I am very privileged to be a participant in Preservation Leadership Training 2009 and a first-time visitor to Birmingham, Alabama. The PLT experience includes an interesting study of group dynamics and team building. I am one of seven members of the “Green” Team, a group of professionals working in nonprofit organization, tourism agencies and government agencies from across the country. One of our team members is the daughter of Arthur Shores, an African American attorney that filed the lawsuit for Lucy v. Adams, one of the lawsuits challenging school segregation in Alabama. The 1955 Supreme Court decision ordered the University of Alabama to allow Ms. Lucy to register for graduate school. Arthur Shores had his law offices in the 1922 Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge (Masonic Temple) along with the headquarters of the NAACP, the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) and other organizations that brought together professionals, working class and upper class activities. “Green Team” member Barbara Shores has shared personal accounts of the events in 1963 when her family home was bombed and other threats carried out against her parents and other activists.
The Masonic Temple is the 2009 PLT project site, located in the Fourth Avenue North Historic District. For Birmingham’s African American community, for decades the Masonic Temple was the place of social interaction, entertainment, information and educational gatherings.
Lawyers, doctors, dentists and other influential members of the African-American community had their offices in the Masonic Temple. Social Clubs, sororities and fraternities held meetings, parties and formal balls in the second-floor hall. Barbara Shores has also shared her many memories of visiting her father's office, the parties and events that she attended in the ballroom, going to the doctors' offices, and the ice cream treats whenever she visited the pharmacy. While the building is still in use, it has fallen into disrepair and could benefit from a major infusion of resources.
The Masonic Temple building is one of several iconic structures in the neighborhood. PLT participants are spending this week studying the site and developing reuse strategies that will be presented during a public community meeting scheduled for Friday evening. I anticipate lots of creative ideas and financing suggestions that will be useful to the community, and recognizes the building’s importance in bridging Birmingham’s past and future.
Birmingham is a treasure trove of historic sites and sounds, and I am excited and humbled to have walked along some of the same well-worn and familiar paths. National Trust Conference Staff and our host Main Street Birmingham have shaped a week of engaging speakers and interactive educational opportunities, and a chance to develop a reuse strategy for a downtown landmark building. PLT participants are based at the recently renovated Highland Hotel located in the historic Five Points South area of Birmingham. Five Points is a walkable neighborhood of 1920s low-rise commercial buildings, a great mix of old and new with interesting shops and restaurants, a restored theater that has taken on new life, three parks, schools, churches and synagogues, and residential buildings whose distinctive architecture reflects the community’s grand past. The setting encourages lots of dinnertime exploration and lots of opportunities to contribute to the local economy. I’m doing my fair share.
-- Evelyn Frazier
Evelyn Frazier is a program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is a participant in this year's Preservation Leadership Training in Birmingham, Alabama. If you are in Birmingham on Friday, January 17, 2009 please attend the public presentations which will take place at 5:30 at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama. Click here to view the flier. For more information on PLT visit our website.
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