Photographic Tour of Slossfield Community Center

“Cast iron production flourished as well, with the raw materials in the area good for certain types of pipe—American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) was founded in Birmingham in 1905. Ultimately, however, the phosphorus content of the iron supply limited the area’s ability to produce high-quality steel products, although it was ideal for foundry pig iron, to the extent that in 1940 Birmingham provided 40 percent of the U.S. supply.” –Carolyn Trent, Center for Business and Economic Research (2007)

 

A majority of Alabamians would readily vocalize their opposition to President Obama’s healthcare initiative, calling it meddlesome, unnecessary, and downright socialist. I grew up in Alabama, so I should know. Little do they realize, however, that universal healthcare began in Birmingham under one of the most popular administrations in American history, a President that 86% of Alabamians supported in the Election of 1936.

A great example of FDR’s New Deal zeitgeist in action was Dr. Thomas Boulware, who delivered 21,000 babies over 62 years in Birmingham. A decade’s worth of those deliveries took place at the Slossfield Community Center, which was built by the WPA during the Great Depression. The Slossfield complex serviced ~50,000 local black citizens in one of the most underprivileged neighborhoods in America.

According to Birmingham public historian, Liz Ellaby:

Boulware crossed [racial] barriers, for a time being one of only a few white doctors to deliver babies in black homes, or perform life-saving Caesarean-sections on black mothers in emergency labors…Nowhere were conditions more extreme than in Slossfield, a district surrounding the American Cast Iron Pipe Co.’s plant, where thousands lived without plumbing, in shotgun houses built on stilts over undrained dirt streets. Seven of the county health department’s 22 “blighted” areas fell in this district, where 8-10 babies died out of every 100 born.

A health wing opened at Slossfield in July 1939, and the maternity ward that hosted Boulware opened in 1940. Although medical journals of the time suggested grand plans for the health center, the end of World War II brought with it the expansion of public health facilities and programs elsewhere in the city. These were specifically designed to serve the black citizenry, and the redirection of funding (to places like the Holy Family Hospital in Ensley) led to the closure of Slossfield’s medical center in 1948.

The rest of Slossfield Community Center was officially shut down in 1954, but evidence suggests that it may have offered educational and recreational opportunities sporadically until 1977. After at least 30 years of sitting empty, it was finally put on the National Historic Register in 2008. Two years later, the Slossfield Branch Library across the road closed as well. The whole block remains a ghost of yesteryear’s north Birmingham.

I’m writing about Slossfield today because I happened to get some good pictures of it when I was home on Christmas break. A friend and I were meeting up at Niki’s West, a standard for Southern “meat & threes.” Unfortunately, Niki’s was closed for the holidays, so we agreed to meet at Jim ‘N Nick’s instead.

I stopped for gas on Finley Blvd before heading to Five Points. I never lived in north Birmingham, so I’d never really noticed the massive yellow building along I-65. As I stood there pumping gas and staring at it, my curiosity got the better of me. I thought the campus was an old high school until I pulled up to it and saw the faded paint on the southern entrance. This, I thought, would make a cool and original article.

Alas, plenty of historians have studied Slossfield before me, but I don’t mind adding to the historical record. Even the photo album on Flickr is better than the pics I took, but I don’t own a $15,000 commercial-grade camera and some of mine are still very unique, so enjoy the visual tour of one of Birmingham’s historical gems.

As always, feel free to use photos elsewhere as long as they are properly cited/linked.

 

Before & After Photos

Front view of Slossfield Community Center in 1937 and 2014
Front view of Slossfield Community Center (Administration Bldg), 1937 (above) and 2014 (below)

 

SE View of the Slossfield Negro Youth Training Center, 1937 and 2014
SE View of the Slossfield Negro Youth Training Center (Education Bldg), 1937 and 2014

 

Aerial view of Slossfield Community Center complex, 1937 and 2014
Aerial view of Slossfield Community Center complex, 1937 and 2014. The front-center building is the “I” shaped Administration Bldg, and going counterclockwise are the Education Bldg, the Recreation Bldg, and the “t” shaped Medical Building.

 

Photographic Tour

Below is the Slossfield Community Center’s administrative building. After this photo, we will work our way counterclockwise around the aerial photo above, to the Education Building (east bldg), Recreation Building (north bldg), and the Medical Building (west bldg).

Facade of Slossfield Community Center's Administrative Building
Facade of Slossfield Community Center’s Administrative Building

 

Slossfield Community Center: Education Building (East)

The east entrance to the Education Bldg
The east entrance to the Education Bldg

 

NE View of Education Bldg
NE View of Education Bldg

 

NE Corner of Education Bldg
NE Corner of Education Bldg

 

Interior shot of Education Bldg
Interior shot of Education Bldg

 

Although not listed in the Historic Register application, the Education Bldg appears to have a basement...a dark and creepy one
Although not listed in the Historic Register application, the Education Bldg appears to have a basement…a dark and creepy one

 

A view of the north side of the Education Bldg, with the Recreation Bldg in the background
A view of the north side of the Education Bldg, with the Recreation Bldg in the background

 

 

Slossfield Community Center: Recreation Building (North)

The corridor between the Education and Recreation buildings
The corridor between the Education and Recreation buildings

 

North entrance to Recreation Bldg
North entrance to Recreation Bldg

 

Performance stage in the gymnasium area
Performance stage in the gymnasium area

 

Southern interior wall of gymansium
Southern interior wall of gymansium

 

While the poured concrete walls of the entire complex are extremely durable, water damage has taken its toll on the interior of all four buildings
While the poured concrete walls of the entire complex are extremely durable, water damage has taken its toll on the interior of all four buildings

 

Eastern-facing hallway
Eastern hallway of Recreation Bldg entrance

 

The toilets had not been used by vagrants, indicating that either local homeless people don't use the complex for housing or that they had the common sense not to "shit where they eat," literally.
The toilets had not been used by vagrants, indicating that either local homeless people don’t use the complex for housing or that they had the common sense not to “shit where they eat,” literally.

 

I'm curious to know where the chalkboard inside this frame went.
I’m curious to know where the chalkboard inside this frame went.

 

VHS tapes got me through childhood. I had the urge to take this and see what it was, but decided to leave the scene as I found it.
VHS tapes got me through childhood. I had the urge to take this and see what it was, but decided to leave the scene as I found it.

 

The set of horizontal Venetian blinds I've ever seen.
The set of horizontal Venetian blinds I’ve ever seen.

 

The boarded up western side of the Recreation Bldg
The boarded up western side of the Recreation Bldg

 

A NW view of the Recreation Bldg
A NW view of the Recreation Bldg

 

Full northern facade of Recreation Bldg
Full northern facade of Recreation Bldg

 

Corridor between Recreation Bldg and Medical Bldg
Corridor between Recreation Bldg and Medical Bldg

 

Rubber tires take between 50-80 years to decompose naturally, so you find the damn things everywhere.
Rubber tires take between 50-80 years to decompose naturally, so you find the damn things everywhere.

 

 

Slossfield Community Center: Medical Building (West)

In this NW view, we see the Medical Bldg in the foreground, with the Recreation Bldg to its east
In this NW view, we see the Medical Bldg in the foreground, with the Recreation Bldg to its east

 

Medical Wing of Slossfield Community Center
NW view of Medical Wing of Slossfield Community Center

 

Northern entrance of Medical Bldg
North entrance of Medical Bldg

 

Northern entryway to Medical Bldg
Northern entry to Medical Bldg

 

Given the relatively recent discovery of poly-chemical plastic products even into the 1950s, it's tempting to assume this chair was placed here after the medical wing's closure in 1948.
Given the relatively recent discovery of poly-chemical plastic products even into the 1950s, it’s tempting to assume this chair was placed here after the medical wing’s closure in 1948.

 

Northwestern corner of Medical Bldg
Northwestern corner of Medical Bldg

 

Bama Foods, which is famous for its grape jam, was founded in Birmingham, AL in 1921. Bama products accounted for 15% of Welch's total sales in 1993, yet the Concord, MA-based parent company shut down the Tarrant, AL plant in 1996.
Bama Foods, which is famous for its grape jam, was founded in Birmingham, AL in 1921. Bama products accounted for 15% of Welch’s total sales in 1993, yet the Concord, MA-based parent company shut down the Tarrant, AL plant in 1996.

 

Have you ever seen Silent Hill? You should.
Have you ever seen Silent Hill? You should.

 

The rooms in this building were all rather small, which made sense when  I finally found out that this was a medical building. One would assume that educational rooms would require space to accommodate 10+ people.
The rooms in this building were small, which made sense when I finally found out that this was a medical building. One would assume that educational rooms would require space to accommodate 10+ people.

 

Computers are extremely flammable. How else do you think we're able to burn CDs?
Computers are extremely flammable. How else do you think we’re able to burn CDs?

 

South entrance to Medical Bldg, Administrative Bldg to the east
South entrance to Medical Bldg, Administrative Bldg to the east

 

In summary, it’s a very interesting building with a lot of history. Unfortunately, it’s also in pretty bad shape, and despite being on the National Historic Register there is no renovation planned for the facility or complex.

If any kind of redevelopment took place in the area, this would be a great candidate for a museum of north Birmingham. However, the trends for population (-0.04%), new households (0%), and new families (-0.16%) within 3 miles of the complex don’t point toward any significant community renaissance in the next 5 years, and Slossfields future appears as bleak as its crumbling, yellow façade.

 

Share this:Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Follow us:Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather