Protective Life building
- This article is about the downtown building. For the Office Park building, see Protective Life building (1976) and for the current headquarters on Highway 280, see Protective Life headquarters.
The Protective Life Company building (also called the Commerce Center) is a 14-story, 168-foot-tall building located at 2027 1st Avenue North, on the southwest corner of Richard Arrington, Jr Boulevard North.
It was constructed for the Protective Life Insurance Company in 1928 on the foundations of the earlier 3-story Birmingham Ledger building, the frame and foundations of which had been designed to carry a much taller structure. The design, by Warren, Knight and Davis, is an elegant, elongated Art Deco-influenced neo-gothic with cream-colored terra-cotta trim and a cornice punctuated by pointed battlements. A steeply-pitched copper hip roof crowns the penthouse with an engaged elevator tower on the west side. The building was constructed by Foster S. Creighton.
The lobby, behind a large pointed arched opening on the west side of the north facade, is clad in pink and beige marble with a dark, vaulted ceiling and a mural, Protective, which depicts a guardian angel sheltering a child.
In addition to Protective Life Insurance, early tenants included Warren, Knight and Davis, which moved their offices to the 7th floor, and radio station WAPI-AM, which took part of the 14th floor and began broadcasting from an antenna mounted over the elevator tower on December 31, 1928.
During the 1960s the building was known for its chimes, which played the opening refrain from "Dixie" before striking the hour. A Britling Cafeteria operated in the building in the early 1960s.
Protective life moved out of the building to a new headquarters at Mountain Brook's Office Park in 1976. The building was purchased by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and adorned with a large vertical neon "Commerce Center" sign.
The chamber sold the property in 2002 to Atlanta's Inman Park Properties for $1.1 million. The developer relocated most of the tenants from the nearby Brown Marx Building to the Commerce Center in anticipation of redeveloping the larger tower into apartments. That project was later abandoned.
In 2009 the building's tenants were asked to relocate elsewhere. Ownership fell into the hands of the Citizens Trust Bank. In early 2011, LAH Commercial announced the sale of the 71,000-square foot building to an undisclosed buyer. No redevelopment plans were announced.
- Reston, James (September 20, 1963) "Birmingha: 'Look Away...Look Away, Look Away Dixie Land." The New York Times
- White, Marjorie Longenecker (1977) Downtown Birmingham: Architectural and Historical Walking Tour Guide. Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society.
- Schnorrenberg, John M. (1999) Remembered Past, Discovered Future: The Alabama Architecture of Warren, Knight & Davis, 1906-1961. Birmingham: Birmingham Museum of Art. ISBN 0931394430
- "Chamber finally sells Commerce Center" (September 11, 2002) Birmingham Business Journal
- Natta, André (February 24, 2009) "Downtown’s former Protective Life building empties" The Terminal
- Tomberlin, Michael (January 9, 2011) "Sale means new life for old Protective Life tower." The Birmingham News