Sunday, April 12, 2009

Southside Life

At the age of 18 on the Southside in Birmingham I spent a lot of time in Caldwell and Rhodes Park, and walking around Highland Avenue.

I want to take a memory tour around the area.

The heart of Southside is 5 Points South. The intersection now famously has a fountain with metal sculptures by Frank Fleming. The sculptures depict a storyteller who is a goat, reading to other animal characters. It is perfect for 5 Points.

Behind the fountain on one side is the beautiful Highlands Methodist Church. It is a huge place with a spanish tile roof- very impressive but not imposing. As the name 5 Points suggests, roads lead away in 5 directions. Down Magnoia Avenue was Magnolia Park where we held some sort of candlelight vigil- I can't remember for what.
Highland Avenue starts at the corner where the Cadillac Cafe was, and above it was a huge Barber's milk neon sign. Further down Highland you pass the Town House, the first of two Presbyterian Churches, the Jewish Temple, the Western supermarket, and then it continued to wind around Caldwell and Rhodes Park, huge old homes, apartment buildings, Unity Church, past a small Lutheran church, and another huge Presbyterian Church. The famous Sheraton was there, and the Sheraton grocery, the Highland Market, and there used to be a large Catholic high school, John Carroll, right there in the middle of it all. At the end of Highland was the Highland Golf Course. The Sheraton was famous because it was where we could buy beer!

Going in the other direction on Highland (called 12th Ave, then 11th Ave) are other shops including the Golden Temple, the area's first health food store.Across from it is the very large and imposing white marble Southside Baptist Church. Going north and south from 5 Points is 20th Street South. The drive into the intersection from the South gives you a full view of the city and you pass right under the torch of the Vulcan, the gigantic god that sits atop Red Mountain. If you want to get a feel for this from the view inside a car (it is a little unnerving the first time you take the curve and see over the edge while maneuvering in 4 lanes of traffic at the same time)it was filmed just at this time period in the movie "Stay Hungry"- a weird weird film with Sally Field, Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwartzenegger who plays a body builder.

Continuing on north headed into Birmingham on 2oth Street takes you to the campus of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, University Hospital and then dividing the south streets from the north streets the cobblestoned Morris Avenue, which was Birmingham's attempt at imitating Underground Atlanta. I do remember the Crazy Horse club was there. It is also home to the Peanut Depot.

Side trips could take you over to Glen Iris, George Ward Park or to Clarimont Avenue and Forest Park. Phelan Park across from Dreamland Barbecue did not look like it does today. There was no Dreamland, and we called it "needle park" for obvious reasons.
Mostly it was a joy to either drive all the curvy roads or walk around up and down on the Southside. I could visit my friends who lived in houses and apartments up the side of Red Mountain so views were plentiful. I think my favorite place was Letchworth. It had the best most close up view of the city and the building had all the style and character of the 1920's.

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