During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.
It’s no accident that Norwood Boulevard curves like a snake. According to the National Register of Historic Places nominating document for the neighborhood, in 1912, B. B. Meriwether, a civil engineer for the Birmingham Realty Company, surveyed and platted “28 full and partial city blocks” for development.
“The intricate plan called for the extension of Birmingham’s grid plan combined with a serpentine boulevard and a circular avenue. The officers of the Birmingham Realty Company named the principal boulevard and the “elite” subdivision for Stanley Norwood, real estate man and friend of Leslie Fullenweider, president of Birmingham Realty. There are some slight similarities between Elyton Land Company’s earlier Highland Avenue development (1885) and its successor’s Norwood project. In addition to a serpentine boulevard, the Highland Avenue neighborhood included two circular avenues, Rhodes and Hanover Circles. Almost thirty years later, Birmingham Realty Company used a serpentine boulevard, Norwood Boulevard, and a circular avenue as well, Norwood Circle. Perhaps, the officers of the Birmingham Realty Company envisioned re-creating the posh Highland Avenue of the late 19th century atop Flint Ridge. Highland Avenue, however, was located at the base of Red Mountain; Norwood was located on the rolling heights of Flint Ridge.”
But these lofty plans were not immune to barriers. The realty company wanted the streetcar line, operated by Birmingham, Light, and Power Company, to go into the Norwood neighborhood.
“In 1902, the terminus of the streetcar line was 12th Avenue at 26th Street, west of the Southern Railway. By 1904, the line had been extended to 32nd Street along 12th Avenue, the southern-most street of the Norwood neighborhood. Birmingham Realty had anticipated that [the] streetcar line would run up 32nd Street to the end of Norwood Boulevard and then run down the median of the boulevard. The realty company had advertised that Norwood was easily accessible to downtown Birmingham. Realizing that they had no streetcar line to transport its residents, in 1913, Birmingham Realty established the Norwood Transit Company. Despite the name, the company never ran trolleys but began service during the third week of July 1914, using buses with wood streetcar style bodies built by Brill and mounted on two-ton Pierce-Arrow chassis. These are believed to have been the first buses used in Birmingham,” according to the National Register of Historic Places.
With the transportation issue resolved, Birmingham Realty Company launched an advertising blitz. They nicknamed the neighborhood as “The Placid Place” because of Norwood’s elevation over the area’s mills and factories.
The advertising efforts paid off as sales were steady; over 100 houses had been built by 1913. A Norwood booklet (see above), complete with photographs of some of the neighborhood’s most lavish homes, helped entice wealthy residents to move there. In the documentary, “100 Houses,” Richard Dabney, billed as a Norwood resident, stated, “Norwood was Mountain Brook before there was a Mountain Brook.”
National Register of Historic Places: “By 1915, the company was selling twenty-five lots a month and by October of that year, advertisements announced that lots remaining unsold “may now almost literally be counted on the fingers of the hand. But each of them is a choice location.”
You may recognize some of the last names of Norwood’s earliest residents:
- The Adams of Adams Produce
- The Broyles of Broyles Furniture Company
- The Felicities of Consumer Ice Company
- The Gramercys of Magic City Candy Company
- The Kidds of Sunnyland Refining Margarine Company
- The Walkers of Walkers Drug Company
- The Yeildings of Yeildings Department Store
But in addition to these prominent families, Norwood also attracted teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and employees of surrounding businesses.
“By 1928, those residents of the boulevard could catch a streetcar at the pavilion at the intersection of 15th Avenue, 32nd Street, and Norwood Boulevard. The streetcar line finally reached the 15th Street entrance of Norwood Boulevard in 1922 and by 1928, the tracks had been laid down the median of Norwood Boulevard. The streetcars carried businessmen from their homes in Norwood, down the hill to the central business district of Birmingham and high school students to Phillips High School at 6th Avenue and 24th Street. In 1925, Warren, Knight and Davis, Birmingham’s premier architectural firm, designed a neighborhood elementary school in the Tudor Revival style. Birmingham Realty Company had lobbied the city of Birmingham for a school since it developed Norwood in 1913. By 1925, Dr. J.H. Phillips, Superintendent of Public Schools, resided on Norwood Boulevard and this may have helped in finally securing an elementary school for the neighborhood. In addition to the school, Norwood was served by the Norwood General Hospital, also designed by Warren, Knight and Davis, as well as a the Norwood Baptist Church at 15th Avenue and 26th Streets, and Norwood Methodist Churches at 13th and 31st Streets, both erected in the 1920s,” according to the National Register of Historic Places.
To learn more about Norwood and recent revitalization efforts, take a look at “100 Houses, a short documentary.