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Birmingham’s Red Cross Building to Become Loft Apartments

Old buildings are like people, they adapt to change and weather the bad times with the good. Among downtown Birmingham’s large inventory of older buildings is one that’s been repurposed several times over its 100-year history and sat vacant for two decades before its latest transformation.

Located on Third Avenue North, the original one-story building was constructed in 1923 as the city’s Municipal Market and additional floors were added over the years. The now five-story building has housed the American Red Cross and the Social Security Administration, and was re-clad with limestone panels to create a more modern, sleeker appearance.

In 2004, Operation New Birmingham put the 125,000 square-foot building on their 12 Most Wanted list of downtown buildings in need of renovation. Birmingham-based Hendon + Huckestein Architects is creating a plan to convert long neglected building into a 192-unit apartment complex called Market Lofts on Third.

The building today is identified as being in the International architectural style. Two floors were added to the building in 1957 for the Social Security Administration in this style that was typical at that time with regular pattern of windows and little building ornamentation, observes Erik Hendon, principal of Hendon + Huckestein Architects. 

“We will maintain the exterior image but will add new windows on the west façade for units as well as cutting a five-story light-well in the middle of the building for natural lighting,” he explains.

The building lends itself well to loft conversion. The floor-to-floor heights are more generous than a “typical” multi-family development allowing taller ceilings, Hendon notes.  He says the historic tax credits will not allow exposed structure, but the floor plate volume allows narrower “shotgun” lofts with multiple studio configuration available to tenants.

The $30 million project is expected to take 14 months, two months for demolition and abatement and another 12 months for the rehabilitation. The apartments are “workforce” and “naturally occurring affordable housing,” meaning rents affordable to those making 60 percent of the mean average. A few larger two-bedroom units will have market-rate rents. Workforce housing is a term that is increasingly used by planners, government and organizations concerned with housing policy or advocacy.

David Schneider of Schneider Historic Preservation in Anniston is a consultant on the project, who notes that the building will be rehabilitated in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation for a compatible use as apartments.

“Having been extensively remodeled in 1975 and having sat vacant since 1998, the building has suffered a loss of considerable historic fabric and moisture-related deterioration,” Schneider says. “The project will return the building to productive use and will stop further deterioration. The building’s essential character-defining historic fabric and features will typically be retained and repaired as needed to match existing adjacent and/or documented historic conditions in design, materials and workmanship.”

The original building as looked in the 1920s when it was built as the city’s Municipal Market and additional floors were added over the years.

The exterior of the building as it looks today after it was renovated in the mid-20th century in what was then the popular International style. The building, originally a one-story city-owned market with vendor stalls, has undergone major renovation over the decades.
The first-floor plan for the five-story building. The floor-to-floor heights are more generous than a “typical” multi-family development allowing taller ceiling.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Image Courtesy of Hendon + Huckestein Architects and Birmingham Public Library Archives online

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