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University Hospital Had Secret War Time Mission


ew may recall that University Hospital, built in 1940, had a secret war-time mission.

From March 1942 until April 1944 two of the floors of the new 16-story medical center, then known as Jefferson Hospital, were used for classified work by the U.S. Army Replacement and School Command. The work went on behind closed doors on the 10th and 11th floors.

As its national headquarters, the unit was responsible for personnel training and troop replacements. Its headquarters had been relocated to Birmingham from Washington, D.C., to protect it from possible enemy attack. It was relocated again to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in April 1944.

Major General Courtney H. Hodges

Major General
Courtney H. Hodges

Commanding officers of the Birmingham detachment included Courtney H. Hodges, Harold R. Bull and Harry F. Hazlett. Gen. Hodges went on to command the First United States Army in Northwest Europe.

During World War II, Birmingham was abuzz with military activities including the conversion of its steel industry to make munitions, bombs and ship steel. The Hayes Aircraft plant was then known as the "Birmingham Modification Center" or "Bechtel-McCone-Parsons" but locals just called it "Bechtel-McCone." The highly-secured plant modified B-24 Liberators, B-29 Super Fortresses, P-38 Lightnings and A-20 Havocs, adding guns and armament for war-time service.

The need for additional medical services was a pressing problem. University Hospital was an outgrowth of the older Hillman Clinic next door. The Jefferson County Commission hired prominent local architect Charles H. McCauley to design a seven-story annex to cost $1.5 million in U.S. Public Works Administration funds. By the time the building was dedicated in December 1940, nine more floors were added at a final cost of $2.25 million.

1939 architect’s rendering of Jefferson Hospital

1939 architect’s rendering of
Jefferson Hospital, (Bhamwiki).

The new hospital was state-of-the-art and known as the finest hospital in the South. Two banks of high-speed elevators carried doctors, nurses, patients and others from floor to floor.

The fifth floor was a maternity ward; the seventh floor featured 11 operating rooms. Both of those floors were air conditioned. The top two floors had living space for 150 nurses and 25 interns and resident physicians.

Four years later the facility became the Jefferson-Hillman Hospital where the new Medical College of Alabama would soon be located. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees renamed it University Hospital in 1955 and finally Jefferson Tower in 1979. By September 2010 all inpatient activities had been relocated to the new North Pavilion hospital complex and other areas.

Today the hospital and surrounding facilities serve 35,000 patients annually and is Alabama’s only Level 1 trauma center.

Sources: A. J. Wright, Discover Birmingham, "The Best of the Magic City, Hillman Hospital and How it Became UAB Hospital", October 4, 2013; Wikipedia; Bhamwiki.

Piggly Wiggly ad Birmingham News, October 1977

Birmingham News, October 1977.


The Sadler House, an Eastern Valley Road landmark, was built in 1835 although the original 
portion dates to before 1820. It had a preacher’s room on the left front for visiting pastors

The Sadler House, an Eastern Valley Road landmark, was built in 1835 although the original
portion dates to before 1820. It had a preacher’s room on the left front for visiting pastors.

Eastern Valley Road


ome may think Eastern Valley Road, which runs from Bessemer to Woodstock, is a strange name for a historic roadway in West Jefferson County. More than likely the name long ago was tied to the movement of traffic on horseback east out of Roupes Valley toward old Jonesboro (Bessemer), then a principal town with stores. It was the first permanent pioneer settlement in Jones Valley having been established in 1813.

The road, which winds through both rural and residential areas, fronts three historic houses operated by the West Jefferson Historical Society, the McAdory (1840), Owen (1830s) and Sadler (1835) houses, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, McAdory High School and Colonial Promenade Tannehill Shopping Center. It is also known as County Road 18.

New residential neighborhoods are springing up in the area, some named for early residents like Carrol, Williams and Sadler.

During the Civil War, Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton, on orders of Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson, took his effective force of 1,100 federal cavalry down the Huntsville Road from Elyton en route to Tuscaloosa to burn the University of Alabama and capture the town. Along the way, detachments crossed over to Eastern Valley Road where he torched the Tannehill Ironworks whose furnaces were making 20 tons of iron each day for Confederate military needs.

Gen. John T. Croxton

Gen. John T. Croxton

Croxton rode out of Elyton on March 30 travelling eight miles before making camp on roads he described as almost impassable due to rainy weather.

Eastern Valley runs almost parallel to Highway 11 (Fourth Avenue West in Bessemer) all the way to Bucksville. It is difficult to tell at times which route Croxton took although a part of his force burned the stores in Jonesboro which was on the Old Huntsville Road, sometimes referred to as the Tuscaloosa Road. It is likely they were on both roads at different times.

Capt. Marshall P. Thatcher, Company B, Second Michigan Cavalry, said after the First Brigade passed through Elyton it entered "a much richer country with an abundance of forage for animals."

When the column neared Tannehill, Croxton dispatched three companies of the 8th Iowa Cavalry under Capt. William A. Sutherland off to the left to burn the ironworks which they accomplished and rejoined the column near Bucksville.

Interestingly, while the furnaces at Tannehill were burnt as a war target, the three antebellum houses on Eastern Valley Road previously mentioned were all spared. Like the Tannehill Furnaces, they are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Speculation is that the home owners may have been masons just like some of the federal officers so the houses were not torched like some others. Croxton’s forces also burnt gristmills and tanneries, and as Gen. Wilson ordered, "whatever else may be of benefit to the Rebel cause."

That included the University of Alabama, thought of at the time as a military school defended by cadets.

While some houses were spared including Arlington (in Elyton) and Col. Ninian Tannehill’s house near the ironworks, farm animals and food supplies were often carted off by passing federal troops.

There is another Eastern Valley Road mentioned as part of Highway 119 in Leeds but it is not known if this was an original extension of the road near Tannehill or separate altogether.

A part of the old Huntsville Road can still be seen near Visionland Parkway and also Charles Hamilton Road in McCalla.

Sources: James R. Bennett, Tannehill and the Growth of the Alabama Iron Industry, Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission, 1999; Marshall P. Thatcher, A Hundred Battles in the West, St. Louis to Atlanta, 1861-65, (Detroit Book Press, 1884).


Recent History Center Acquisitions

Oil portrait of Louis Pizitz, signed N. R. Brewer

Oil portrait of Louis Pizitz, signed N. R. Brewer

Louis Pizitz, a Russian immigrant who gave up rabbinical studies for retail, built and stood at the helm of Birmingham's leading department store chain throughout much of the last century.

The business passed to his son Isidore and eventually, in 1987, was sold to McRae's, which summarily closed the flagship building on 19th Street North and Second Avenue.

Twenty six years later, a mini-trove of Pizitz items left behind during the McRae's closure was donated to the Birmingham History Center, including this oil portrait. The donor was a contractor hired to clear out the building's contents.

History Center building from the collection


Bring any items of historical interest to our new office at 310 18th Street North, Suite 401. Our phone number and e-mail has stayed the same: 205-202- 4146    Email:

collection of Loius Pizitz Records

Also included in this collection were these three recordings labeled "Louis Pizitz," "Pizitz Opening" and "Legend of Louis Pizitz" in 10-inch (78s) an 12-inch formats (we haven't listened to them yet), a key to the City of Homewood presented to Isidore Pizitz, and many newspaper ads for the store from the 1920s and 1930s.


L to R: John M. Badham, Mary Badham Wilt, Mrs. Dolly Stevenson, Colonel Joseph Shannon, October 12, 2007, Southern Museum of Flight, Induction of Brig. Gen. Henry L. Badham, Jr. into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame

L to R: John M. Badham, Mary Badham Wilt, Mrs. Dolly Stevenson, Colonel Joseph
Shannon, October 12, 2007, Southern Museum of Flight, Induction of Brig. Gen. Henry
L. Badham, Jr. into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame (Photo by Dr. Ed Stevenson).

Behind the Scenes with John Badham

—by: Tom Badham


hile John Badham has lived in Los Angeles since the 1960s, he still considers himself a Birmingham boy. After getting started at Universal Studios in the 1960s in the mail room, he put his Indian Springs School and Yale University education to work in learning the movie business. His first chance to direct was the last episode of the television series The Law in 1972. Even though the series was cancelled he received an Emmy nomination for his episode’s direction.

He quickly gained the reputation of bringing in projects on time and on budget as a television director, a trait that is very near and dear to cash strapped producers. He directed his first feature film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings in 1976. Earning a reputation as an "actor’s director," he worked with many of the biggest names in Hollywood from a young Matthew Broderick and John Travolta to Sir Laurence Olivier.

With over four decades of experience in the business and over 40 television and feature movies to his credit, he has had some adventures that might be defined as "when everything goes disastrously wrong". Sometimes it’s actors thinking the director has endangered their lives or is making them look foolish, sometimes it’s a spectacular equipment failure or a stunt that goes horribly wrong.

When doing the location scouting in New York for Saturday Night Fever, John came across a very serious problem. All the discos were dark and very poorly lit. They wouldn’t photograph at all, much less look exciting and romantic. This would stop the movie in its tracks. Everyone, including the producers, who would lose their shirts if filming stopped, was stymied.

Then John remembered the lighted dance floor at The Club. They could build a raised floor and put a bunch of lights under it. The owner of the disco was more than happy to let the movie crew build the permanent lighted floor which would be his after the scenes were shot.

One more "show stopper" cropped up. In the big scenes of John Travolta and Karen Gorney dancing on the floor, Karen would be wearing a bright red dress. Travolta was to wear a white suit with a black shirt. Travolta objected that he didn’t want to wear the "dorky ice cream suit". He wanted to wear a "cool" black ensemble. Travolta was threatening to walk off the set.

After some serious argument, John told Travolta he could wear the black suit. However, due to the low light conditions, even with the colorfully lit floor, all the movie goers would see would be Karen in her bright red dress dancing with just Travolta’s head! His body in the black suit would pretty well become invisible! After thinking it over, Travolta decided maybe he wouldn’t look so bad in a white suit after all.

Blue Thunder with its exciting helicopter chases was one scary headache after another. Nowadays it is impossible to have two helicopters chasing each other over Los Angeles with a third dancing around filming them. The stunts flown in the Los Angeles river drainage system will never be done again with real helicopters.

While filming, John’s helicopters accidentally shut down LAX airport because they intruded on its airspace. During one filming stint with John, the pilot and a camera man who was hanging outside the helo with his camera, things started to go wrong. They were up several thousand feet when the strap buckle to the harness holding the camera man started slipping.

The pilot seeing the trouble grabbed the harness with one hand to hold the camera man. The pilot commanded John, who had never flown a chopper, to put his feet on the floor pedals and grab the collective and yoke and hold everything steady. The pilot then was able to help wrestle the cameraman back inside the copter while John "flew" it.

If you catch Blue Thunder on TV, watch actor Malcolm McDowell’s eyes in the take off sequences when he’s supposed to be a hot shot pilot (and the bad guy, to boot). McDowell doesn’t like heights and flying around in a bubble fronted copter scared the grits out of him. He did the scenes, but you can tell from his eyes he is terrified. He must of had faith in the director.



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