, it may well be the birth of a functional Edgewood neighborhood organization with a mission: Do the hard work necessary to seek and obtain local historic designation.
Lest the folks of Edgewood feel like the “odd man out,” I must also mention a second “architectural travesty” example that I came across just last week. (And I apologize in advance to my fellow real estate practitioners who occupy the structure.)
I was driving west on Mt. Meigs Rd. and nearly ran off the road when I spied this turn-of-the-last-century residential structure that had been converted to office use. Head-on, this building somewhat resembles other businesses operating in early 20th century commercial buildings. While many still have the expected full expanse of glass shop windows across the front, others have those “eyes into the operation” covered over.
But I did not see it initially from the front. I saw it on an angle, which clearly revealed that the entire façade of the building had been “flattened” by a slipcover of vinyl siding and brick veneer. A quick stop and walk-around revealed the vestiges of what was once a Queen Anne cottage!
Like Glen Grattan, Mt. Meigs Rd. is the dividing line between two historic Montgomery neighborhoods, Capital Heights (which shares its 1907 birth date with Old Cloverdale) and Highland Park (which originated in the late 1800’s). Both areas have worked fitfully toward historic designation and both have partially succeeded. But neither has yet been able to gain those protections for their entire areas. So the Mt. Meigs “improvement” is unfortunately legal and other ill-conceived projects may follow.
The message to all who love the ambiance of your current neighborhood is clear. If most neighborhood homes are 50 years or older, and someone comes knocking at your door asking for your support for local historic designation, DON’T give them a speech about your right to do whatever you wish with your home. Recognize that it’s not YOU who are the problem. It’s THEM down the block or around the corner. DO invite the volunteer in, sign their petition. Then, just hope the process can be completed before YOUR block experiences the next architectural misstep!
Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.