Monday, June 30, 2008

Saving Old Drish

This is the Drish Mansion, built in 1837 by slave labor and the plantation home of Dr. John H. Drish. In the early 1900s the county school board bought it and used it as the "Jemison School."
I have an old postcard from one of its students to his uncle, dated 1909. In the 1920s it was a salvage auto parts yard. How the mighty had fallen. Then from the 1940s till recently, it was owned by a church. Of course, you know it's haunted! Here's a link with more of the cool history, including the acquisition & planned restoration of 'Old Drish' by the preservation society.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scary Green Monster?

Nope, just trees covered with kudzu. Kudzu is a vine that covers anything in its path.
It's fast growing and hardy even in drought. You basically can't kill it without poison.
It was brought to the U.S. from Asia in order to address soil erosion. Here's a great link all about this crazy vine that can grow up to a foot a day during the summer! I've even seen it growing across rural dirt roads that didn't get much traffic.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wild Cherries

This time of year in Tuscaloosa and the south, many wild edible fruits are ripe - blackberries, mulberries, dewberries, blueberries, and these wild cherries. My parents have several wild cherry trees behind their house. These beauties look better than they taste, though. They're quite sour and a mostly pit!

Friday, June 27, 2008

After a Summer Shower

Tuscaloosa has been in severe drought conditions since last year. So, any little shower at all counts big for us. Yesterday afternoon some parts of the county got just enough rain to settle the dust. That's not an apparition, fog or smoke you see. It's steam or water vapor, I suppose. It's what happens when a summer shower hits on a 90+ degree day. I thought the sun rays were pretty too.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Children's Hands On Museum

Children's Hands On Museum (CHOM) is in downtown Tuscaloosa. This is the cute and colorful ironwork that greets you at the entrance. It's housed in what used to be a department store and still has some of the original flooring. CHOM is a great place to spend a hot summer day with the kiddos, if you can get them out of the pool! In the window reflection, you can see the opposite side of University Blvd. The Fred's was a dollar store and just recently closed this location.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bama Theatre

The Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa was built in 1938 as part of the Public Works Administration/New Deal that employed workers during the Great Depression.
It was Tuscaloosa's first air-conditioned public building. It seats about a thousand people and has painted clouds and twinkling stars in the ceiling. It's a great old theatre that is used now for plays, concerts, film festivals, and other Arts Council of Tuscaloosa events. I saw the Claire Lynch Band and The Glenn Miller Orchestra there this year as part of Alabama Public Radio's Bluegrass and Big Bands Concert Series. Both performers commented on the excellent acoustics of the building. And it's true, the sound is nearly perfect even without microphones.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Landmark Store

When McFarland Mall opened in the 70s, it was the beginning of the end of shopping downtown. It was Tuscaloosa's first mall and it was a big deal for many years. This was it's anchor store. It was originally Gayfer's Department Store. We loved Gayfer's. We spent lots of time and money there. This was back when my mother went to town every Saturday to have her hair done. Somehow, we always ended up at Gayfer's before we went home. They basically clothed us starting in the kids' department upstairs and finally ending up in the ladies' department. They sold everything else too. Shoes, housewares, china and silver - it was the ONLY store with a wedding registry, electronics, records - yes, records, games and toys, kitchen wares, rugs, etc. It was truly a department store. It had an escalator - first one we'd ever seen, amazing. My first credit card was a Gayfer's card. The people who worked there had all been there for years and literally watched us grow up.
Then, a few years ago, Gayfer's closed and Dillard's moved in. Saddest shopping tragedy in history. New people, new policies, new brand names, new higher prices, no "moonlight madness" sales, new ick. People avoided Dillard's in droves. Rumour is, Dillard's never made enough profit to cover the lease during the entire time they were there. Thus, the "store closing" sign you see in the picture. Does your town have a favorite department store?

Monday, June 23, 2008

City Hall

Here's Tuscaloosa's City Hall building on University Boulevard. It was built in 1909 and was originally the post office. Back then, University Blvd. was called Broad Street.
This building was also the federal courthouse. The city acquired and renovated it in 1968. The courtroom is now the city commission chamber. There's a city hall annex behind this building, a courtyard between streets, and a walkover to the new municipal court building.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Downtown Revitalization

Downtown Tuscaloosa is undergoing a revitalization process, courtesy of federal earmarks and our Senator. According to this sign, it should be finished by 2010. It includes a new federal courthouse, intermodal parking facility and greenspace. The other picture is a view of the four square blocks that were purchased and demolished to make way for progress. I haven't seen the plans, but I hope the new structures are in keeping with the historic feel of the rest of downtown. The buildings pictured on the sign are landmarks in Tuscaloosa, but are not on the same street as depicted.
Stay tuned for more of the process as it unfolds.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Endangered History

The building in the foreground was built in 1903 as the Allen Jemison hardware store. It's on the corner of Greensboro Avenue and 7th street in downtown Tuscaloosa.
It was at one time, the largest hardware dealer in Alabama. They sold buggies, plows, etc. There was a warehouse in back that had a train track right through it for deliveries. It had a vacuum tube system that allowed people to pay on the ground floor, have their payment sent to the offices upstairs, then the receipt returned by the same tube. The tubes are still there and are really neat to see. Wish I could get a picture of them before they tear the building down.
The building was sold to the Spiller Family in the 1970s, who ran a furniture store there for several years. Later, it was an antique mall. Now, the Episcopal church owns it and has plans to tear it down for either more parking or greenspace. It seems they haven't been able to lease it to a suitable tennant and it has fallen into more disrepair than they're willing to undertake. I hope someone can save it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cash, Clothes, then Calzones

This cool old Tuscaloosa building has a crest at the top that says 1871. It was originally the First National Bank and is on the corner of University Blvd and 23rd Street.
When I was a kid, it was "Adrian's", a ladies' clothing shop. I remember it had an elevator, which of course we thought was amazing. "Adrian's" was spelled out in the tiles at the front door. I think they're still there. I'll have to check and take a picture.

Adrian's had the 'nunsuch shop' for teens and a teen board of local girls who modeled their clothes. It was a big deal to be on the teen board.

When I was a teenager, this and other downtown stores moved into the mall. Later, Adrian's moved to the Tuscaloosa Galleria. I think they finally went out of business after the owner died. This building is now an Italian eatery called DePalma's. They have delicious calzones and the great atmosphere that only a cool old building can provide!

Article about Downtown Businesses History including Adrian's.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tuscaloosa's First Skyscraper

This is a closer view of the Alston Building in downtown Tuscaloosa, referenced in the first post. In it's early years, there was a huge sign on top of this building that said "Try Tuscaloosa" .
This building is old, but it's not really leaning.
Apparently, the photographer was.
Hopefully, my skills will increase.

Friday, June 13, 2008

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, seen here from the courthouse. Again, that's Greensboro Avenue in front. The church ministry buildings actually encompass several blocks. Here's what the historic marker says:
"First Baptist Church
Organized 1818, oldest church in Tuscaloosa County. First building was of logs. A brick structure completed 1830 and larger one at this site 1884. Educational building erected 1924 and present sanctuary 1958. Sunday School organized here 1830. Influenced by the leadership of the first two presidents University of Alabama: Dr. Alva Wood, 1831; Dr. Basil Manly, 1837, who often filled pulpit. A resolution from this church, 1844, resulted in formation of Northern and Southern Baptist Conventions. Sponsored other churches: Hopewell, 1830; Southside, 1889; Holt, 1903; Calvary, 1910; Westend, 1910; Forest Lake, 1936; and Circlewood, 1948. "

Thursday, June 12, 2008

View from the Top

One benefit of having jury duty this week is access to the sixth floor of the county courthouse. This is one view of downtown Tuscaloosa. That’s Greensboro Avenue below. The Alston building is the beige building across the street and on the left of this picture. It was Tuscaloosa’s first “skyscraper”, built in 1910. At that time, both streets fronting it were still dirt roads and there was a trough for horses in the intersection! The construction you see right of center is part of the “downtown revitalization” which includes a new federal courthouse. Unfortunately, it called for the condemnation of several “blighted” properties. Some of which were interesting and historic in their own right.