Could We Save Birmingham’s Secret Garden?February 4, 2019
My friend Kelly keeps telling me a story about a house. It’s petal pink, with wide stone steps leading up to a front porch set off by three archways overgrown with vines. Set in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood, it’s almost hidden, set back from the sidewalk and surrounded by a rambling, enchanted garden. It’s easy to miss this house unless you’re looking for it. Unless you’re looking for magic.
And the house has seen plenty of magic. It was dreamed up and built by two artists, a sculptor and a painter, who entertained F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. It played host to Ernest Hemingway. Two different community theaters started with performances in its rooms and gardens. And during the Depression, the artists built bunk rooms for abandoned children. The house whispers it secrets to anyone who walks by on the path; anyone who cares to look.
If you’ve seen the Save the Pink House signs around Homewood, you already know a little of what comes next — the house (Which is real, by the way — did I mention that?) is about to be torn down. You know the story: An evil developer swoops in to destroy character and history, and the town looks the other way. The garden and the home will be demolished, and five new houses will be squeezed into the lot.
Except it doesn’t seem like that’s what’s happening here at all. The developer is being incredibly reasonable and not at all hasty; he’s owned the property since 2004, says he’s willing to sell to preservationists if they can offer market value, and seems to have pushed the date back a few times to give more time to the people trying to save the house. And there are quite a few people — including all those people putting pink signs in their yard, and including my friend Kelly — who are trying to save it.
The suggested way to save the pink house is to give money; not to buy the house (they’ve only raised about $30,000 of the $2.5 million needed to buy, repair and reopen the house as a community center), but to show good faith to investors who might be interested in the property. The Homewood Preservation Society says it’s circulating a plan to potential investors, and this money demonstrates that the community cares about the house and will support it if it reopens. If you’re interested in donating to that effort, you can click here to learn more and here to donate; the money goes to the historic society, which is certified as a nonprofit organization.
But what if you can’t give money, but you still care about the house? Write a letter. Sure, it’s old school, but so is trying to save a historic garden, right? Taking time to actually write and mail a letter can really matter to potential investors; anyone investing in the property to save the house is probably planning on using it either as a community space or an event space, so knowing if the community would support that is very relevant. Here’s how to do it:
Pick out a card
Bonus points if it’s pink, but anything will work.
Write a short note
No need to write a long treatise on this (unless you feel like it); three sentences is just fine.
Mention this stuff
- Your full name, and address if you’re comfortable. This convinces people you are real.
- If you’re a resident of Homewood, definitely say that!
- If you think you’d visit a community space or event space and why.
- If you’ve donated money (if you’ve donated, even a few dollars, this strengthens your case).
Mail letters, postcards and/or checks to 904 Forrest Dr. S., Homewood, AL 35029. If you’re including a check, make it payable to the Homewood AL Preservation Society (it’s a 501c3 nonprofit).
Is this the most important thing going on in the world right now? Obviously not. Is it imperative to save the pink house? Not really; I don’t even live in Homewood, so it probably won’t matter to me if there are a few more houses on a busy street. But I also think that’s how history and beauty are lost — bit by bit, when we’re not paying that much attention. Progress is fine, and I’m not against it. But when is the right time for fight for uniqueness and character? When is the time to honor a couple of artists who fought for our city’s future? Eleanor Bridges, the painter who lived at the pink house, made a 100-year plan to make Birmingham better. She didn’t live to make it happen; but maybe, in this small way, we can.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook,Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.