Sibyl Temple

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Sibyl Temple in 2006

The Sibyl Temple was originally built in 1929 as a garden gazebo at Vestavia, the Shades Mountain estate of former Birmingham Mayor George Ward. It is a replica of the Temple of Sibyl in Tivoli, Italy near Rome. It now sits atop Shades Mountain along U.S. Highway 31 at Shades Crest Road in Vestavia Hills, which takes its name from the former estate.

Ward designed Sibyl Temple himself, with the details of construction left to architect William Leslie Welton. It is made up of eight 16-foot, steel-reinforced concrete columns supporting a 63-ton, concrete dome roughly 20 feet in diameter. The columns weigh three tons each.

In addition to being a gazebo, it also served as the entrance to a bird santuary on his estate. Ward had planned for Temple to act as a gigantic headstone for his own grave and built a burial crypt in a cave under it. A change in the county law before his death prevented this and he was buried in Elmwood Cemetery instead after his death in 1940.

The temple was originally rose-colored and featured a chandelier, benches, and weather vane. These features were removed and the Temple painted white during restoration efforts by Charles Byrd to turn the deteriorating estate into a restaurant. Vestavia Hills Baptist Church purchased the property in 1958. The church had the house demolished in 1971, but spared the temple, donating it to the Vestavia Hills Garden Club.

In 1976, the Vestavia Hills Garden Club had Harbert Construction Corporation relocate Sibyl Temple from the former estate site to the northern limit of Vestavia Hills at the crest of Shades Mountain adjacent to U.S. Highway 31, establishing it as the symbol of the city. Because the reinforcing bars connected the columns to the dome, blowtorches were needed to dismantle the structure. Because they would not survive the demolition process, castings were made of the Corinthian decorations prior to beginning the work.

The dedication ceremony was held on April 8, 1976 as part of the Vestavia Hills Dogwood Festival. The Garden Club has maintained the temple as a special project since then. On October 28, 1985, the temple was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

In 1991, the Sibyl Temple Foundation was founded as a non-profit organization to promote and preserve the temple. The Foundation now handles the temple's day-to-day operations and manages its grounds. In 2003, the Foundation, in partnership with the Vestavia Hills Garden Club, began a fundraising campaign to restore the temple.

Using these funds, the temple was painstakingly restored in 2004 over four months by restoration artist Ann Beaird. The Foundation and Garden Club continued their fundraising efforts in order to re-landscape, expand the property, and are currently raising money to construct restrooms. Some of the money was raised from the sale of personalized bricks used to pave a walkway surrounding the temple. A $2,500 grant, awarded by the Alabama Historical Commission in 2015, was also applied to the maintenance of the historic structure.

Blue glow

Operation Blue Shield in effect on January 27, 2014. AL.com photography by Mark Almond

In September 2013, frames were installed over the temple's uplights so that mylar gels could be added to cast a blue-tinted glow onto the white temple. The project was undertaken as part of the Vestavia Hills Police Department's Operation Blue Shield traffic fatality awareness initiative. The lighting, inspired by the former use of Vulcan's torch as a traffic safety beacon, is tinted blue for 24 hours following a traffic fatality in the city. The blue glow is intended to memorialize the lives lost and to remind others to drive carefully.

The special lighting was first used on January 27, 2014. An accident the previous morning on I-65 claimed the life of Michael O'Bryant Chatmon, a truck driver from Childersburg.


References

  • "History of the Sibyl Temple." (n.d.) [1] Sibyl Temple Foundation. Accessed January 19, 2007.
  • Riley, Cindy. (Summer 2004). "Vestavia's Sibyl Temple." [2] Alabama Heritage. University of Alabama Press.
  • Almond, Mark (January 28, 2014) "Vestavia Hills' Sibyl Temple glows blue after a traffic fatality." The Birmingham News
  • Turpin, Katie (February 24, 2015) "Garden club shares Sibyl’s history" Vestavia Voice

External links