South Highlands of East Lake Historic District
The South Highlands of East Lake Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places [†] in 2003.
A residential neighborhood located in eastern Birmingham, Alabama, South Highlands is part of the East Lake neighborhood, one of Birmingham's oldest planned communities (1886) and one of its earliest streetcar suburbs. The original East Lake development consisted of approximately 60 city blocks laid off on a typical grid pattern. These blocks surrounded a lake complete with bathhouse, pavilions, boathouses, and a hotel. In their efforts to create a desirable suburban neighborhood with the amenities of urban life, the developers of East Lake coaxed religious and educational institutions to their planned community. In 1887, the East Lake Land Company offered the trustees of Howard College 60 acres of land lying along the southern boundary of the original East Lake development. The trustees accepted their offer and moved Howard College from the small town of Marion in Perry County, Alabama to the new location in East Lake. In the early twentieth century, however, the East Lake Land Company began to develop those lands to the south and west of the original neighborhood, creating Central Highlands, South Highlands of East Lake (to differentiate this development from the earlier South Highlands neighborhood located south of downtown Birmingham), Howard College Estates, and Lakewood. The streets of Central Highlands and South Highlands of East Lake were plotted in 1906 and three years later, on March 20, 1909, the plans for Lakewood were filed with the city engineer. Due to the close proximity of South Highlands of East Lake to Howard College, the officers of the East Lake Land Company named the streets and avenues for universities and towns that were home to other institutions of higher learning. Soon, residents of South Highlands found themselves living on Ann Arbor, Oxford, Rugby, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Vanderbilt Streets. Similarly, streets in the Central Highlands neighborhood were named for European cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, and Naples.
While the developers of East Lake laid off the original neighborhood (1886) in a typical grid pattern, by 1909, real estate planners and developers had abandoned this particular plan for ones which complemented the natural terrain of the hills and mountains surrounding Birmingham. Robert Jemison, Sr., a principal investor in the East Lake development, had abandoned the grid pattern for his subdivisions at Glen Iris. In 1910, the East Lake Land Company would annex the Roebuck Springs addition, a residential suburb lying immediately north of South Highlands that included the city's first professionally designed golf course, pleasure drives, gardens, and clubhouse. Located at the foot of Ruffiier Mountain with rolling terrain, portions of East Lake were ill suited for the typical grid pattern of development. For the South Highlands section of East Lake, the land company chose to construct a broad avenue, Rugby Avenue, running in a semi-circle from Oporto-Madrid Boulevard at the southwest to 83rd Street at the northeast. Vassar Avenue runs parallel to Rugby for a short distance. The resulting lot configuration of the district, therefore, is an extension of the grid system with irregularly sized block and some triangular blocks containing 18 to 24 lots adjoining or near a semi-circular avenue.
One of the most interesting architectural aspects of the South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is the Spanish Revival style architecture. These dwellings are attributed to George Turner, a Birmingham architect who drafted plans for over 30 Spanish Revival style houses in eastern Birmingham as well as a number of homes in the Hollywood section of Homewood. These houses are usually one-story with flat roofs hidden behind low-lying parapet walls that are often capped with ceramic tiles. The exterior chimneys are typically capped with elaborate roofs. These dwellings are embellished with partial-width porches with spiral columns, semi-circular arches and tiled floors.
The most prevalent architectural style in the South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is Bungalow/Craftsman. These structures are primarily frame with cross-gable roofs, wide overhanging eaves with exposed rafter ends, partial or full-width porches supported by tapered posts on low piers. While some Bungalows/Craftsman dwellings have brick piers, a number of them in the South Highlands district have rubblestone foundations, balustrades and piers.
Included in the South Highlands Historic District are examples of Tudor Revival style dwellings. All of these houses feature brick veneered exterior wall material and most have exterior end or front-facing chimneys, some are often capped with decorative chimney pots. These houses feature complex rooflines; steeply pitched roofs are often pierced with gable-roofed dormers or are broken by projecting wall dormers rising above arched windows. The entrances are often set in gable-roofed projections that typically are embellished with decorative stone quoins framing an arched single-leaf entrance. Almost all of the Tudor Revival dwellings contain a porch, located on the facade or to one side, often supported by arched brick piers with radiating voussoirs and decorative keystones.
The Colonial Revival dwellings in the South Highlands of East Lake Historic District are simple one-story frame cottages covered in wooden shingles. Typically, they have symmetrical facades, side-gable roofs, exterior-end chimneys, and a small porch supported by classical colonettes. There are two examples of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture with gambrel roofs accommodating shed roof dormers.
The South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is the fourth district created from the East Lake development, one of Birmingham's earliest streetcar suburbs. The other historic districts are East Lake, Lakewood and Howard College Estates. Each of these districts reflects a separate phase of development by the East Lake Land Company. The properties encompassed in the district are representative local interpretations of their respective styles and also retain their architectural integrity. The South Highlands of East Lake neighborhood contains an impressive collection of early to mid-twentieth architecture reflecting the development and growth of this streetcar suburb from 1906 to 1952.
In 1886, Robert Jemison and a group of industrialists planned the East Lake neighborhood as a residential community that would be free of the smoke and other annoyances of an iron manufacturing town. The developers of East Lake laid off the district in a typical grid pattern with broad avenues and cross streets. The focal point of the development was a fine park, which boasted a lake, bath house, pavilions, a hotel, zoo and boat houses. By 1910, East Lake contained a town hall, schools, fire department, churches and dummy lines that connected the community with Birmingham and other industrial sites within the Birmingham District. East Lake soon enjoyed the reputation as the most complete of the smaller towns within the Birmingham District. Jemison had created an ideal suburban neighborhood for the average middle-class American. Due to the success of the original East Lake development, in 1906 the East Lake Land Company laid off the South Highlands and Central Highlands neighborhoods that lay immediately to the south and southwest of the original East Lake development.
Th South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is made up of approximately 54 whole and half city blocks with the historic East Lake neighborhood. This residential district lies south and northeast of the East Lake Historic District. The South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is made up of most of the original plat of the 1906 addition to East Lake and subsequent southerly and northeasterly historic outgrowth. The earliest houses in the district date circa 1910 illustrating that many of the houses were constructed soon after the subdivision was platted and developed.
Reflecting the historical development of this suburban neighborhood during the period of significance is a wealth of early twentieth century architecture. Included in the district are impressive examples of a variety of architectural styles, forms and trends including Craftsman/Bungalow, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Revival and vernacular pyramidal roof and L and T-cottages. Particularly significant is the collection of Spanish Revival houses designed by Birmingham architect George Turner. The majority of structures are generally one to one-and-a-half stories and of frame construction. A number of structures have brick or stucco wall treatment. Generally, the dwellings are quite modest in terms of scale, materials, and design. The neighborhood has a high degree of integrity.
Overall, the South Highlands of East Lake Historic District is an early to mid-twentieth century middle-class neighborhood in Birmingham. The wealth of historic architecture clearly demonstrates the neighborhood's historical development during the period of significance.
† Adapted from: Jeff Mansell, Christy Anderson, AHC National Register Coordinator, Mansell & Company, Inc., South Highlands of East Lake Historic District, Jefferson County, Alabama, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.