McLendon Park

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McLendon Park is a Birmingham city park located at 400 Graymont Avenue in the Graymont neighborhood. It is the site of Legion Field, which itself houses the Birmingham Department of Parks & Recreation.

The park was created on a large undeveloped tract between the tracks of the Owenton-Wylam line and the Birmingham-Tidewater Railway. The land had once been owned by Samuel Earle and later acquired by the Jemison Company which projected an "Earle Place" subdivision on the site. It was purchased in 1923 by the Birmingham City Commission, at the suggestion of J. R. Williams, secretary of the Park and Playground Association of America.

Commissioners David McLendon and W. L. Harrison favored the idea that the park could help the community by serving as a "racial buffer" between neighborhoods zoned for white and black residents. The boundaries of those districts were at the time in danger of becoming blurred, but were cast into law by the 1926 Birmingham Zoning Ordinance. McLendon negotiated the terms of the sale, which allowed the city to make payments over several years.

The master plan developed by the Olmsted Brothers during 1924, called "A Park System for Birmingham", found that the park (now named in McLendon's honor) was large enough to serve both as a neighborhood park and as a location for large athletic fields. The plan recommended that adjoining lots be purchased to expand the park.

By 1926 a more ambitious athletic facility was proposed, with Mervyn Sterne the most notable proponent. Architect David O. Whilldin drew up plans for a 21,000-seat stadium costing $439,000. It was dedicated on November 19, 1927. Revenues from the stadium were used to pay off the purchase of the park land as well as the cost of construction. Improvements to the stadium were constructed with labor from the Works Progress Administration. In later decades Legion Field was expanded into an 83,810-seat multi-tiered stadium dubbed "The Football Capital of the South".

In 1935 the park board proposed a massive Central Community Building to be constructed in the southeast corner of McLendon Park. The building would house a 10,000-seat arena along with a civic auditorium and 48-lane bowling alley. The board applied for a $1.07 million federal loan to fund it and other park improvement projects. The building was never constructed.

That same year the area south of the park was recommended as the first public housing site in Birmingham to be funded by the Public Works Administration. Under the plan African-American families in the area would be forced to move to make way for the new apartments. The difficulty of finding equal housing for those black residents brought the hardships of the 1926 zoning law into relief. The project, called Smithfield Court, was completed in 1937.

In November 1939 McLendon Park hosted General Motors' "Parade of Progress" touring exhibit, based on its popular pavilion at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

In 1951 the city installed lighting standards and began scheduling Birmingham Amateur Baseball Federation games at the park at night. Residents living on 6th Street North filed a lawsuit, which reached the Supreme Court of Alabama in 1953. That court overturned a lower court's order to suspend night games and instead enjoined the city to screen the spread of the lights from the adjacent houses.

In 1969 parks director Frank Wagner and board member Thomas Bradford proposed purchasing an additional 30 acres east of Legion Field for the development of recreation fields that could also serve as parking areas during big football games. The Birmingham Planning Commission approved the plan, which would involve tearing down nearly 60 houses. Because the city's code enforcement efforts had succeeded in seeing most of those houses recently improved, federal "Urban Renewal" funds could not be used to acquire and demolish them. Instead, the board applied for 50% funding under the "Open Space Land Program" aimed at increasing recreational opportunities in urban areas. Operation New Birmingham participated in studies aimed at securing interest from local governments in matching the federal funds.

Ultimately the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded only $233,296 in Open Space Land Program grants, allowing the city to acquire just 4 acres of additional park space west of Jasper Road. Approximately 118 residents of 30 houses on that land were relocated by the Birmingham Housing Authority, with $70,000 in additional federal relocation funds. Planned improvements included a softball field, 10 picnic shelters with barbecues, and a small playground.

McLendon Park, along with numerous others, was rededicated by Birmingham City Council ordinance in 2000.

On June 4, 2012 McLendon Park was announced as a beneficiary of a $25,000 "Sprite Spark Parks" grant to fund improvements to the park's basketball courts, bicycle racks, walking paths, water fountains, trash receptacles and landscaping.

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