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Passing of the Parliament House February 19, 2008

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.
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One of Birmingham’s most prominent examples of midcentury modern architecture has literally bit the dust. Now in my opinion, midcentury architecture can be beautiful or horrendous, and for me the Parliament House was somewhere in between. I think I liked it more for it’s weirdness. As people on other sites have mentioned, it would’ve been right at home in Miami or Daytona–and that’s how it always struck me: as a resort looking for a beach.

It did have some exquisite midcentury elements, though. It’s too bad we couldn’t have saved the circular, glass-enclosed lobby with its sweeping see-through staircase. Easy to imagine it in some early 1960s movie starring members of the Rat Pack and a leggy blonde swilling a martini. And I love how its swimming pool was located on a terrace a story above the street. I mean, that’s common in hotels in coastal towns, but on 20th Street in Birmingham, Alabama? That’s definitely a concept from another era. (Though the Doubletree just a few blocks down the street has its own odd pool placement right now.)

Be sure to check out this old postcard of the building. What’s up with the very ’60s ornamental screen (most likely metal) covering all the windows? It probably was quite swanky in its time, but I can’t imagine what it was like to look out the windows while staying there–did it feel like prison? It’s also interesting to see that the Parliament House was once one of the tallest structures on that stretch of 20th Street. In the demolition photos, it’s dwarfed by UAB’s medical center that grew up around it. Shows just how fast Birmingham has changed.

While I realize that the Parliament House had to be torn down (due to restrictive contracts and the fact that it was likely becoming a liability) and that it wasn’t the best example of midcentury architecture (in my opinion), it was nice to see its facade all lit up on Saturday night like it was a grand monument. One last moment to shine.

Now the demolition that *does* bug me is one announced just yesterday: the old La Paree restaurant downtown. I realize the four-star hotel going into the Regions building on the corner could use the extra room, but that La Paree sign and the building’s facade are classic! Surely the hotel could repurpose the sign in some form or fashion to keep that color and character for the streetscape?

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1. David - February 20, 2008

Accidentally running across video of the demolition yesterday kind of broke my heart. This is the kind of stuff that happens when you’re in your 40’s, I guess. I moved away from B’ham in ’89, so my memories are probably unreasonably romanticized. Still, I so clearly remember The Parliament House in the 60’s. Don’t know what the ornamental screening draped in front of the windows looked like from the rooms, but the was backlit made the whole structure radiate with light blue coolness at night. So exotic and elegant.

I remember one night, riding in the back seat when I was about 6 or 7, as my mom drove past just as some formal affair was taking place in the round, glass enclosed lobby. I caught a glimpse of a woman in a beautiful evening gown coming down that curved staircase and the image has never left me. That was the moment that I first felt like I understood the meaning of urbanity and sophistication. It’s only hard to believe because, as usual, no one cared enough to maintain what was so glorious about it.

Oh well. I can’t even begin to think about them demolishing La Paree (or, as we sarcastically called it, “La Paree de La Downtown”). They can’t destroy that sign – can they?

2. cbuchanan - February 21, 2008

It glowed light blue at night?! Now *that* would have been worth preserving. It probably looked like a vision from outer space (or at least California) to the Birminghamians seeing it when it was new!


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