Category Archives: Historic preservation

Conference To Showcase Historic Midtown Living

Montgomery will be THE HOT spot for historic preservation October 7 through the 9th. We will be the host city for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and the Alabama Historical Commission annual statewide conference Preserving Alabama’s Hometowns, Embracing Historic Places—Making Life Better. The focus of this year’s conference is to showcase historic preservation as a tool in creating a vital, cultural, economic, and tourism core for downtown Montgomery as well as preserving and reclaiming our historic neighborhoods in which to live. The keynote speaker will be Donovan Rypkema, an internationally noted expert on using historic preservation as an economic development tool.

This year the conference is offering several tracks that offer something for anyone involved in old house living. The Preservation and Historic Neighborhoods: Building Better Communities track includes presentations and conversations with city planners, residents of historic neighborhoods and key leaders in neighborhood associations across the state. We’ll hear about the role of architectural review boards, the value of master tree plans, urban planning and city codes to enhance historic neighborhoods and they will show us how it all fits together preserving historic neighborhoods and making our lives better, (but us Midtowners already know this!)

Another track, Preservation and the Decorative Arts, will focus on living with fine art, artifacts and their care and conservation. A few highlights that Montgomery Midtowners might especially be interested in are listed below.

  • How to live with our old stuff (antiques)- a presentation and discussion about 19th century Alabama-made furniture and imports.
  • Wooden window restoration workshop demonstrating how to improve energy efficiency and maintaining important materials and features of our old windows.
  • An informative walk through two of our midtown historic neighborhoods, Cottage Hill and Old Cloverdale.
  • A panel discussion with historic neighborhood planners and residents of these neighborhoods from across the state talking about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Networking with other old house enthusiasts at lunch in Rescued Relics at Old Alabama Town.
  • How to preserve your family papers, images and artifacts.

And of great note and fanfare, our own David Braly and Mark Montoya, of Midtown Montgomery Living, will be receiving an Alabama Trust For Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Award for their exemplary rehabilitation of Fire House #9 on South McDonough Street in the Garden District. They will be showcasing the Fire House on Thursday evening 7:30 until 9:30 for Fire and Ice Soiree, a fundraiser for the ATHP.

Katherine and David Rees on Galena Avenue in Old Cloverdale have also graciously volunteered their lovely home and formal gardens for Moonlight Garden and Candlelight Dinner Party as a fundraiser for the ATHP on Friday evening at 7:30. (Have you gotten the idea yet that lots of folks in Montgomery support the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation?) Built in 1906, the home is graced with antiques and art and guests can enjoy dining in this 1906 house and meandering through its Lime Gardens with ornamental iron work, brick terraces and a dance pavilion.

For a complete listing of all the offerings of this conference and for registration options so you won’t miss anything go to www.alabamatrust.info or call 205-652-3497. Many activities, including registration, are centered at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Katherine and David Rees (who are gluttons for punishment but yet so generous to share) will also open their fabulous home and gardens for the Friends of the Alabama Governor’s Mansion fundraiser on Saturday afternoon from 3:00 until 6:00. Call 334-233-8595 for ticket information.

How can any Montgomery Midtowner ever say there is nothing to do in Montgomery?

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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American Memory

By Elizabeth Brown

A better view of the Teague House than one usually gets through the magnolia trees is available in this HABS drawing.

As I’ve blogged about antebellum architectural styles in Montgomery, I’ve been surprised by the number of times the examples that came to mind were moved, altered to the point they weren’t good examples, or worse, gone entirely. One of the old axioms of historic preservation is that poverty is its best friend (for a while, anyway), and Montgomery has always been a relatively prosperous place. We have remodeled and demolished our built environment more than places like Charleston or Savannah, so that what we have now is more of a mixture of eras. In the world of built environment, that can either mean excitement or confusion – we got both.

How can we find out how things used to be? Where can we find a record of our past? The Montgomery County Historical Society has made it part of their mission to collect photos of early Montgomery, and Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery also has good information about what used to be here. We’re lucky to be in the capitol city, because the resources of the state’s Department of Archives and History are at our fingertips as well. With the advent of the computer age, even the Library of Congress is a click or two away, and there you will find the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in the archives called “American Memory.”

HABS started as a way to put out-of-work architects to work during the Great Depression. It was one of the Roosevelt administration’s “alphabet programs,” like the WPA and the CCC. These programs were sometimes derisively called “make work” programs, but they left us a lasting legacy about our culture. The mission of HABS was to provide information about significant buildings through drawings and large-format photography. Organized on a state-by-state basis, it was headed up in Alabama by Walter E. Burkhart from Auburn, who had studied documentary drawing while doing graduate work at Columbia. HABS provides an interesting view into buildings and the lives led within through photographs and drawings.

Take, for example, the Owens-Teague House on the corner of Perry and High. A great Greek Revival house of 1848, it was enlarged by the Teague family and embellished with additional metal cornice and doorcase work near the turn of the 20th century. The gray color it was painted a few years ago is the color the Teagues painted the house when they finished their work. The front is high-style, with unusual hand-carved wooden Ionic column capitols from the early period. Certainly it is close to everyone’s ideal Southern mansion. A quick trip around back shows that instead of a landscaped yard with entertaining space as we would have today, the whole back yard is a kitchen garden! Beans seem to be full up, with corn just rising and a hope for both peaches and figs later in the summer. Inside, the house seems rather empty, with original heavy parlor mirrors over the rather plain Greek-Revival mantels mixing with then-current fashion of slip-covered chairs and a ginger-jar lamp.

Roam through the HABS collection and take a at look the entry for the Stone-Young-Baggett House, which is out on the Old Selma Road. Compare it with the Owens-Teague House. It is easy to see that the two houses were likely the work of the same hand, with the body of the house similarly scaled and selection of exterior details from the Greek Revival vocabulary. The interior woodwork of the two houses is identical.

Dr. Burkhart must have had a special appreciation for Greek Revival as shown in the examples he chose to document. The corner of Wilkerson and Montgomery Street once had the 1850 Oliver-Houseman Residence, an example of the Bracketed Greek Revival. With the Italianate style providing the inspiration for cornice brackets, the rest of the house is pure Greek Revival. It has fluted Doric columns (note that true Doric columns have no base) and the door and window facings show a longer piece across the top often referred to as “ears.” Looking at the photographs, we see that the backyard is stuffed with outbuildings, with the kitchen and slave house on the right, and a wooden building described as a doctor’s office on the left, all backed onto a retaining wall from an adjoining house. The interior shows a beautiful mantle, probably cast iron, that must have been ordered at great expense, showing a real level of sophistication for Montgomery in the middle of the 19th century. Smoke rising from the chimney indicates the house is occupied, but the photos show a house fallen on hard times. The back porch is collapsing and the paint is in bad shape everywhere you look. It’s not hard to imagine that the Great Depression has taken a toll both on the house and the people who lived there.

We are indeed fortunate that Dr. Burkhart was on the job. As head of the architecture program at Auburn, he went on to build a great foundation for the school. He, his students and architects like Nicholas Holmes, Sr. of Mobile recorded many more buildings than were documented in most states, leaving us with a rich legacy of how we lived and what we built. The collection continues to grow, with teams from HABS as well as local architects and photographers contributing to the collection. Recent additions include the old brick ovens from Jenkins Brick (the latest technology when they were built here) and the Seibels-Ball-Lanier house on Adams Avenue, demolished about 1990.

Visiting American Memory is easy with this link: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/index.html

Look on left-hand side of the opening page and you’ll see options of searching by subject or place, choose place and Alabama comes up first. Montgomery, with 30 structures recorded, is on the second of two pages. All the illustrations in this article come from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.

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SmartCode for Cloverdale? Community Meetings Invite Input

By Stephen and Kate

Odds are that many MML readers were in receipt of an email circulated last month rallying folks to protest against what were described as immediate plans to build a big box pharmacy store on the corner of Boultier and East Fairview. Garish lighting? Impermeable cover? Parking lots? Hopefully by now most people know this was only a rumor. There are no such plans to ruin the character of one of Midtown’s best neighborhoods … yet.

To preempt any damage that might be done to Cloverdale’s commercial district (and thereby the neighborhood’s character), the City of Montgomery has decided to push for SmartCode zoning in the district. City Planner and Montgomery native Tyler Caldwell (also a Midtown resident) came to our Cloverdale-Idlewild Association (CIA) meeting this past week to spread the word about the proposed change to the zoning. He was there to explain the city’s proposal (and the concept of SmartCode), and to invite interested community members to learn more about the proposal.

Right now the Five Points area is basically zoned B-2. And it doesn’t have historic designation, so any new buildings constructed in those B-2 lots would be under no special obligation to “mesh” with the existing architecture and use of the area. In other words, there’s nothing now stopping a big box pharmacy (or any other awful chain store) from moving into the neighborhood.

The proposed area for SmartCode zoning is in purple on this map Caldwell shared with us.

Sure, SmartCode designation wouldn’t stop a pharmacy or an Urban Outfitters from moving in. But it would force their buildings to be in character with the neighborhood and compliant with pedestrian friendly guidelines. For example, SmartCode requires buildings to be close to the street with parking behind the building. This encourages cars to slow down. It also encourages pedestrian traffic — something that Montgomery has struggled to promote for a long time, especially in neighborhoods that are short on sidewalks. SmartCode requires sloped roofs and allows for mixed use development, so that apartments can be built above stores. It’s designed to promote urban living so that cities don’t just become places where you work and then flee for the suburbs afterward. One of the goals of SmartCode is to have buildings that can be reused over a century, rather than with a five year lifecycle.

All of which seems like a pretty substantial improvement from the status quo. As Caldwell said: “If Joe California the real estate investor buys the building (neighborhood bar) Bud’s is in, there’s nothing in place right now to stop him from building something out of the character of the neighborhood.” We sure don’t want Bud’s to leave (where would we get our Stella Artois? Our dollar Sunday pool? Our hair smelling of cigarettes for days afterward?), but if they did ever close up, we certainly wouldn’t want a Taco Bell in their place.

Fortunately, Cloverdale residents have been seeking a solution to future bad development for several years. Caldwell was quick to credit the neighborhood for coming up with the zoning ideas that have become standard in places like downtown and Hampstead. He cited the Five Points charettes that happened from 2005 to 2008 as creating a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. The current SmartCode designation proposal is really just an attempt to implement something the community’s already gotten behind.

Those seeking more information can meet Caldwell tonight. He’ll be talking at the Old Cloverdale Association’s meeting on Monday, July 19th at 7:00 in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

The city will be holding drop-in meetings for the public from 4-7 on August 5th and 6th in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. Staff from the city will be there to answer questions and solicit input. They will present exhibits designed to show differences in the neighborhood under the existing B-2 zoning and the proposed SmartCode zoning.

After these two days, the rezoning proposal will go to the planning commission within 90 days. That is the official public comment period for the proposed change. “Because this community is so involved,” said Caldwell, “we wanted to be proactive and give credit for initiating this plan in 2006.”

We’re wary of anything that takes sneaky linguistic tweaks to make itself sound better. And certainly the phrases “smart growth” and “smart code” could be used to justify any number of bad urban development and city planning ideas. But in this case, it looks like the city and the developers have the right idea. The goal is to fight the soullessness that is a near-inevitable threat in every city in the world (thanks to our globalized mono-culture). And an ounce of prevention is worth an unfathomable attempt to cure bad development post-facto, especially in a society that values property rights. Montgomery is really trying to get this right, and it seems like the changes are great, laudable, and worth supporting.

To learn more about SmartCode: www.transect.org; www.smartcodecentral.com

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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The Case for Historic Designation

By Sandra Nickel

The "addition" in question

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.

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Ah, the Italians!

By Elizabeth Brown

The sunny climes and tropical breezes (translation: hot with a humid wind from the Gulf of Mexico) were thought to make the South the ideal locale for the Italian influence — or such was the idea of Samuel Sloan, a well-known Philadelphia architect. His pattern book, The Model Architect, proposed Italian Villas for the South, noting the villas’ wide, overhanging eaves, large windows, abundance of porches and arched arcades as appropriate for our climate. He even designed special wall constructions with an interior airspace to keep us cool. Towers and low roofs, often hipped,  also characterized the style.

When I think of Italian architecture, I think of Palladio or the Renaissance, with more formal, symmetrical villas and almost rigid urban residences, but the style Sloan and others brought to the United States is different. It begins to depart from the strict form of a central hall with rooms on each side that characterizes much early architecture in the south. The style found a ready local audience. The Model Architect features a design for “a southern home,” a house he designed for the Winter family in Montgomery, with two interlocking rectangular volumes off-set and a characteristic tower between them. Sadly, like most of the Italianate houses we once had in Montgomery, this house is long departed.

The low hipped roof, eave brackets and ventilators, and graceful front portico of the First White House of the Confederacy are all hallmarks of the Italianate style.

This is not to say that all Italianate houses were asymmetrical. For example, take a look at the First White House of the Confederacy on the corner of Union and Washington. A rectangular form with a low hipped roof, heavy eave brackets, between which are very interesting round cast iron ventilators in a “liberty cap” design. There is a light (almost fanciful) one-story portico with small round paired columns, and a balustrade with turned spindles. One of the most interesting, and often overlooked features of the facade is the area under this portico where, instead of weatherboard, we find narrow boards shaped and coursed to look like long, regular stonework. There must have been dozens of similar examples of this kind of house in Montgomery in the areas around Bibb and Lee streets, where this house originally stood. An early postcard view (and confirmed by paint analysis) shows the house in shades of brown and tan. These earth tones were popular for Italianate houses, thought to convey the idea of stone. “White House,” in this case, perhaps says more about the status of the house than the color!

Pleasing proportions and an imaginative color scheme highlight the decorative details of this Whitman Street cottage. Sash colors were almost always dark in both Italianate and Greek Revival color schemes.

Also take a trip to Cottage Hill, to the southeast corner of Whitman and Martha , to view a one-story cottage with much charm. Here everything is lighter, as befits a smaller house, but the composition is just as charming, with a low hipped roof, eave brackets, and a portico almost large enough to be called a porch.

The very lavish Italianate facade of 1 Dexter Avenue is among the finest in the state. The storefront level has been remodeled several times, but the design remains compatible with the upper floors.

Not confined to residential structures alone, Italianate ideas also provided style for commercial buildings. The Winter Building on the southeast of the Court Square fountain, with wide eaves and heavy brackets and stucco scored to look like stone, show the influence of the Italianate style. It once had a two-story balcony around the Dexter and Court sides. Turn around now and look across Dexter at the upper stories of the Klein Building, with arched windows, scored stucco, and an abundance of detail to please the eye.

The second-story French doors make more sense when you know there was originally a two-story balcony on the building. The balcony softened, and provided a more decorative detail, to what appears now to be a very severe façade.

Although I have been known to say that architecture is not a cafeteria, where you push your tray along and select the features you want from among the styles, the truth is that many builders have always done just that — and occasionally with success. For those who were still married to Greek Revival, Italianate details had appeal and we begin to see what is often referred to as Bracketed Greek Revival, where eave brackets and lighter and more fanciful railings and bannisters were applied to otherwise standard Greek Revival houses.

Another related style is the ornamental cottage, or Cottage Orne (pronounced or-nay), which was promoted by several pattern books (including Sloan’s) as an excellent home for a rural location. This did not keep us from using the design in town too! Take the Rice-Semple-Haardt house on the corner of Court and High Streets. Purely a Greek Revival cottage on the first floor with large, square columns on a wrap-around porch, it got an update and enlargement which gave it an entirely different character a few years after it was built. With a new upper story showing lighter columns and an arcade of decoration sweeping across between the columns, a new mood is created altogether. This is a remodeling so drastic that it shouldn’t have worked. Yet, these dissimilar elements form a harmonious composition in spite of themselves. From paint analysis, we know the first color scheme applied after the enlargement was a carnation pink, not unlike the Whitman Street house in Cottage Hill, but a later cream scheme was retained in this rehabilitation. I think I’m relieved!

A happy marriage between the Greek Revival and Italianate are evident in the Rice-Semple-Haardt House, which was moved from the 700 block of Monroe Street to the current location on the corner of Court and High. Note the large, square paneled columns and even a little dentil moulding on the first floor, and then an explosion of lighter decorative elements above.

Sloan’s pattern books were perhaps the most complete of the pre-Civil War years. He talked about regional differences and designed buildings tailored to locales. More than other early pattern books, his volumes provided information about landscape and gardens, suggesting designs more appropriate to mountainous, flat, or rolling sites. Still very readable, Dover produced a version (which contains 2 volumes together) in 1980 called Sloan’s Victorian Buildings. New copies are available for about $25.00, with used ones available for less than five dollars on the used book sites. Of course, for the well-heeled among us, there are other editions in which the drawings are not reduced ($70.00 and up), and some original copies of the volumes one and two ($1,700.00 each). This may expand your notion of perfect summer reading.

Elizabeth Ann Brown has lived in and loved Montgomery’s Garden District for more than twenty years. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and a masters degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. Her hobbies include pursuit of the ultimate chicken salad sandwich, bicycling, and working on her old house, a 1913 bungalow.

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Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods

By Carole King

It’s finished, printed and headed our way! For those of you living inside the bypass loop, you may have seen or heard the appeals by Karren Pell and myself for older photographs of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods. Karren Pell, better known as the Alabama Troubadour, completed a photographic history book of Tallassee last year for Arcadia Publishing who later contacted her and asked her if she had any other ideas for other books to be included in their Images of America series. You know the books…those sepia-toned photo books that serve as great souvenirs. Since we had just finished the 100th centennial celebration of the incorporation of Capitol Heights as a city, that neighborhood’s history was fresh in our minds. So she asked me if I would be interested in a venture featuring our local historic districts, and the decision was made to birth Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods, which is now a reality and on its way to a fine book retail source near you soon!

We set about surveying what photographic materials to which we thought we could get access. We viewed collections at local universities, churches, Montgomery County Historical Society, Archives and History, Landmarks Foundation, and private individuals. We did several presentations to neighborhood associations, wrote several articles and did the television and radio circuit. To narrow our search, the decision was made to include photographs of structures and people located in the neighborhoods with official historic designation. These areas included Capitol Heights, Centennial Hill, Cloverdale Idlewild, Cottage Hill, Garden District, Old Cloverdale, Old Line Street and a section on the early downtown neighborhood. However, we found more and more documentation on subjects outside of our original parameters. We became fascinated by the properties that were eliminated when the Interstate 85 and 65 dissected the city and the earlier neighborhoods. Many of these magnificent mansions were captured in the Art Works publications of 1894 and 1907 and several neighborhood areas exist in those images only today.

Photographs came trickling in and we were beginning to sweat as our publication deadline rapidly approached. A last-ditch effort interview with Carolyn Hutcheson at WTSUM with a wide listening radius opened the floodgates to many family photo albums and our chapters began coming together, finally. We spent hours upon hours scanning photos to the publisher’s specifications, interviewing family members and researching facts and figures. We mourned the photos with great stories that we had to turn our backs on because of poor print quality and the good quality photos that had no story we could tell.

This photo came in too late for the book but has good documentation penciled on the back. This is a view of “The Old Home” located at 3 Whitman Street in Cottage Hill in March 1905. Mollie, Mama, Ellen and Rebecca are standing out front. More research is yet to come to find out exactly who these ladies are.

We made lots of discoveries about the lifestyle of people during this age of emerging photography. More affluent women had access to cameras and took up photography as a hobby documenting their families, pets, events, homes, vacations and rites of passage and then documenting it all in scrapbooks. Unless they were professionally shot in a controlled studio situation, almost all photographs were taken outside until close to the middle of the 20th century with the development of the flash concept. And, last but not least, almost every family had a goat cart!

One of our better finds was an envelope of photos that was actually in the Landmarks collection with no real documentation other than the photos had been found in the trash. After our extensive work on the pageants in schools and neighborhoods we were able to recognize these photos as documenting the annual May Day ceremony at the Cottage Hill School once located on Herron Street.

Especially fun was spending time with the many folks who brought out family albums in hopes that there was something we could use in the upcoming book. They reminisced and we gave advice on better ways to conserve these family treasures in exchange for access to them.

We were limited to 200 photos with short captions and since we had actually acquired about 350 images, the task of determining what would and what would not appear in the publication was difficult. There were lots of late nights of pouring over images and urgent phone calls with questions to the photograph’s owner. After submitting the initial images and captions and waiting for long weeks, we received a laid out proof for our review. The teacher in Karren and the editor in me came out and we hit the proof hard with our red correction pens even as we added images acquired later.

Just this week we received our authors’ copies in the mail, so we know the book is printed and will be arriving soon. As the shipping date—July 19th—for the printed product nears, we hope these readers will keep a watch out for the upcoming scheduled book-signings at our local bookstores, gift shops and specialty stores. We know there will be mistakes, we know there will be corrections and we know we’ll get bombarded with “how come y’all didn’t ask me for my family scrapbook?” We hope the publication of Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods will bring awareness about the importance of preserving family photos and records for perpetuity and encourage the documenting of our everyday life thus creating memories for all of our midtown historic neighborhoods.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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In Praise of Neighborhoods

By Sandra Nickel

My husband, Jim, and I spent last weekend with friends in New Orleans, which we consider not only to be a city of incredible restaurants and festivals but also a city of neighborhoods that absolutely pulsate with life.

New Orleans' Iberville Projects

Inspired by the new HBO series Treme, we set off to visit the community which is said to have given birth to some of our country’s finest jazz and blues musicians. Our first discovery,  just west of Treme, was the Iberville Projects. While their ongoing presence on what many locals consider some prime real estate is the subject of not a little controversy, the well-kept dwellings are some of the finest Depression-era multi-family architecture we had ever seen:  clay tile roofs, handsome iron balconies, six-over-six windows and set-backs that made the large buildings feel less imposing.

Treme itself turned out to be much less gritty than we expected. As the country’s oldest African American neighborhood, it seems to have fared far better than Montgomery’s own landmark African American community, Centennial Hill, where the rich stock of shotguns and bungalows is pock-marked by derelict properties controlled but ignored by absentee owners.

The excursion got me to thinking about Montgomery’s wonderful neighborhoods and how we often take them — and what they have accomplished — for granted. Cottage Hill has fought valiantly and frequently won battles against uncaring owners and demolition by neglect.  Both Capitol Heights and the South Hull District have, without skipping a beat, become richly multi-racial and multi-cultural. The Garden District worked with public officials some years ago to create Bellinger Hill Park, which has of late become a favorite haunt for dog-lovers from all over Midtown.

Old Cloverdale, with its biannual tour of homes, Christmas tree lighting in the park, and ferocious dog-with-a-bone willingness to take on any entity that threatens the character of its historic district, provides a model for neighborhood leaders all over the city. And Greater McGehee Estates has just unveiled a new web site worthy of any commercial business.

The City is certainly doing its part by providing professional guidance to residents of King Hill, Five Points and the West Fairview areas so that they — the residents and not the professionals — can articulate their visions for what they want their somewhat beleaguered neighborhoods can become. The plans can be viewed on the City of Montgomery’s web site. It will be absolutely fabulous to watch the dreams of those residents become a reality!

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.

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