NEXT MEETING: April 20, 2017
Reception at 6:30 p.m. Meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Emmet O’Neal Library, Mountain Brook
SPEAKER: James Lowery
TOPIC: Birmingham Mineral Railroad
One of Birmingham’s most iconic buildings will be part of a $45 million project that will bring two Marriott hotels and a gourmet restaurant downtown
The Empire Building at 1928 1st Ave. will become Empire Hotel, a luxury hotel with a restaurant, 117 bedrooms, a gym, lounge, meeting space and rooftop bar. The adjoining former Alagasco headquarters building will become a limited service Marriott hotel with 120 rooms and provide 50 jobs.
Empire Hospitality LLC will develop the project with Ascent Hospitality as the managing partner. The conversion is projected to be completed by summer 2016.
The companies expect the Empire redevelopment to cost $27 million and the Alagasco re-development another $18 million.
The 16-story Empire Building was built in 1909 and is part of the "Heaviest Corner on Earth." In the early 1900s, four of the South’s tallest buildings were constructed at 20th Street and First Avenue in downtown Birmingham. A magazine proclaimed it "The Heaviest Corner on Earth."
The project is funded in part through Alabama’s historic tax credit program.
Source: Kelly Poe | email@example.com AL.com
The Alabama Girls’ Industrial School opens its doors as the first state-supported industrial and technical school for women. It later became Alabama College, and is now the University of Montevallo.
hope all of you have had a wonderful summer and a festive Labor Day weekend, and that you are looking forward to our October meeting with our speaker, Donna Baker, editor of the Alabama Heritage Magazine.
Over the summer, a donor brought in to the Birmingham History Center office 86 tax assessment photos from the 1940s of buildings and billboards in the greater Birmingham area. Several of the more interesting ones have been featured in the September, 2015, Birmingham History Center Newsletter. Many of the remaining ones have been posted to its website. The staff and board have NOT been able to identify a lot of them and are looking for help. For those of you that have the technology, they would much appreciate it if you could go to the website at: http://www.birminghamhistorycenter.org and see if you can help solve the puzzle. Call Dez at 202-2146 or
if you come up with some answers. Many thanks!
Articles submitted for consideration should be 750‑800 words and must include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number or email. Several high resolution photos are also requested. Stories may be edited for grammar, spelling and brevity.
Email: Jim Ben net, Editor.
Mail: The Jefferson Journal,
112 Meadow Croft Circle,
Birmingham, AL 35242.
Published quarterly by and for the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.
Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.
Jim Bennett, Editor Email:
Judy Haise Email:
Tom Badham Email:
Dr. Ed Stevenson Email:
On a board note, a nominating committee has been selected to recruit new board members to present at the January, 2016, annual meeting of our Association. If you have any suggestions, please let either me or Harry Bradford know. Again, thank you.
Lastly, it appears that of late, it has been open season on our historical markers. We have lost yet another one to an errant automobile, this one being at the Union Hill Cemetery on Oxmoor Road in Homewood. Harry, as always, has spent much of the summer pursuing restitution from the insurance company. Stay tuned.
I hope all of you can get by the Harbert Center to see the History Center panel exhibit "50 Years After Birmingham; Revival and Redemption of an American City—1965–2015." It is well worth the trip. Hope to see you at the October meeting.
— Alice Williams, JCHA President
—by: Tom Badham
ctually, it was fate or an accident. When the book To Kill A Mockingbird became a best seller, Universal- International executives decided to find two unknown child actors from the South with authentic accents to play Jem and Scout, Atticus’s children. To do this they sent talent scouts to every little theater organization in the South.
In the spring of 1961, Alice "Boatie" Boatwright arrived in Birmingham. She had written the Birmingham little theater group to notify any and every child between the ages of seven or eight and 13 in the area that had any acting experience. Tryouts at the Clark Little Theater would be held that Friday and Saturday. Former local actress (mother) Mary Badham got a call from one of her friends.
All the old gang was down at the theater. A talent scout was there conducting try outs for the two children’s roles. "Come on over, bring your daughter, Little Mary." Mary had Elizabeth "Bimi" Woodward with Little Mary for the weekend. "Bring her too. You are just down Highland Avenue. We’ve got a little party going on here. It will be fun for the girls". So, Mary quickly got the girls presentable, and drove over to the theater. Little Mary and Bimi didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.
As Little Mary remembers it, everybody greeted Mary with hugs and everybody talking all at once. Mary introduced Little Mary and Bimi. Then as Mary was visiting and catching up on her old friends in the theater lobby, Little Mary and Bimi wandered into the cold theater. The old theater’s boiler had not been turned on. There were kids on an empty stage doing scenes that they had memorized and other set pieces while their parents sat quietly in the theater seats. Little Mary and Bimi slipped in and sat down in the theater to watch. Then their names were called!
Huh?? Mary quickly came in and led them to the foot of the stage. On the way she whispered to them just to get up there and make up something, do "play pretend" like they did for Little Mary’s father, Henry L. Badham, Jr. Have fun. Do what the other kids did.
Little Mary and Bimi stood there on stage for a bit, each of them sort of rubbing their arms like you do when you are trying to think and nothing is happening. Then Little Mary had an idea. She made up a little skit on the spot and led Bimi through it about how they were lost in the woods and needed to chop some wood to build a fire so they wouldn’t freeze.
So they found some imaginary trees, chopped them with imaginary axes, dragged the imaginary wood and built an imaginary fire then warmed themselves by it while wondering out loud how they were going to find their way home out this imaginary forest. It wasn’t much, but it was all they had. Little Mary didn’t know about the book. She didn’t know that the character of the girl was to be a tomboy.
Ms. Boatwright saw immediately that the skinny dark haired eight-year-old could "play pretend" at will and that an audience didn’t bother her. She obviously was a tomboy. Besides, she looked really cute in that haircut that almost looked like a depression era bowl hair cut and had a perfect accent, southern, but not country. Little Mary’s name was put on the short list.
The day before, Ms. Boatwright had watched Phillip Alford go through his paces. He seemed right for the part too, with the right kind of accent and look. The next step of the process was to send a carefully chosen expert still photographer, Leo Fuchs, to Birmingham to photograph Little Mary for a day or two.
The hard part would be to convince her father Henry to allow it. He did not want his princess to have anything to do with Hollywood. He finally gave grudging approval to having the pictures taken. What were the odds that they would pick this little girl anyway, a million to one? She had never shown any real desire to be on stage. She had no training. Universal would certainly pick some other little girl. Besides, Mary and Henry would get some nice pictures of Little Mary out of the deal.
Then Universal wanted to fly the family to New York City for three or four days to do a film test of Little Mary. They even included Bimi Woodward on the trip. They also arranged for Little Mary to do a small fashion spread in Vogue Magazine.
Henry and Mary were sent Little Mary’s movie contract. No contract in Alabama was ever scrutinized more carefully. Henry was deeply conflicted. Universal expected Little Mary’s part in filming to last at least three months and were going to pay her a huge salary plus all living expenses.
I think his age, 68, and health – he’d already had one serious heart attack – finally decided the issue. He couldn’t take the future for granted. California had laws about holding a certain percentage of child’s movie earnings in trust. Henry would long-term invest all of her earnings in a trust fund. This would help make sure that his daughter was taken care of, even if he wasn’t there. His caveat still stood, though. If she decided she wanted to come home, he’d bring her home and Hollywood could go to Hell!
Editor’s Note: Tom Badham, a member of the JCHA Board, is Mary Badham’s brother. Their older brother, John Badham, is a Hollywood director.
—by: Jim Bennett
ou might think that Alabama’s largest county would have more than a few governors but Jefferson County, with a big chunk of the state’s population, has had only four.
Alabama’s second largest county, Mobile, has had only one (that was Don Siegelman).
Since statehood in 1819, Alabama has had 53 governors.
The first from Jefferson County was Joseph H. Johnston, a Selma lawyer, who was lured to Birmingham because of the growing iron and steel industry. In 1884 he became the president of the Alabama State Bank, a position he held until 1894. He became president of the Sloss Iron and Steel Company in 1887.
Johnston’s first attempt as governor came in 1890 when he lost the nomination to William C. Oates but he succeeded in gaining control of the Democratic Executive Committee. Johnston encouraged many disillusioned Populists to return to the party. He secured its nomination in 1896, was elected governor and re-elected in 1898.
Industry continued to grow during the Johnston administration. The first rail mill was established in Birmingham and the first open-hearth steel was manufactured.
He was among the first to call for a constitutional convention which took place in 1901 after William D. Jelks succeeded him as governor. While he supported constitutional reform, he led the opposition to ratification of the new state constitution because he objected to its restrictive nature.
Johnston then attempted to win a seat in the U.S. Senate but was defeated by John T. Morgan. He attained political, office again in 1907 when he was elected to complete the U.S. Senate term of Edmund Pettus upon the latter’s death in August, 1907. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1909 and held the office until his death in 1913.
Dr. Russell Cunningham, a graduate of Bellview Hospital Medical College in New York, was appointed physician of the state penitentiary in Wetumpka in 1881.
He later ascended to the governorship as lieutenant governor.
Previously, he represented Franklin County in the Legislature (1880-1881) and after moving to Jefferson County became a prominent leader in the Democratic Party here. During 1896-1900, he represented Jefferson County in the State Senate and was chosen president of that body in 1898. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1901 and was also elected lieutenant governor on the ticket with William D. Jelks.
While holding the office of lieutenant-governor, he served as acting governor for a year, during the absence of Governor Jelks who was out west recovering from ill health. At the expiration of his term, he resumed the practice of medicine in Ensley. He died in Birmingham on June 6, 1921.
Braxton Bragg Comer was a planter and businessman who served as the governor from 1907 to 1911. In the spring of 1920, Governor Thomas Kilby appointed Comer to serve the remaining months of the late John H. Bankhead’s term in the United States Senate. He did not seek election when the term expired. He had an interesting background. In 1864 he attended the University of Alabama, but in April 1865 was forced to leave when General John T. Croxton’s troops burned the university. He then enrolled at the University of Georgia but later transferred to Emory and Henry College in Virginia, where he graduated in 1869.
In addition to interests in the Comer family’s 30,000- acre plantation in Barbour County, which was devoted to corn and cotton production, he invested in coal mines near Birmingham known as the Eureka Mines.
In 1890, he relocated with his family to Birmingham, where he was involved in other successful business pursuits, including cornmeal and flour mills. He also served as the president of City National Bank. Later, he liquidated the bank to focus on other business pursuits. In 1897, he was appointed president of Avondale Mills, which became one of the largest textile companies in the state. By 1898, Avondale Mills employed 436 workers and generated $15,000 in profit. He served as president until his death in 1927.
As governor, Comer pushed railroad reform and lowering rates for businesses to make them more competitive with other states. He increased funding for the public school system, resulting in more rural schools and high schools in each county, and eventually a rise in the state’s literacy rate.
Frank Dixon served as governor from 1939 to 1943 and is best known for re-organizing state government and reforming the way property taxes are assessed.
He obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1916 and began his practice in Birmingham in the law firm of Captain Francis S. White. His law practice was interrupted by World War I when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Corps as a volunteer.
As a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the French escadrille as an aerial observer and machine gunner. In July 1918 he was wounded when his plane was shot down over Soissons, France, which in turn required his leg to be amputated.
When he returned to Birmingham, he founded his own law partnership, Bowers and Dixon, and became a successful corporate lawyer. At that point he became a commander of the American Legion and was active in veterans’ causes. In 1934, Dixon made his first attempt at the governorship, but lost the Democratic primary to Bibb Graves. However, in 1938 he easily defeated his opponent and succeeded Graves as governor.
Dixon strove to streamline state government. He eliminated 27 government agencies by consolidating duties within the departments. The agencies that originally were under the leadership of committees were placed under the authority of a cabinet officer who reported directly to the governor. Centralizing power in the governor’s office, he terminated the employment of every state employee added to the payroll after the date of his inauguration and ordered every employee that did not have specific duties to be terminated as well. He pushed through a teachers’ retirement system and a teacher tenure law. He also established a state civil service system that required the hiring of state employees to be based on a merit system.
As World War II began at the end of his term, he oversaw a wartime reorganization of the docks in Mobile that resulted in a 400% increase in barge traffic. Alabama’s economy flourished with the ship building and repairing industry brought about by the war.
After Dixon left office in 1943, he returned to his corporate law practice and began a private firm called Bowers, Dixon, Dunn and McDowell in Birmingham. He became a lobbyist for conservative causes and spent much of his time lobbying against the right-to-work law.
In 1948, Dixon was temporary chairman and keynote speaker at the Birmingham convention of the States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) that nominated Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright as their presidential ticket. Dixon died in Birmingham on October 11, 1965.
Sources: Acts of Alabama, 1898. Act 817; Hackney, Sheldon. Populism to Progressivism in Alabama, 1969; National Cyclopedia of American Biography; Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921; Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975;Summersell, Charles G. Alabama: A State History, 1955; Alabama Dept. of Archives and History, Public Information Subject Files-governors; Owen, Marie Bankhead. The Story of Alabama: A History of the State, 1949; Encyclopedia of Alabama; Wikipedia; Blackmon, Douglas A. , Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009); Feldman, Glenn A. “Frank M. Dixon, 1939- 1943.” Alabama Governors: A Political History of the State. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. 2001; Barnard, William D. Dixiecrats and Democrats: Alabama Politics, 1942-1950, University of Alabama Press. 1974.