October 7, 2015
By Michael A. Calvert
“Bad news. The owners of the Zinszer Building have applied for a demolition permit,” said Mike Dobbins, the City’s Director of Urban Design, when I picked up the phone. “I don’t think we can stop them.”
“Is the Zinszer the big, boarded up store in the Second Avenue North Historic District?”
“That’s right. A three-story Victorian building, just east of 21st Street. Only one other cast iron facade in the city. They want to scrape the building for a parking lot. Can you believe this is happening in 1983? It’s criminal. It’s vandalism.”
“Downtown can’t afford to lose another historic structure, especially for a damn parking lot. We lost the Terminal Station, and the Alabama Theatre is threatened. Who owns the Zinszer?
“The permit application was signed by Allen Haskell as owner of 2115 Second Avenue, John Beard as owner of 2117, and Frank Yielding owner of 2119. I thought it was one property. I’ll check with people here at City Hall.”
“Can you hold up the permit?” I asked.
“Not legally, but, hey, I’m a beleaguered bureaucrat. No one expects lightning speed from City Hall. I can bury it in my inbox for a while, at least until my boss finds out about it. Bob Land is not a preservationist. No love lost between him and Marjorie White and the Birmingham Historical Society. He refers to them as hysterical preservationists.”
“You could even lose the application. That happens sometimes at City Hall. I’ll find out who the owners are and who might be able to talk them out of tearing down a historic building. Bill Green, my chairman probably knows them. Let’s keep in touch on this.”
I set aside the agenda I was drafting for next week’s board meeting of Operation New Birmingham, a non-profit organization charged with revitalization of downtown Birmingham. I decided to walk two blocks to get a good look at the Zinszer Building even though I drove past it on my way to the ONB office every morning and was generally familiar with it.