The Ramsay-McCormack building, also known as the Bank of Ensley building, is a 10-story, 144 foot tall art-deco style office tower designed by Harry Breeding and completed in 1929 on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street Ensley in downtown Ensley.
Investment partners Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack of the Ramsay-McCormack Development Company announced the project in 1926 as a 6-story, $200,000 office building. It was built on one of four blocks they had purchased from James C. Warner, winner of the auction of former Ensley Land Company properties in 1898. The corner lot was the former site of the Ensley Hotel and the Fields and Goodwin Drug Store.
At Ramsay's suggestion, the 50-foot by 100-foot building was expanded to 10 stories during construction and also includes a two-level mechanical penthouse and a full basement. Flooding of the foundation caused delays in the first stages of construction. The top floor is set back 5 feet all around with a balcony. The structure is formed of a cast-in-place concrete frame with perimeter columns and one row of interior supports. The frame is filled in with structural clay tile walls and clad in beige brick. The ground floor is trimmed with brown granite and terra cotta. Additional terra cotta details ornament the window surrounds and the roof parapet. The lobby has marble floors and walls and a barrel-vault coffered plaster ceiling. The building contains three elevators and one stair.
The Ramsay-McCormack building housed the Bank of Ensley on the ground floor as well as the developer's offices and local offices for U. S. Steel. Fields and Goodwin returned to the building after completion. The tenant spaces were never completely leased. Rumors that the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company might relocate from Birmingham's Brown-Marx Building never materialized.
Despite a 1970 renovation, the closure of U. S. Steel's Ensley Works left much of the building vacant. It was closed in 1979 and acquired by the City of Birmingham in 1983. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and has been empty since 1986.
In 1998 Birmingham funded a feasibility study for possible renovation of the building which was proposed by the Ensley Community Issues Forum and the Bethel-Ensley Action Task. ArchitectureWorks prepared the study, which found the underlying structure to be sound, but also documented numerous deficiencies in the soundness of the roof and balcony levels, and in the provision of egress stairs. Asbestos was found in some of the interior finishes and in pipe insulation throughout the structure. The study recommended low-income housing as the best use of the building and developed preliminary plans to be priced. Stone Building Company estimated that the project as drawn could be completed for $4.65 million. Censeo, Inc then performed a financial analysis to detail funding options. They determined that if the market for housing was sufficient and if a variety of tax credits, loans and grants were secured, that the project could be funded. The proposal, however, did not move forward.
As the structure continued to deteriorate over the ensuing decade, the Alabama Trust for HIstoric Preservation added the structure to its "Places in Peril" list for 2008. In Spring of the same year New York-based development group Veristar Holdings made a $12-14 million proposal to convert the former office tower into 45-50 apartments for seniors. Under an agreement approved by the Birmingham City Council's Budget and Finance Committee the city would remove lead and asbestos and then sell the building to Veristar. When that proposal failed, attorney Antonio Spurling filed a lawsuit against the city for failing to adequately maintain the property. He dropped the suit when a city attorney promised him that renovations would proceed. Mayor William Bell has said that such renovations were a priority for his administration, but if no deal could be reached, the city would tear it down to open the way for more suitable redevelopment.
In 2009 attorney [[[Antonio Spurling]] filed a lawsuit seeking to force the city to either restore or demolish the building. He dropped the suit when the city pledged to initiate redevelopment and appropriated $900,000 to those efforts. With no tangible results of that pledge, Spurling joined with the Ensley Revitalization Committee, Hope International and Playover Games & Movies in a 2012 suit which called for demolition of the vacant tower and damages for neighboring property owners. At the same time, Operation New Birmingham/Main Street Birmingham was negotiating with the city to spend about $808,000 in additional public money to abate hazardous materials, stabilize the exterior and install a new roof as part of efforts to market the property.
- "Industrial Activities" (September 1926) Birmingham magazine. Vol. 2, No. 9, p. 11 - accessed May 31, 2008 via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Prince, A. G. (1982) Landmarks of Ensley: Past and Present. revised edition. Ensley: Best Printing Service
- ArchitectureWorks (November 30, 1998) "A Feasibility Study: Proposed Rehabilitation of the Ramsay-McCormack Building in the Ensley Community."
- Gordon, Robert K. (May 31, 2008) "Ensley building named to endangered list may get new life." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (June 3, 2008) "Jeffco [sic] council endorses Ensley tower restoration, seeks raises for non-classified workers." The Birmingham News
- Ruisi, Anne (November 12, 2008) "Alabama recommends Ensley skyscraper for National Register." The Birmingham News
- Williams, Roy L. (October 14, 2011) "New Ensley Business Resource Center aims for area's revitalization." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (October 24, 2012) "Birmingham officials seek revival of old Ensley office tower as neighbors sue to demolish longtime blight." The Birmingham News
 External links
- Ramsay-McCormack building on Emporis.com