- This article is about the Birmingham city park. For the radio program, see Avondale Park (radio program).
Avondale Park is a 40-acre wooded park on the slopes of Red Mountain, with its entrance at the south end of 41st Street South as it meets 5th Avenue South. It overlooks, and is named for, the City of Avondale, which was annexed into Birmingham in 1910.
Originally the park area was an informal resting spot among natural springs along the Georgia Road. The "Big Springs" appeared on maps of the area before the Civil War. The property was part of a large grant of land given to two-time Jefferson County Sheriff Abner Killough in 1858 and was the site of a minor skirmish that left his wife wounded. He sold the property to Peyton King, who built a house next to the spring. King, in turn, sold his holdings to the Avondale Land Company in 1887.
Whether by agreement with King at the time it was purchased, sentiment for preserving open green spaces, or the mere fact that the steep hillside and spring-fed basin would be less than ideal for building, the expansive 40 acre park gave Avondale a true recreation spot. Since 1885 a mule-powered streetcar had been bringing people from Birmingham to the springs to bathe and picnic. The streetcar line was upgraded to electrical power and the resort became among the most popular day trip destinations in the region. Upon Avondale's annexation into Birmingham in 1910, it became the city's largest park.
As it was first developed, rock retaining walls were constructed to enclose wading pools fed by the springs, which were encircled by an iron fence and covered by a wooden shelter. Paved walks wound between the pools and benches and picnic tables were provided, later supplemented by a covered gazebo. Avondale Cave, accessed from above the spring, attracted adventurers into its depths. Enterprising quarrymen also searched the caves to remove slabs of marble, processed at the nearby Avondale Marble Factory. The spring outlet and cave entrances were sealed off in the 1930s.
Many landscape improvements, including a nationally-renowned rose garden, were pursued by Mayor George Ward. Over time athletic fields and gravel walkways were added. In 1911 cages were erected for a small menagerie of animals that would later grow to constitute Birmingham's first public zoo. The star attraction was "Miss Fancy", an erstwhile circus elephant purchased by the city. Other animals on exhibit included a bison, two cows, Dick the rattlesnake, a llama, two bears, an assortment of foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons and wildcats, along with monkeys, rabbits and water fowl. The zoo was shuttered in 1934 as too expensive to maintain.
A large wooden grandstand was constructed at the park's northeast corner for the spectacular pageant in celebration of Birmingham's 50th Anniversary in 1921. That same year the Birmingham City Commission sponsored the construction and operation of a Model Poultry Farm with room for 350 birds.
Several improvements were made to Avondale Park with funds from a municipal bond issue in 1931. A picturesque pavilion, known as the Avondale Villa and designed by Burnham & Greer, was constructed on the hill at the rear of the park. A new stone amphitheater, designed by landscape architect Rubee Pearse was constructed just south of the lagoon. The rose garden's central gazebo was replaced with a larger octagonal shelter, and another picnic pavilion was built on the western side of the park. In 1936 the Birmingham Civic Symphonic Orchestra began playing Sunday afternoon free concerts at the park as a public service.
Along with other Birmingham parks, Avondale Park was closed by order of the Birmingham City Commission in defiance of court-ordered racial integration in 1963. After it reopened, the tradition of free Sunday concerts resumed, with local bands playing folk and rock for crowds of young people, especially those leaning toward counter-cultural ideals and expressions. Neighbors' complaints about drug use and other activities occasionally brought the Birmingham Police Department to clear the park.
Promoters began brought touring bands to Avondale Park, including The Mystics with Lionel Richie, Plymouth Rock, and a landmark sellout show by the Allman Brothers in 1969. The concerts continued through the mid 1970s. The happenings at the park attracted other services to the area. A free health clinic treated drug overdoses and Jack Douglas launched "His House", a Christian ministry and commune nearby.
In the late 1970s, Avondale Park was considered as the site of a handicapped-accessible playground to be jointly developed by the Parks & Recreation Board and UAB. In the end another site was chosen.
In July 2009 Main Street Birmingham and the Avondale Business Association announced $3 million in city funding to advance the Friends' master plan, including renovations to the amphitheater, playground, athletic fields and restroom facilities.
Renovations to the park began February 28, 2011, with KPS Group as the project's architect and Stone Building Co. as the contractor. The park officially reopened November 19, 2011. The park, with the exception of Avondale Villa, was closed during that time. The $2.88 million plan, funded by City of Birmingham bond money, includes 3 new baseball fields, renovations to the amphitheater, its dressing room, the existing picnic pavilion and the existing pond, creation of a spring-fed grotto and creek using an existing spring, a new concession and restroom building, new playgrounds, making all walkways up to ADA standards, building a new entryway at 41st Street, expanding the parking area, and building an additional picnic pavilion.
Timeline of park events
- 1858: Abner Killough was granted a 1,640 homestead which included the springs.
- April 1865: The Battle of Avondale resulted in a wound to Mrs Killough's shoulder.
- 1865: Peyton King purchased the Killough's property and built a new farm house close to the springs.
- 1886: King conveyed his property to the organizers of the Avondale Land Company with a provision preserving the 40-acres surrounding the spring for recreational uses.
- February 10, 1887: The Alabama State Legislature passed a local prohibition law forbidding the sale of liquor within 1 1/2 miles of Avondale Springs (but not applicable to incorporated areas of Birmingham).
- 1889: The Town of Avondale was incorporated.
- 1908: The first Avondale Library was built in the park.
- January 1, 1910: Avondale was annexed into Greater Birmingham.
- 1911: The first animal enclosures were constructed in the park.
- 1913: Miss Fancy the elephant debuted as the park's main attraction.
- July 9, 1914: A planned day-long outing at the park for members of 16th Street Baptist Church was canceled after protests from the Avondale Civic League.
- 1915: The first part of the park's formal rose garden was planted.
- 1921: A Model Poultry Farm was constructed in the park.
- October 24-27, 1921: The Semi-Centennial of Birmingham was celebrated with an elaborate Pageant of Birmingham in a newly-built amphitheater with a 6,000-seat wood grandstand
- 1931: Avondale VIlla was built with municipal bond funds.
- 1930s: The park's picnic pavilion, entranceways and reconstructed amphitheater were built with WPA labor.
- 1931: Robert Jemison Jr donated a breeding pair of swans to the park.
- October 14 1932: The Men's Rose Society of Birmingham brought New Orleans soil specialist Harry Daunoy to Avondale Park to consult on the state of the rose garden.
- 1934: Miss Fancy was sold to the Cole Bros - Clyde Beatty circus.
- 1936: The Birmingham Civic Symphonic Orchestra began playing free Sunday afternoon concerts at the park.
- August 30, 1937: A "Reunion of Former Slaves" was held at Avondale Park, featuring sing-alongs and sermons.
- August 21, 1952: The "long-darkened" amphitheater hosted a festival of plays put on by groups from various Birmingham Park & Recreation Board recreation centers under Rebecca Jennings' direction.
- August 28, 1953: The Southside Ball Association's team won the Little League World Series.
- 1955: The Women's Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored a series of band concerts at Avondale Park. Members of the Birmingham Federation of Musicians No. 256, including the 20-piece Bill Nappi Orchestra, donated their time to the project.
- 1961: Avondale Library was rebuilt.
- 1969: The Allman Brothers played at the amphitheater.
- June 28, 1970: An inaugural Birmingham Pop free music festival featuring Felt, So But So What and Chair was held at the amphitheater.
- July 16, 1972: A "Jesus Music Festival" organized by Eddie Smith was held at the park's amphitheater.
- August 1972: The New Lyric Theater company staged a season of live drama at the park's newly-rewired amphitheater.
- August 1973 and 1974: Summer programming at Avondale Park was enhanced with the PARKART series, chaired by Darcy Tatum.
- 1989: The Friends of Avondale Park was incorporated as a non-profit
- 2003: The first Art in Avondale Park was held.
- April 20, 2006: The restored Avondale Villa opened.
- 2008: The Birmingham Folk Festival moved to Avondale Park.
- November 19, 2011: The park re-opened after $2.88 million in city-funded renovations
- August 23, 2016: Kevin Sorbo shot scenes from his film Let There Be Light with Dionne Warwick at the park's amphitheater.
- Dalrymple, Dolly (c. 1915) "Dream of Years Realized in Roses Planted in Avondale Park Garden" Birmingham Age-Herald - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Brown, J. Ellis (August 1921) "A City Teaches Chicken Raising". New York, New York: Buttenheim Publishing. The American City. Vol. 25. p. 125
- Apple, Oliver (February 25, 1925) "In Spring, Miss Fancy's Fancy Lightly Turns To Thoughts Of Peanuts" Birmingham Post - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Grocery: Miss Fancy has large appetite" (November 22, 1931) The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Harrelson, Keith (December 1970) "Freaks Live in Birmingham: They Surely Do!" Birmingham magazine. Vol. 10, No. 12, pp. 36-8
- Nix, Charles (November 25, 1971) "Avondale neighborhood feels threatened: Fear of 'hippies' fed rumors of hard drugs, violence." The Birmingham News
- "Avondale Villa to open soon." (February 8, 2006) The Birmingham News
- Haden, Courtney (July 31, 2008) "Friendly folk: Local music lovers get a BFF." Birmingham Weekly
- Thornton, William (July 21, 2009) "Avondale businesses to announce revitalization plan that will start with a $3 million renovation of Avondale Park." The Birmingham News
- Ruisi, Anne (February 23, 2011) "Avondale Park renovation work set to begin." The Birmingham News
- Ruisi, Anne (November 16, 2011) "Avondale Park in Birmingham to officially reopen Saturday" The Birmingham News
- Friends of Avondale Park on Facebook.com