|City/Town: • Birmingham|
|Location Class: • Religious|
|Built: • 1903 | Abandoned: • ~2015|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Reverend Francis Woodward Brandon
The Fountain Heights Methodist Church was located in Birmingham, Alabama, and organized by Reverend Frank W. Brandon. Francis “Frank” Woodward Brandon was born on October 1, 1869, in Jacksonville, Alabama; the son of Reverend Francis Thomas Jefferson and Susan Caroline Woodward Brandon. His father was a Methodist minister who studied law early in life before changing course to preach the gospel. Frank’s brothers John Marvin and Forney Woodward Brandon were both Methodist ministers as well. The oldest brother, William Woodward Brandon, was an attorney and probate judge who served as the 37th Governor of Alabama.
Frank received his primary education in the private schools of Tuscaloosa and enrolled at the Burnett boarding school in Cedar Bluff in 1879. He later attended the Sunbeam Academy conducted by Professor Richard Eural Randolph Hicks. Frank later attended the Titcumb School in Anniston and the public schools of Tuscaloosa. Between 1887 and 1889, he was a student at the Southern University in Greensboro, a college founded by the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and received his bachelor’s degree in the newly founded Birmingham College in 1899. The honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was granted to him by the Polytechnic College in Fort Worth, Texas in 1911.
At the age of eighteen, he was licensed by the Quarterly Conference of the Tuscaloosa Station Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He joined the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church in Huntsville in 1889 and served charges at Florence, Huntsville, Roanoke, Woodlawn, Scottsboro, Stevenson, Fountain Heights, and Mt. Vernon. He was the first presiding elder of the Bessemer District between 1908 and 1912; trustee of Birmingham College as well as financial agent for the college between 1897 and 1901; delegate for the General Conference in 1910, and during his ministry has built churches in Florence, Huntsville, and Birmingham. At the time of his death on July 6, 1929, he was secretary of the Methodist Hospital Board in Atlanta, Georgia.
Fountain Heights Methodist Church
The Fountain Heights Methodist Church was organized on December 7, 1902, by Frank W. Brandon who served as the church’s first pastor. Sixty-four members joined the church the day it was organized. The congregation worshipped at a nearby Baptist church located at 11st Avenue North and 13th Street while their new church building was being constructed. The presiding elder of the Birmingham District J. D. Simpson appointed the church’s first board of trustees which included J. D. Lanier, J. D. Elliot, T. M. Dyer, W. E. Weir, and Jerome A. Tucker.
The Fountain Heights Land Company donated two lots located at Fountain Avenue (12th Avenue North) and Lawn Street (13th Street North) as well as $100 in cash toward the construction of the new church. The building was to be constructed of brick, brownstone, and terra cotta at a cost of $12,000. A building committee was appointed to supervise its construction which consisted of George C. Kelley, hardware dealer as chairman; Jerome A. Tucker, attorney as secretary; and B. F. Barbour, plumber as treasurer, along with J. C. Lanier, and W. E. Weir. Construction began on January 1, 1903, and the cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1903.
William Ernest Spink, architect
The building’s architect was William Ernest Spink who was born on July 25, 1872, and worked alongside prolific architect William N. Bowman in Indianapolis, Indiana between 1892 and 1895. Spink moved to Birmingham in 1897. Between 1904 and 1909, he kept offices in Room 812 of the Title Guarantee Building. His works include the old Ensley School, Pratt City Baptist Church, and one of his most well-known works, the residence of James Donnelly in Highland Park. His daughter Marguerite Spink was the first woman to be listed as an architect in the city of Birmingham and is credited for having worked alongside her father on the Donnelly House.
In 1909, Spink was involved in the construction of ten new classrooms at the Alberto Martin Elementary School in Fountain Heights along with new plumbing and heating systems. City inspector W. O. Matthews found numerous unsafe conditions in the original structure, requiring its walls to be strengthened or rebuilt. The Birmingham Board of Education halted the construction and had Mayor Frank Patrick O’Brien issue a formal notice to W. E. Spink and E. M. Lisle & Company, the contractor, to keep off the property or be arrested for trespassing. Architect Harry Wheelock and contractors J. D. Stewart were put in charge of completing the construction. In response to the trespass notice, Spink made a public statement saying, “Conditions have been very much misrepresented to the board, and they have been badly advised. My books, papers, and actions are open to investigation in this matter, and later on I will ask that they be investigated and a true report given to the press.“
In 1913, Spink moved to San Francisco, California before obtaining a position at the architecture firm of Favrot & Livaudais in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1919. In 1923, he started his own practice and had his office located at the Pere Marquette Building which he designed along with architect Scott Jay.
Spink worked alongside architects Herbert A. Benson and George Christy on his largest projects yet, the Iberville and St. Bernard Housing Projects. The St. Bernard Projects were built in 1940 consisting of 74 buildings with 744 units constructed on 30.9 acres, and were demolished following Hurricane Katrina in 2008. The Iberville Projects was built the same year and consisted of 75 buildings with 858 units which featured Georgian brickwork and lacy ironwork porches. Following Hurricane Katrina, much of the buildings were razed for a mixed-use development, but many survived and were incorporated into the new project. The remaining buildings from the original project were added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 5, 2015
Weather Bureau Building
Located near the Fountain Heights Methodist Church was the old Weather Bureau Building, built in 1907 as the permanent Birmingham office of the United States Weather Bureau until 1945 when the office was moved to the Birmingham Municipal Airport. The building was sold to the Methodist Church in 1953 to be used as an annex for their Sunday School. But the sale was not without controversy.
The federal government sold the building and was bought by the church for $1,015, outbidding the city by $15. City officials though claimed the land the building sat on was deeded to the city. They also claimed the federal government had zero claims to the sale of the building as ownership would revert to the city anyways after the federal government pulls out. After weeks of negotiation, the city agreed to sell the building and the land to the church for $5,000.
By the 1960s, the neighborhood demographics were changing and church membership was declining. In 1965, the decision was made to close down the Fountain Heights Methodist Church and to give everything usable in the church, plus proceeds from the sale of remaining items, to Fair Haven, the Methodist retirement home which opened in 1961. The pews, pulpit and its furnishings, and the large stained glass windows were to be used in Fair Haven’s new chapel. The last two services in the church were a memorial service and the wedding of Dewey Reid and Margaret Chambers.
A week later, Bishop W. Kenneth Goodson received a call from a woman who had read about the closing of the Fountain Heights Methodist Church. She asked if the church had a bell and if that bell could be donated to a group of soldiers in Vietnam who were building a chapel there. The soldiers had already procured the funds for its construction but they needed a bell “to ring out the good tidings across the swamp.” The Fountain Heights church did not have a bell so Bishop Goodson asked if there was a bell somewhere in North Alabama Methodism. A representative for the Canterbury Methodist Church in Birmingham volunteered to send the soldiers a bell as well to pay for the shipping to Vietnam.
The old Weather Bureau Building used by the church for Sunday School was sold for $9,000 to McConnell Sales and Engineering Corp. in 1963 with the proceeds going to Fair Haven. A stained glass window from Fountain Heights Methodist Church was encased and set in the chapel lobby at Fair Haven.
The church was sold to St. John Baptist Church which occupied the building until around 2007. It was last used by the Victory Tabernacle Community Church, North, and owned by Bishop Aubrey L. White. The building had been lying vacant as far back as 2015. A few years later, a portion of the east wall collapsed, ripping off much of the ceiling in the main sanctuary and exposing the building to the elements. After years of abandonment, the church was demolished by 2021. Thankfully, the stained glass windows were removed prior to its demolition, although their whereabouts are unknown.
Author’s Note: After publishing this article, I reached out to Fair Haven for information regarding the stained glass window given to them prior to the closing of the Fountain Heights Methodist Church in 1965. Sherri Easdon, Director of Public Relations at Methodist Homes, shared with me many photos of Fair Haven’s chapel as well as the stained glass window and the cornerstone of the now-demolished Fountain Heights Methodist Church which are on display in the chapel lobby. Those photos can be viewed on Fair Haven’s website.
The Birmingham News. (July 7, 1929). DR. F. W. BRANDON DIES IN ATLANTA
America’s Lost Colleges. (accessed April 15, 2022). Southern University, Greensboro, Alabama 1856-1918
Marie Bankhead Owen, Thomas McAdory Owen. (1921). History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography v.III
The Birmingham News. (September 2, 1939). Fountain Heights Methodist Prepares, With Dr. Sturdivant Preaching
The Birmingham News. (October 20, 1902). TO BUILD NEW CHURCH EDIFICE
The Birmingham News. (October 13, 1912). BESSEMER DISTRICT HAS GOOD RECORD
The Birmingham News. (October 10, 1903). LAY CORNERSTONE OF THE NEW CHURCH
The Birmingham News. (November 29, 1902). HANDSOME NEW CHURCH FOR THE FOUNTAIN HEIGHTS CONGREGATION
Birmingham Post-Herald. (June 12, 1965). Birmingham Bell To Go To Viet Nam
Birmingham Post-Herald, Leonard Chamblee. (June 5, 1965). Fair Haven May Recieve Church
The Birmingham News. (July 14, 1953). Old weather station muddle taken up again at City Hall
The Birmingham News. (July 28, 1953). City’s No.1 muddle gets more muddled
The Birmingham News. (September 29, 1953). Old weather office tangle may be eased
The Birmingham News. (October 6, 1953). Old weather unit property row resolved; church wins
Birmingham Post-Herald, Leonard Chamblee. (April 26, 1969). Leaders Of Program For Aged Honored
The Birmingham News. (December 13, 1909). BOARD HALTS WORK ON SCHOOL
American Institute of Architects. (retrieved May 24, 2022). Questionaire For Architects’ Roster, WIlliam E. Spink