Smithfield Court is a public housing project operated by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District located at 150 8th Avenue North in the Smithfield neighborhood of the Smithfield community between A. H. Parker High School and Legion Field. It was designed to provide low-income rental housing for African-American families and "to make an effective demonstration of low rent housing in order that each community may realize its own needs in this direction."
The 22-acre project was entirely financed by the United States Public Works Administration, for which $2 million had been earmarked. In April 1935 it was reported that "representatives of the slum clearance division of the Federal Housing Administration," were in the city to acquire land for the project. A total of 92 parcels on six blocks were acquired for $458,000 and cleared away to prepare the site. 90 of the 92 existing houses, deemed to be "some of the city's worst slum dwellings" in Birmingham, were owned by residents of the city. A significant portion of the total acquisition cost involved paying off mortgage lenders, unpaid taxes, mechanics' liens, and other property assessments.
Emergency Housing Administration architect A. B. Roof came to Birmingham to advise architects on the agency's requirments. Architects David O. Whilldin led a group of 12 architects who designed and documented the project for bids. Others engaged included Walter Holmquist. The project included 540 two- to five-room units among 81 fireproof one- and two-story buildings with a shared community building (now the Smithfield Community Center) and large areas of open green space. The resulting layout covered 27% of the site with buildings at a density of 58 rooms per acre.
"Keep Out" signs were posted to discourage trespassing in the vacant houses prior to demolition, begun by the Birmingham House Wrecking Company beginning in December 1935. The last deed was transferred on January 9, 1936. Meanwhile, a change in federal policy, which required 100% rather than 55% of construction costs to be amortized by rents, necessitated that the architects revised their plans for a lower construction cost. The foundation contract, already awarded to Algernon Blair of Montgomery, was nullified and new bids taken for the foundations in March 1936. The Southern Construction Company was awarded that contract with a low bid of $105,000.
Ground was officially broken on May 7, 1936, with more than 10,000 people attending to hear speeches from local and federal officials. The Industrial High School band and choir performed during the ceremony.
No bids for construction of the project were received by the due date of July 21, 1936. The bidding requirements were relaxed slightly and a new deadline was set for September 15. Algernon Blair, who had won the initial bid for foundation work and then lost it, supplied the low bid of $1,515,782. His bid prevailed over other submitted by Ring Construction of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Virginia Engineering of Newport News, Virginia; J. A. Jones Construction of Charlotte, North Carolina; C. F. Haglin & Sons and Winston Brothers of Minneapolis; the Walter Butler Company of St Paul, Missouri; and D. M. W. Construction of Brooklyn, New York.
Work completed in 1937 at a cost of $1,786,648. The total development cost was $2,415,000, which equated to an average of $4,472 per unit. Tenants began moving in on February 16, 1938. The apartments were originally rented on a basis of $4.36 per room with water included. With electricity and refrigeration, the average net rental cost was $4.84 per room.
On August 17, 1949 Smithfield Court was the scene of a mass protest organized by the Birmingham Business League, Birmingham Emancipation Association and the NAACP during which 2,000 Black residents called for an end to intimidation and terrorism relating to efforts by Black residents to purchase homes in areas zoned for white residences. The crowd approved resolutions in favor of expanding real estate sales to Black buyers, and expressed support for the work of attorney Arthur Shores.
By 2006 Smithfield Court contained 456 low-income units.
The planned redevelopment of Smithfield Court was made the centerpiece of a $900 million proposal developed in the early 2020s to "transform" the Smithfield, Graymont and College Hills neighborhoods. As part of that plan, the portion of the project site facing Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard would be rezoned for community and commercial uses, including a "Social Innovation Center" with space for a larger Smithfield Library at the corner of Center Street. The remainder of site would be redeveloped with about 400 residential units divided between garden apartments, townhouses, duplexes and cottages. Additional affordable housing would be constructed on other sites nearby. The project, planned by the Housing Authority and the City of Birmingham, was awarded a $50 million grant in 2023 as part of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development's "Choice Neighborhoods Initiative".
- "Slum Clearance Plans for Negro Section Pushed." (April 22, 1935) The Birmingham News, p. 1
- "Smithfield Housing Project Giving Jobs To Many Classes City Workers." (November 10, 1935) The Birmingham News, p. 41
- "Smithfield Court Project To Be Started." (May 3, 1936) The Birmingham News, p. 9
- "Crowd Sees Housing Project Started" (May 8, 1936) The Birmingham News, p. 6
- "Contract Let for Smithfield Court" (September 16, 1936) The Birmingham News, p. 5
- Short, C. W. & R. Stanley-Brown (1939) "Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration." U.S. Public Works Administration, p. 664
- Jackson, Harvey H. (2000) The WPA Guide to 1930s Alabama Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, pp. 168-169. ISBN 0817310282
- Parker, Illyshia (June 20, 2023) "Rezoning approval marks one step closer to Smithfield redevelopment project." Birmingham Business Journal
- Banks, Richard (July 27, 2023) "$50 Million HUD Grant Expected to “Transform” West Birmingham Neighborhoods." WBHM.org/ BirminghamWatch