Glen Iris Park

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Glen Iris Park is a 40-acre residential subdivision, the namesake of the Glen Iris neighborhood in Birmingham's Southside.

The subdivision was developed beginning in 1898 when Robert Jemison Sr, Rufus Rhodes and Stephen Thompson formed the City Land Company and purchased the property in a hollow or "glen" north of Red Mountain from William Walker's Walker Land Company for $4,000. Jemison hired landscape architect Samuel Parsons and architect Thomas Walter III to assist in creating what was to be Birmingham's first professionally-landscaped residential park. Norman Schoel drafted the final plat of the property, and landscape gardener G. E. Luffman supervised the planting of oaks, maples and spruces shading terraces of Kentucky bluegrass in the central park space.

The twenty estate-sized home lots at the heart of the development were sold to friends and associates of the incorporators with restrictive covenants, including the use and maintenance of the five-acre park space and the semi-private drive encircling it which was accessed from a gated entry on 16th Avenue South near 10th Place South. Another twenty-four small house lots fronting on 11th Place South were also part of the 40-acre subdivision, but were sold off without the amenities and restrictions applied to the estate lots on the circle.

Among the restrictions agreed upon by owners of the estate lots were to build only one residence per lot, with a minimum initial construction cost of $3,000, to preserve a minimum lot frontage of 100 feet in the case of resubdivision, a responsibility to share in the maintenance of the shared amenities by means of a $25 annual fee, and a provision that no one could sell their lot without the unanimous consent of their neighbors. Jemison reserved Lots 14, 16 and 18 for himself, and commissioned his architect, Thomas Walter, to design his own house on the combined lot, which was completed in 1902.

Thirteen of the houses were completed before 1910, and the last three original houses were completed before 1930. After World War II many of the large homes remained in the hands of aging residents a generation or two removed from the first builders. After their children (and servants) moved out, their incomes were strained to keep up maintenance, leading to the loss of three historic homes from condemnation. Nevertheless, residents were proud of their subdivision and wary of social changes, such as the growth of the Medical Center, which were perceived as threatening the community's future.

In 1970 the Alabama Land Investment Corp. and Redman Development of Houston, Texas proposed to build a 900-unit apartment complex at Glen Iris Park. They pledged to respect the natural terrain by terracing the apartment buildings, and to preserve most of the trees in the central open space which would feature a swimming pool, tennis, handball and volleyball courts and a large clubhouse. The developer noted that the redevelopment would increase the ad valorum tax payments to the city from Glen Iris Park from around $3,500 to $205,000 per year.

Glen Iris residents, believing that change was inevitable, voted unanimously in favor of selling out at the above-market prices offered, and the Birmingham City Council approved rezoning the subdivision to R-6. The agreement, however, failed to move forward after William Anderton, a non-resident Glen Iris Park property owner, objected. A provision in the agreement to recommend for a return to single-family zoning was not acted upon. The attorney involved in drafting the agreement died in a traffic accident before the matter was brought back to the City Council.

A Glen Iris Neighborhood Group was formed in 1975 with George Bohorfoush as president. They petitioned the City Council to reverse the rezoning back to single family, but were unsuccessful in a 1978 vote. Council member Larry Langford complained that the debate was moot since the use of the property was restricted by covenant. Anderton argued in favor of keeping the R-6 zoning because the ability to rent out rooms would help generate income so that owners could maintain the aging houses.

The group also supported historical research that allowed the subdivision to be added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 30, 1984.



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