by M. David Hornbuckle
A few years ago, if you drove up First Avenue North from downtown up to 55th Street, you would have seen garbage on the street, depressed buildings, and few people. What was once a vibrant neighborhood in Birmingham had lost much of its luminescence. Once-beautiful historic buildings had fallen into disrepair.
The old Masonic Temple at 5504 First Avenue North was one of those buildings, at least until 2004 when the building was purchased by Community Property Development. During renovations, they began to uncover the layers that had hidden this great piece of Birmingham history for decades.
In 2008, business partners Tazmine Morton-Stephens and Andrew Morrow bought it and began additional renovations. Morton-Stephens and Morrow have transformed the building into Woodrow Hall, featuring two large multi-purpose reception halls on the second and third floors. The owners rent out additional space in the building to a doctor’s office, a lawyer’s office, and the Desert Island Supply Company—an organization that arranges writing workshops and tutoring for area youth.
The building was erected in 1914 and used by the Masons off and on until about 2005. “There were a lot of secrets here,” Morton-Stephens says, “and ghosts too. During a consultation with a bride, the client's florist said he could sense a spirit by the name of Joshua. He assured me that he was a friendly spirit who used to work on the floor below years ago. He mentioned that he was carrying a case with a cross on it. I was totally freaked, but, with a building this old, there must be dozens of stories . . . We’re thinking about doing an event here for Halloween.”
The partners bought the building because they are very interested in revitalization of the Woodlawn neighborhood. Morton-Stephens says, "It’s actually our main goal. We’re hoping that with us being here, the neighborhood will be more attractive to other business owners. And we’re hoping that people who left this area years ago will want to return." They named the building Woodrow Hall after a prominent philanthropic family that had lived in the Woodlawn neighborhood during its halcyon days. "The Woodrows live in Crestview now. They’ve been very supportive of what we’ve been doing," she says.
Although the bread-and-butter business of Woodrow Hall is weddings and receptions, Morton-Stephens says she is very interested in hosting all types of events. Already, a monthly retro dance party called "Friday on My Mind" has found its home at Woodrow Hall. Local band the Delicate Cutters held a CD-release party at the hall this past summer. “People really enjoy going to see live music at a venue that isn’t a loud, smoky bar,” Morton-Stephens says.
More music and alternative events are scheduled in the coming months.
See http://woodrowhall.com for more information about the venue.