Days Gone By - stories from the past

DO YOU REMEMBER these places from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s in Birmingham, Alabama?

BIRMINGHAM MEMORIES 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s

by

Milo J. “Jerry” Heis

I REMEMBER: East Lake Park when there were still remnants of the Fair like rides in service. There was a railroad similar to the one at the Birmingham Zoo.


It had been abbreviated from the original which went all the way around the lake but we could still ride around the south side of the lake. Most mild weekends, East Lake Park was a beehive of activity Many reunions, birthday parties, company picnics and other occasions were celebrated there every weekend. When you walked through the park you would hear squeaking swings, clanging horseshoes and the sound of impromptu baseball games.

The East Lake swimming pool was always full of people seeking a respite from the summer heat in the frigid waters, fed by Springs, which rose in East Lake Golf Course.

Just as Ms. Butterworth and her friend Joyce recalled about West End it reminded me of walking to Robinson Elementary School. All the Avenues had, long since, been changed from names to numbers. Robinson was on 1st Avenue South.

Robinson Elementary School 1940s and before it was boarded up

School building dates to 1909

robinson-elementary-school-1940s

robinson-elementary-school-exterior

I lived on 3rd Avenue South and crossed 2nd Avenue South. The names were still engraved on the sidewalks at every corner. 1st Ave. was Hillman Ave., 2nd Ave. was Underwood Ave. and 3rd Ave. was Walker Ave. South East Lake also had an area that all the Avenues were named after some of the world’s great cities.

There was Athens, Paris, Naples, Rome, Toulon, Oporto, Madrid and Sparta Avenues. Oporto/Madrid Avenue was formed later when a new road was cut that encompassed both.

Just a few blocks from East Lake Park on the Huffman Tarrant Road was the Iron Bowl. The name was later (and rightly) co-opted to signify the Greatest football rivalry of all time! But in my youth it was the site of many a fine Sunday afternoon of racing by people like “Sorghum” Vann “Hub” McBride, Nero Steptoe and too many other famous people who were my heroes, to name.ironbowl raceway

Located in Boggs “Holler” The Iron Bowl Raceway was run by Mr. “Shine” Franklin and flagged by the late, great Johnny Garrison. Racers came from Memphis, Nashville Chattanooga, Atlanta and all points south to compete with Alabama‘s finest drivers

Iron Bowl Speedway in the 1940s

 

iron bowl speedway in 1940s

iron bowl speedway

Birmingham Fairgrounds Raceway was another favorite place of mine in the summers of the 1950’s. Most of those famous racers from the Iron Bowl had moved their activities there because it was larger and had a large grandstand.

At one time, in the nineteen-fifties, Birmingham had grown to be the twentieth largest city in the U. S. (once, even slightly larger than Atlanta) mainly because of our Steel industry, but also because it was one of the largest rail hubs in the south.

Birmingham Terminal Station

Birmingham_Terminal_Station_(1909)

Birmingham Terminal Station was such a great place. I loved to go there with my father who was a railroad man. His family lived in Florida so we traveled by train to see them often. We rode the City of Miami, the Seminole, the Dixie Flyer, the Humming Bird, and the South Wind. Several times, during WWII, I recall, some were pulled by Steam locomotives.

Birmingham had a, well used, transit system that had developed through the teens and 1920’s. Most of the trolleys were made by the Cincinnati Car Company.

My early memories were, of dilapidated, overused Cars that were well past their prime. Then in 1947 BECO began replacing them with the sleek PCC Cars made by Pullman Standard. They were so quiet and smooth. They rode like floating on a cloud. They had a classy new red, white and blue paint job to replace the dingy cream color of the Cincinnati Cars.

The PCC’s and Cincinnati’s ran the main lines like Graymont, Pearson, Jefferson, Ensley and First Avenue’s. The suburbs had small 14 passenger Birney Cars that had the same motor and wheel assemblies as the San Francisco Trolleys. They ran routes like Southside, North Birmingham, Woodward and my favorite the Rugby Avenue. The Birney’s moved passengers from the suburbs to the mainline where they transferred for the ride to downtown. These transfer intersections were called Birney Points.

Other Places that I enjoyed were:
Cascade Plunge swimming poolCascade Plunge

The Alabama Theater also The Ritz, The Strand, The Lyrictheatre

Massey’s Drive-in in Roebuck

Lou-Jac’s in East Lake
Big Mike’s in Avondale
All the Ed Salem’sed salem;2s

Sky Castle
The Varsity Drive-in
Carnaggio’s in Five Points West and Bessemer Super Highway.

 

Do you have pictures and memories of other special places in Alabama? Share them with others. Email copies and special memories of your pictures to: [email protected]

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30 comments

  1. I miss the train station more than any other landmark we foolishly lost. I use to ride the Hummingbird to Chicago and back. Fairfield High school also had our proms at Cascade Plunge. I also mis the old Hollywood Club and the Rootbeer place in with the polar bears on the roof.

    1. Was broken-hearted when the terminal was torn down, where as a baby,mama took me to see daddy (when the train came thru carrying our military men) & say good-bye to him as he left for war. Made many other trips to our beautiful train station. It was so grande. Still miss Polar Bears Milkshakes & Malts, cascade plunge, eastlakes park & swimming pool.Lou-Jacks, Ed Salems,even ol’ Willow-wood park w/wading pool out front w/water jets to cool off.All the wonderful theatres, and Downtown Stores w/wonderful Christmas displays.Joy-Youngs was one of my favorite places to eat w/mother, after shopping. Rode the trolley down 10th ave into town, not only w/mother, but w/girlfriends when 12 yrs old. Loved the Woodlawn theatre that we kids went to on Saturdays in the summer,and the old WhiteHouse,as it was called,where they had the best chili dogs.we went to the ol’ Iron Bowl Races,parking up on the hill,sitting on hood of car,eating fried chicken. It was dusty,but we didn’t seem to notice.Went to Fairgrounds Race track too. And of course, going out to Lake Purdy,daddy and us fishing. And attending Woodlawn Highschool, such a great school,where my mom,dad,aunts& uncles attended too. I even had a few teachers they had.Great Memories of Safe Days gone by. Such a different time. It definitely was a charmed time in the 40s,50s,&60s.

  2. Nathan Phillips

    I say it was one of the dumbest things Birmingham done when they tore down this historical place.

    1. Southern Railway owned the Terminal Station and the railroad had it demolished, not the city of Birmingham. It was the Southern’s to do with as they pleased. However, I too, wish it could have been saved.

  3. Patsy Bonner

    Those were the best years, so many memories.

  4. Myla Winham Thomas

    I cannot even imagine! Sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I was born in 1951 but grew up in East Lake, all th places you mention I knew about and road the train from the beautiful station to New Orleans, swam at Cascade and ate ice cream at the Polar Bear. Fun growing up there.

  6. I was born in 1951 but grew up in East Lake, all th places you mention I knew about and road the train from the beautiful station to New Orleans, swam at Cascade and ate ice cream at the Polar Bear. Fun growing up there.

  7. Sandra Davis

    Great memories of those days !, makes u want to cry cause of how things have changed !!

  8. I want our Birmingham to become awesome once again! I remember swimming at cascade plunge when i was younger….also the drive in in center point. Loved those times!!!!

  9. Rod Okorley

    sadly, perhaps it was so but only for some.

  10. Phyllis Galbreath Ratliff

    What a wonderful post! Love the home movie!

  11. Pat Addaway

    I miss the train terminal..

  12. Loris Drake

    I can remember roller skating on the center line through the tunnel of terminal station. Mama never knew it, though

  13. I worked in downtown Birmingham for many years. I would go out at lunch and walk to a restaurant to eat and look at the old buildings and remember the “good old days” when Birmingham was so different. The theaters, Joy Young’s and Britlings Cafeteria and all the “dime” stores that we would visit. We lived in Bessemer and when I was 11 years old, my Mom put me on a streetcar so that I could ride to Birmingham and do my Christmas shopping. She told me where to get off the streetcar and where to catch my ride back home. I stayed all day and went in every store that I could to spend my $12.50 that I had earned babysitting. Can you imagine turning an 11-year-old loose in downtown Birmingham today? How I yearn for life to be a little less scary than it is today. God bless you!

  14. i was born in 1944 and moved from ensley to east lake in 1947 . went to robinson elementary from 1950 until 1958 then went to banks high school. i remember riding the street car because it turned around across 1st ave no. we lived on division ave and the corner of 87th st. i used to walk to downtown birmingham on saturdays or sometimes rode my bike.never any trouble. does anyone remember the loop? at 19 years old i joined the navy and it seemed to have changed everything the 50,s were the best years of mine and my sisters life

  15. I was born in Atlanta,Ga we moved to Birmingham when I was 6. We lived across from the Fairgrounds. I went downtown by myself when I was 7. We moved to East Lake when I was in the 5 grade. Lived on 1sr Ave & 75 St. We move to 2nd Ave & 71 St. Spent a lot of summers at Cascade Plunges. They had changed a theater in East Lake to s skating rink.

  16. Jeff Lambert

    IF you were WHITE and EDUCATED…but ONLY if you were WHITE and EDUCATED.

    1. Buel Thompson

      Oh shut up you whiny little bitch!

    2. Jeff Lambert

      Buel Thompson tell you what Buel drive to 30 Mill Gate NW and make me shut up. Betcha you don’t. I bet you never leave your momma’s basement much at all. I look forward to meeting you Buel I certainly do.

  17. Glenn Knight

    Every time I see this it makes me sick they tore it down. 🙁

  18. Lynn Lupei

    Gloria Gragg, Memories!

  19. Lanny Todd

    “Holiday Beach “

  20. Wendy Craft

    What a gorgeous old building!

  21. Benjamin A Chism

    It ain’t no more!!!!!!!!!

  22. MIke Armstrong

    Back when we had a State Fair,Kiddie Land,and Dirt track racing..All at the same venue.Oh,and Joy Young Downtown.Those were the days weren’t they?

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