An interesting article from the New York Times, highlighted the work of Catherine Sloss Crenshaw to transform an area in inner-city Birmingham, Alabama. There she has bought properties through her family company, Sloss Real Estate. This includes the Pepper Place development that she bought for $400,000 in 1988. Eleven years later she bought the 51,000-square-foot Martin Biscuit building for $500,000.
Following an investment of $12.9 million in Pepper Place, a former Dr. Pepper syrup factory, today is a hub for design professionals with showrooms, galleries, studios, offices, a winery, and even a small community theater.
The impulse for Crenshaw to become a planner came from recognizing how suburban development was eating up farmland in areas surrounding the city center. In 2006 she received a Loeb Fellowship to attend the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. From what she learned there she developed a master plan for Pepper Place and for a farmer's market.
As a brief aside, the Loeb Fellowship program recently celebrated its 40th anniversary since being founded. Over 300 mid-career professionals have participated in enrichment activities through the program.
As a descendant of the Alabama city's founders, there is a personal element to the work of Mrs. Crenshaw. Her family formed Sloss Real Estate 90 years ago around 1921. The recently completed Railroad Park ends at Pepper Place and the old Sloss Furnaces that are now a National Historic Landmark.
A whole separate story could easily be written about Sloss Furnaces. The website for the organization that manages the site claims this to be "the only publicly held industrial site in the world." The website continues, "The Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark provides Alabamians with a site in which to mark the beginnings of industrialization in Alabama, and it provides Americans from every state with a place in which to visualize the process of iron-making that has been vital to our nation's economy for over a century."
Preservation of the Sloss Furnaces site is a a story in and of itself. When threatened with demolition in the 1970's, the City of Birmingham purchased the property. Birmingham voters passed a $3.3 million bond to begin the work of preserving the ironmaking plant. The site received National Historic Landmark designation in 1981, and opened its doors in September 1983.
A vibrant creative and arts community has emerged around the Sloss Furnaces, Pepper Place, and the surrounding neighborhood. Special events held throughout the year include a Historic Ghost Tour and the Stokin' the Fire BBQ Festival. A National Conference on Cast Iron Art is being planned for April 13-16.