Vulcan Park is a 10-acre public park first constructed in the late 1930s as a setting to house the statue of Vulcan on Red Mountain, overlooking the city. The statue of Vulcan, along with the tower and the park grounds, underwent a significant program of restoration in 1999.
After his return from the 1904 St Louis World's Fair, Vulcan was displayed at the Alabama State Fairgrounds. His uplifted arm had been damaged in transit and was re-cast and attached at the wrong angle, without a spear. He was used for advertising and re-painted several times.
As early as the late 1920s community leaders were looking for a more suitable setting for the iconic statue. A committee formed by the Birmingham City Commission, Birmingham Park and Recreation Board and the Birmingham Kiwanis Club secured assistance from the Federal Works Progress Administration to develop a park alongside Montgomery Highway on Red Mountain.
Warren Knight & Davis collaborated with parks superintendent R. S. Marshall on a design for the park layout and the 126-foot tall sandstone pedestal for the statue. A pair of broad stone stairways followed the hillside down to a parking area, with a cascade of water flowing between them. A visitor's center and office was constructed adjacent to the parking area. The grounds were planted with grass and flowers and a paved overlook, called "Prayer Point" formed the north edge of the park, with a view into Jones Valley.
The park was dedicated with ten-day "Vulcan Dedication Celebration" from May 7 to May 17, 1939. The festival included a pageant with a cast of 1,200 on four stages accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra and "kaleidoscopic" lighting effects. The statue and its park setting remained the city's most recognizable landmark and tourist destination over the ensuing decades.
In November 1944 Mrs Guy Orr and Mrs W. A. Norton of the William Speer Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution organized a project to plant 200 pink dogwoods along the road from Old Montgomery Highway to the park's parking lot. The Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs and other groups contributed to the $200-500 project, which was anticipated to "compare with the famous cherry blossom trees in Washington." City horticulturist William Avant was assigned to maintain the plantings.
In November 1966 the Women's Committee of 100 arranged for the relocation of Georges Bridges' statue of beloved minister Brother Bryan from Five Points South to an overlook at Vulcan Park, which was dubbed Prayer Point. The kneeling figure was oriented to face the 3rd Presbyterian Church he had led. The statue returned to Southside following a petition drive in 1983.
In anticipation of Birmingham's 1971 centennial the city funded a $1 million overhaul of Vulcan Park. The first phases of the project were paid for out of the city's general fund, to be rapaid when bonds were issued in 1970.
Beginning in 1969 Architect Marion Bradford of Elliott & Bradford designed a major upgrade to park facilities, including a visitors' center with a gift shop and snack area connected to the statue's pedestal by a covered walkway. The pedestal itself was clad in white Alabama marble and an enclosed observation deck was built around its top, connected to the ground by passenger elevator. The base of the pedestal was wrapped with an exhibit gallery. Dunn Construction served as general contractor.
Preliminary plans for beautification of the grounds were commissioned from Chattanooga landscape architect Colman S. Hocham. New ramped walkways were laid out, lined with marble-clad walls and flanked by fountains and flower beds. The renovated park re-opened in 1972.
In 1990 an engineering study concluded that the physical condition of the Vulcan statue had deteriorated to a dangerous level. By the late 1990s the park had been closed. Vulcan was removed for restoration in 1999 and the Vulcan Park Foundation was created to oversee a $14 million restoration of the statue and the park, complete with a new interpretive museum and event center. Brice Building Company performed the work, designed by HKW Architects. Plans included restoring the original tower and stone stairways (without the water cascade). A new elevator was constructed to preserve access for disabled visitors and the Vulcan trail walking trail was constructed along the former Birmingham Mineral Railroad bed.
The project was funded in part by a grant from the U. S. Department of the Interior. The appropriation, secured by Senator Richard Shelby in 2001, was criticized by Senator John McCain of Arizona who introduced an amendment to block the measure. The full Senate voted 87-12 to override his amendment. The project was recognized with an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006.
The Vulcan Park foundation continues to operate the park and visitors center. Access to the museum and observation deck requires the purchase of a ticket. The visitor's center is equipped to host meetings, receptions and other events. The park also schedules frequent public concerts and special events, including Vulcan's birthday party. The foundation uses a plush Vulcan mascot in its educational outreach and marketing efforts. In 2009 it became one of the first institutions to install Ideum MT2 50-inch multi-touch interactive tabletop displays. The park's custom-designed interactive program combines Yahoo! maps and geotagged Flickr content. 
In Spring 2010 the City Council approved $30,000 in extra funding to pay for an exterior sealant to prevent water from coming through the pedestal's stone walls. The work coincided with a scheduled re-painting of the statue itself.
|Giuseppe Moretti · Alabama Mineral Exhibit · Vulcan's dimensions · Alabama State Fairgrounds · Vulcan Dedication Celebration · Vulcan Park · Vulcan Park Foundation · Vulcan's torch · V... The Statue|
- "Visitors to Vulcan Next Year Will See Pink Dogwood Trail." (August 1944) The Birmingham News
- "Architect hired—; Vulcan park beauty plans to be drawn." (December 1969) The Birmingham News
- "Vulcan statue." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 20 Mar 2006, 00:29 UTC. 20 Mar 2006, 00:31 .
- Morris, Philip A. (1995) Vulcan and His Times. Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society.
- Wright, Barnett (March 22, 2010) "Birmingham's Vulcan to get a new paint job." The Birmingham News