From a block away I saw sheets of weathered, raw plywood covering the windows, and, as i got closer, a padlocked chain wrapped around the door handles. Paint was peeling
away from the ornate cast iron facade, but the fluted columns capped by Corinthian capitals and the egg-and-dart cornices above each floor attested to the former glory of the Eighteenth Century structure built when Queen Victoria ruled England. I winced at the thought of a wrecking ball swinging into the facade, clanging as it bent the iron columns of this elaborate historic structure.
I guessed that once there was another fine Victorian building next door, but now it was a grey asphalt lot with a sign and numbered boxes for depositing coins or bills for parkers. A narrow, three-story
building with a faded sign painted high on the wall identifying it as the Denechaud Hotel remained across the parking lot, and next to it on the corner of 21st Street was a Italianate marble and terra cotta building, intricately decorated and appropriately named the Florentine Club. I could see the potential for spectacular renovation of these neglected buildings in my mind’s eye.
When I returned to the office, I opened Marjorie White’s book, Downtown, left by my predecessor when I arrived the year before. Peter Zinszer’s “Mammoth Furniture House” had been erected in 1889. An old photo showed streetcar tracks embedded in cobblestones on Second Avenue, and, as I had imagined, a brick building with limestone lintels above the windows on the site of the present day parking lot.
Another large surface parking lot was the last thing downtown Birmingham needed. In any case, the proposed parking deck in the next block would meet parking demand in the area.
Bill Green’s secretary put my call through to my chairman who was business manager for the Birmingham News. I briefed him and asked if he knew the Zinszer’s owners.
“Beard sold cheap furniture there until he moved across the street. He’s really in the business of making high-interest loans on furniture that falls apart before the loan’s paid off. I called on him when I sold ads for the paper. He always held out for a deep discount.”
I don’t know Haskell. Frank Yielding is retired, but still on the Board at Jefferson Federal. He did well in the furniture business, and even better when he started the savings and loan company. He’s not very civic-minded. Not even sure he belongs to the Chamber of Commerce. But he’ll take my call.”