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Birmingham: Invisible City “Top 10”

27 July 2005

There’s an interesting quote I read this evening:

“When you arrive in [the city], you rejoice in observing… At every point the city offers surprises to your view… But it so happens that you must stay in [the city] and spend the rest of your days there. Soon the city fades before your eyes…”

(Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, p. 90)

This made me think about the fact that I’ve been here 2-1/2 years and already things are starting to “disappear.” Luckily, through engaging new arrivals to the Birmingham region I’m constantly reminding myself to (re)explore our great backyard. During the time I’ve lived here I have had an opportunity to introduce many long-time Birmingham’ians to places they’ve never experienced, simply because I’ve stumbled around and explored. My favorites, in a somewhat arbitrary order, include:

  1. The “Boulders” at Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover
    Hidden in the middle of a forest north of the Galleria Mall is a rock climber’s paradise… big and small boulders. This is an area for everyone from the fit climber to kids who can scramble over the bus-sized rocks. See this PDF file for an online booklet containing a location map and diagrams of the climbing paths up the boulders.
  2. Tip Top Grill + Lover’s Leap
    A burger joint with a view, this (mostly outdoor) restaurant in Bluff Park (Hoover) has a breathless view of the Oxmoor Valley below including the Robert Trent Jones Trail golf course… PLUS, the food is great! Almost hidden just to the left is a short trail to a large rock outcropping with a sign identifying it as “Lover’s Leap” (no one is known to actually have jumped).
  3. Rickwood Field
    The nation’s oldest standing ball field, this “stadium” remains largely invisible in the west end of Birmingham. While used for various games year-round, it is best know for holding one Baron’s game a season known as the Rickwood Classic. Such famous players as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Willie Mays, and one my favorite pitchers (Vida Blue) played at Rickwood Field during their career.
  4. Jones Valley Urban Farm
    Right around the corner from The Garage is a great little farm with great organic vegetables, sold regularly at Pepper Place Market on Saturday mornings.
  5. Statue of Liberty + Alabama Veterans Memorial
    Well, not “the” Statue of Liberty but an almost-exact replica at one-fifth the size of the one in NYC and made of bronze rather than copper. Ours has a burning flame in her hand. It’s plainly visible from I-459 just north of Highway 280 near the entrance to the “Liberty Park” development in Vestavia. Interestingly, Birmingham is home to Vulcan, the next largest statue in the world after the original Statue of Liberty.
    Nearby are a “regiment of columns” worth visiting in the Alabama Veterans Memorial park.
    BTW, there’s a human-scale version of the Statue of Liberty near the western entrance of the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.
  6. Dirigible Mooring Station
    Almost hidden behind the “C” of the Cabana Hotel (formerly the Thomas Jefferson Hotel) downtown is an apparatus meant for mooring derigibles (see this old photo showing the original height of the mooring station). The hotel was built in the era when this was thought to be the future in transportation. Some have claimed that it was the only hotel in the South that had such an amenity. Now the former hotel is being converted to lofts. A roof-top pool is planned where a water tower once stood on the roof. I wonder if the mooring station will remain?
  7. Ruffner Mountain
    With 1,011 acres and 11+ miles of hiking trails, it is larger than NYC’s Central Park and is the 2nd largest urban nature preserve in the nation (Second only to Portland, Oregon’s 4,000 acre city park).
  8. Walk of Fame
    These “Hollywood Stars” on the sidewalk outside the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham contain such recognizable names as Fannie Flagg, Courtney Cox Arquette, Kate Jackson, and Nell Carter.
  9. The Club’s dance floor
    The Club’s multi-colored dance floor was Director John Badham’s inspiration for a key icon in the definitive movie of the 70’s, Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta.
  10. The Narrows
    Highway 280 was relocated to a new four-lane routing about 25 years ago, but parts of the original winding two-lane route are intact south of Double Oak Mountain, including the very beautiful stretch where the roadway and a stream both wind between two mountainsides. It’s called “The Narrows” and it’s marked on some road maps.

Perhaps the following quote captures it all:

“Yep, I said it before and I’ll say it again
Life moves pretty fast
If you don’t stop to look around once in awhile
You could miss it.”

(The final line of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Are there others that come to your mind? Help me capture them here for others to see. Post your comments below.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Cristian permalink
    22 February 2007 11:40 pm

    Great work, I don’t think many people know just how beautiful our city really is!

  2. 9 August 2007 12:09 am

    Update on #6… LEER TOWER is the new name of the Cabana Hotel. The vestiges captured here, for instance are gone. The company redeveloping the property claims that they will restore the mooring tower to its former glory. Anyone got a dirigible?

  3. 20 March 2008 10:11 am

    Yes, the mooring mast on top of the old Cabana (now Leer Tower) will remain and be restored. However I would not land anything lighter-than air anywhere near that tower or this city.

    Intern Architect
    Lighter-than-air (Hot Air Balloon) pilot


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