As you are driving down the interstate in rural Alabama one of the most unlikely road names you expect to see is Mercedes Drive!
That is until you exit and find car carriers leaving with new Mercedes Benz SUVs.
Over the last 25 years most non domestic car makers have built factories in the U.S., and Mercedes is no different. Their facility here is first class – an almost 4 million square feet manufacturing plant…
A state of the art training facility…
And a beautiful visitor center.
Normally you can go to the visitor center and take tours of the factory but they are retooling and the tours are shut down.
The visitor center however remains open with their museum to tour.
It features some recent models from AMG.
Lewis Hamilton’s Petronas F1 car.
The display included a concept car.
The museum portion have some very early examples of Mercedes.
The classic 1970s MB look.
The pre war years were very stylish.
It was disappointing that the factory tours are unavailable, but the small museum was worth the stop.
The Barber Motorsports Museum is located in suburban Birmingham in the town of Leeds. It is hands down one of the very best Motorsports museums in the world.
With over 1600 motorcycles from over 200 manufacturers it is the preeminent collection. Over 900 are displayed in the 200,000+ square foot museum, along with 100 cars. Oh yeah, a world class road course race track is on the grounds as well that Porsche uses for their racing school.
Please note with that many options for photos this posting is quite long, with over 40 photos. But words don’t do the venue justice so the photos will speak for themselves.
Despite what Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, or even Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana say, Rickwood Field in Birmingham is America’s oldest baseball stadium.
Opened in 1910 it is in amazingly similar look and condition to the day it was opened.
While it is no longer used regularly for the minor league Birmingham Barons, it still sees some use with a tribute game by the Barons, as well as other use.
Most frequently it is used as a movie set for retro baseball movies, as well as local colleges.
As you enter the stadium you are greeted with old entry gates, not metal detectors.
The lineups are written on a chalkboard.
Going into the box seats you have a fence surrounding the home plate area for protection from foul balls.
The seats are still all wood, not plastic.
For most a large roof protects you from the hot Alabama summer sun.
Looking down the stands towards the press box. The original press box was a tiny 4 person booth on the roof, but this one was added for a period piece movie and it was left as it is more functional.
We were permitted to go onto the perfectly manicured field to check it out. The center field fence seems far away from here.
Also note how much foul ground there is behind home plate – many would be foul balls likely turn into outs here.
Looking down first base toward right field show the unusual cantilevered light towers.
Left field is similar, with a ‘batting barn’ built further off to the left.
A view from home plate back towards the stands again show the foul territory.
Despite it’s minimal use, they keep the field in perfect condition.
The view of the right field stands are far longer than those along left field. When this stadium was built in 1910 Forbes Field in Pittsburgh had just been completed as the standard in stadium design, and the architects here used essentially the same design – albeit with much less seating than the major league stadium.
As we make our way into the outfield you can see the advertising along the outfield fence. This was a common practice in the early 1900s, and the advertising that is there is either period advertising, or new companies with the ads made to look period correct.
The scoreboard has been restored to the early 1900s look, with the scorekeeping done manually.
The teams listed would be those from the 1930s – Atlanta is still in the Southern League, and Brooklyn still has the Dodgers.
Birmingham is happy to see you.
Even the Vulcan is present.
The ads are very cool.
Another sign of the history of the south – there were all white teams, and all black teams. Rickwood Field hosted both Birmingham teams.
This practice ended in the 1950s.
The right field stands.
Rickwood Field is easily one of the best baseball ‘park’s I have ever seen. While it has been made retro for Hollywood , it really works nicely.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is located at the base of a large hill in the southern part of the city. Since it’s opening to this day there is no admission charge to the gardens, it is there for the pleasure of the residents (and visitors).
There are a few sculptures throughout the gardens.
By mid May the flowers in Alabama are in full bloom.
There are 30 different gardens on the 67 acres. The most interesting was the Asian gardens.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a nice place to spend a couple of hours in the cool of a May Alabama morning.
For more than 100 years Birmingham was the center of manufacturing for the southern United States. It was often referred to as Pittsburgh of the South in reference to all of the steel mills. As with Pittsburgh, the industry has for the most part left town.
As with the northern industrial cities there was significant investment in civic culture, and in Birmingham there is none better than the main library.
While the primary entrance is a modern building, across the street is the Linn-Henley Research Library. Built in 1927 it reflects the art deco style of the period.
The building is most known for the Ezra Winter murals. Most depict historic events such as below left – Dante and Virgil. On the right is Don Quixote.
In addition to the murals, the main reading room has a fantastic ceiling.
The west side of the room shows the interesting mix of the murals with the art deco balcony railings.
Ezra Winter was raised in Michigan, but spent his early adult years in Europe where he was classically trained in painting. Interestingly they were completed in New York City and applied to the Birmingham Library walls with white lead.
The Children’s Library has a mural depicting fairy tales.
A seemingly out of place modern art piece is also present.
The library, county courthouse and city hall all frame a public park. As they were all built about the same time all reflect the art deco style.
The courthouse was designed by the famed Chicago firm of Holabird & Root.
Reliefs high up on the building reflect local history.
Outside is the Statue of Liberty – well a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Murals depicting the history of the region are in the lobby of the courthouse. This mural, entitled Old South, has caused great controversy as it depicts slaves picking cotton. A multi racial committee of 16 reached a consensus that they would create a retractable cover that would obscure them except during educational tours.
They apparently haven’t yet decided to cover up their history as it was available for us to see.
The accompanying mural entitled ‘New South’ depicts the industrial work. As previously noted, the industry is gone, so I suppose they will have to come up with a ‘New New South’, depicting Birmingham’s current major employers including Education, Finance and Engineering firms.
As part of the agreement on the Old South mural, a new mural entitled Justice Is Blind was added with a modern collection of symbols that show, among others, a black lady justice along with a white lady justice.
Less controversial is the scales of justice relief as well as the art deco clock.
The final building in the area is Birmingham City Hall.
City Hall has a gallery of noteworthy city residents over the years.
While not a Birmingham resident, Martin Luther King was instrumental in bringing social justice to the city, and is honored with a portrait in the gallery.
Birmingham turned out to be far nicer than I was expecting. It is a city that is recognizing it’s past (good and bad), and moving forward into the future.