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Recalling Birmingham Memories

—by: Jean Butterworth

Birmingham Barons 1908

West End High School, built in 1930, was demolished in 2009 (John Morris).

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ost people enjoy sharing their stories. I was in a group of Hoover Historical Society members and guests at the Hoover Historical membership tea in April and in this group the conversation turned to memories of Central Park in western Birmingham.

Joyce Plummer Strickland recalled going to West End High School and even now some of the graduates of West End High get together for lunch. It seemed that the students at that time could choose which school they wanted to attend…West End or Ensley. It was amusing to hear that streets in this area were assigned to the alphabet. i.e. "Court F" or "Avenue O." Harold Fisher told us that originally the streets were named after trees i.e. Chestnut Street or Beech Street etc. There were some problems with directions and Central Park streets were changed to Court, Terrace and Avenues. Harold said that the "Boys of Central Park" get together once a year and talk about West End High School and Ensley High School and the students who went to both schools.

Joyce and Harold remember the Statue of Vulcan when it was located in the Fair grounds.

Harold participated in the May 1939 pageant ceremony on

Red Mountain when the Vulcan statue was moved again to his present position. The Birmingham News of March 21, 1999 stated that this was a nine day play production including 1,200 actors featuring mythological characters and those from Alabama.

He and his aunt dressed as Indians of Jones Valley for the occasion. He had on an Indian costume and a black wig. He wore the wig on Halloween for years. His Aunt Mable wore an Indian princess costume. He remembers that George Seibels, Jr. was dressed up as the Vulcan. George later became mayor of Birmingham.

Harold remembers the Boy Scout Camp named Camp Andrews which was located off Highway 150. It was in the area of Patton Creek where Harold would walk across a cable swinging bridge. Paradise Lake is there now. It was an exciting place to go in the summertime when Harold was a small boy. A 1928 brochure stated, "Camp Andrews was more than a Summer Camp—it was an adventure!" "Your Boy Needs Sunshine and Fresh Air after a Year in School." In 1934 the cost was $11.00 for two weeks.

What is your memory of early Birmingham?



Freighter, Passenger Ship Named for City Were
WWII U-Boat Targets

—by: Jim Bennett

Brocks Gap

SS City of Birmingham, passenger ship (Moore Collection).

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hile Birmingham has had three U.S. Navy ships named for her, many may have forgotten two other city namesakes which sailed the high seas, the SS Birmingham City, an armed 6,194 ton steam freighter and the City of Birmingham, a steam passenger ship. Both were lost during World War II.

The SS Birmingham City

The SS Birmingham City was built in 1920 by the Chickasaw Shipbuilding Company & Car Company of Chickasaw, Alabama and owned by the War Shipping Administration. She was operated by the Isthmian Steamship Company of New York and was home ported there.

The Birmingham City left for her fateful journey from New York with Master William L. Bunch at the helm and a crew of 39 merchant crewmen and 17 U.S. Navy armed guard. She was en route to Trinidad to serve as ship of the convoy (TB-1) via Rio de Janeiro with general cargo as well as machinery and tin-plate.

On January 9, 1943, the convoy was about 50 miles north of Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana at about 4:33 a.m. when a German submarine, U-124, attacked a sister ship in the convoy, the SS Broad Arrow, causing a huge explosion.

Three minutes later the U-124 fired off another torpedo at the Birmingham City striking it amidships on the port side destroying the fire room bulkhead and the vessel began to sink immediately. Most of the officers, crewmen and armed guard abandoned ship.

When the #1 motor life boat was released, it capsized which pitched its occupants into the sea resulting in the largest loss of life. Those killed included three officers, two merchant crewmen and five armed guards. Survivors were picked up by the USS PC-577.

As for the fate of the German sub, she was hit on April 2, 1943 by depth charges from the British corvette HMS Stonecrop and the British sloop HMS Black Swan with all hands lost. This, however, was after she had sunk 46 ships.

Brocks Gap Sign

SS Birmingham City, freighter, sunk January 9, 1943.
(Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia).

The SS City of Birmingham

The City of Birmingham, a 5,861-ton passenger liner built at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in 1923 and commanded by Master Lewis P. Borum went down July 1, 1942, also at the hands of a German submarine (U-202).

En route to Bermuda about 250 miles east of Cape Hatteras, she was hit by two torpedoes in quick succession on the port side including one under the bridge. She sank within five minutes along with 2,400 tons of general cargo.

Most of the 10 officers, 103 crewmen, five armed guards and 263 passengers on board abandoned ship in orderly fashion in five lifeboats, five rafts and seven floats. The survivors were picked up by the USS Stansbury, her escort ship, which dropped depth charges to chase away the U-boat.

Five crewmen, one stewardess and two passengers were lost and one of the crew later died on board the escort.

Interestingly, City of Birmingham had itself picked up survivors from another stricken ship, the Empire Dryden, on May 5, 1942 which had been sunk by a German submarine about 240 miles northwest of Bermuda.


Eastwood Mall opening ad

Shades Valley Sun, 1955


Waite's Ad

Stay Hungry was a 1976 dramatic comedy by director Bob Rafelson from a screenplay by Charles Gaines of Birmingham (adapted from his 1972 novel of the same name). The story centers on a young Birmingham, Alabama, scion, played by Jeff Bridges, who gets involved in a shady real estate deal. In order to close the deal, he needs to buy a gym building to complete a multi-parcel lot. When he visits the gym, however, he finds himself romantically interested in the receptionist (Sally Field) and drawn to the carefree lifestyle of the Austrian body builder "Joe Santo" (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is training there for the Mr. Universe competition. Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Santo.

A number of Birmingham residents were "extras" in the movie including the editor of this newsletter. Also JCHA Board Member Bob Kracke, an attorney, handled the contract for use of the Williams Mansion on Mountain Brook Parkway in the movie.

The Birmingham History Center has many of the original posters of movies made in Birmingham.

Movies Filmed in and Around Birmingham

  • Cobb, 1994, several scenes filmed at Rickwood.
  • Field Ravagers 1979, scenes on Morris Avenue and at Sloss Furnace.
  • Stay Hungry, 1976, filmed mostly in Birmingham.
  • Verne Miller, 1986, much of movie shot in Jefferson County.
  • The River, 1984, most of this movie was shot in Kingsport, Tennessee, a couple of scenes at McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company.
  • Coming Through, 1925, Famous Players-Lasky Corp./Paramount Pictures, scenes filmed at Brookside, New Castle, Oxmoor Road.
  • Men of Steel. 1926, First National Pictures.
  • Ensley Hooper. 1978, scenes at the University of Alabama's Northington Campus, Lynns Park Bridge and Locust Fork Bridge on U. S. Highway 78 in Walker County.
  • Norma Rae, 1979, filmed in Opelika.
  • Jaws of Satan. 1980, United Artists, Tuscaloosa, Eutaw and Childersburg.
  • Benny's Place, 1982, Titus Productions/ABC), scenes at American Cast Iron Pipe Company, Southside and West End.
  • Six Pack, 1982, Lion Share/20th Century Fox.
  • Stroker Ace (1983, Warner Brothers/Universal Pictures), Talladega.
  • Rebel Love, originally Shadow Waltz, 1985, Ravencliff Productions, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park.
  • Roses Are for the Rich, 1987, Phoenix Productions, scenes at the Hallmark Farm.
  • Elvis' Grave, 1989, Westbrook Productions.
  • A Perfect World, 1993, Malpaso Productions/Warner Brothers.
  • Soul of the Game, 1995, Gary Hoffman Productions/HBO.
  • Four Little Girls, 1997, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks/HBO.
  • Her Maiden Name, 1997, Pam White Productions.
  • Steel Chariots, 1997, Walt Disney, Talladega.
  • Main Street, 1998, Weaver Productions.
  • Rustin, 1999, Grabba-Bat Productions, Springville.
  • World Traveler, 2001, Wit Productions.
  • Alabama Love Story, 2001, R & G Productions, Tuscaloosa.
  • Johnny Flynton, 2002, Red Corner Productions.
  • Under the Sidewalk Moon, 2002, Crescent Moon Films.
  • Camp D.O.A., 2004, Magic City Films.
  • Hide and Creep, 2004, Crewless Productions, Leeds and Thorsby.
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, 2006, Columbia Pictures, Talladega.
  • Murderball, 2005, Paramount Pictures/MTV Films, scenes at Lakeshore Rehabilitation Center.
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, 2006, Four by Two Productions/20th Century Fox, Birmingham and Helena.
  • Brüno, 2009, Everyman Pictures, Wald Park Lodge in Vestavia Hills.
  • Good Hair, 2009, Chris Rock Entertainment.
  • Pedestals Salon Lifted, 2010, Hunter Films, Irondale, the Alys Stephens Center, the Alabama National Cemetery.
  • October Baby, 2011, Erwin Brothers, Morris Avenue, Bibb Medical Center, and Alabama Theatre.
  • Life Tracker, 2012, Sarju Patel, tornado-damaged areas of Clay.
  • "42", 2012, Legendary Pictures, Rickwood Field, Tutwiler Hotel, 5th Avenue North (in production).



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