|City/Town: • Irondale|
|Location Class: • Residential|
|Built: • 1963 | Abandoned: • 2012|
|Status: • Private Property|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Norris Eugene Underwood was born on May 13, 1926. According to his obituary, he served in World War II in the United States Navy alongside his twin brother Horace George Underwood. Both were aboard but unharmed when the USS LST-6 transport ship struck a mine and sunk in the Seine River, France on November 17, 1944. The ship had earned three battle stars for having participated in the Allied Invasion of Sicily, the Salerno Landings, and the Normandy landings. After returning from the war, Norris married Mildred Joy Goodwin and the two would remain together for the next 60 years.
Irondale Fabricating Company
In 1955, Norris founded the Irondale Fabricating Company producing ornamental iron products in his own backyard. The business prospered and by 1969, the company’s general office and fabrications plants were located on 1st Avenue North and employed 50 workers. Their main work involved general maintenance for Southern Railway and fabricating service sign poles for Standard Oil. The company was also involved in such high-profile projects as the scrolling sign atop the Two North Twentieth Building in downtown Birmingham. The monumental 176 by 26-foot electronic marquee was mounted atop the building in 1971 as part of the Centennial of Birmingham. The electronic sign board displayed advertising messages using an array of 1,440 incandescent bulbs and operated until 2014 when the sign was wrapped with a vinyl billboard.
Sometime in the mid-1970s, the name of the company changed to the Underwood Steel Company as the business transitioned to specializing in steel corrugated panels used in roofing. Along with the success of his fabrication business, Norris also developed residential and commercial properties and continued to manage them after his retirement. He also served as president of the Irondale Chamber of Commerce for a time in the 1960s.
Norris Underwood was arrested on October 8, 1980, on a federal grand jury indictment charging he gave an IRS examination group manager $7,000 to “forget” any additional taxes he owed on his 1978 tax return. Norris plead guilty to these charges and Judge James Hancock sentenced him on November 24, 1980, to seven years in prison and fined him $14,000. The judge then suspended his prison sentence but not the fine. Norris served 90 days in jail and was placed on two years’ probation.
On a wooded lot across from Bush Cemetery in Irondale, the home of Norris and Mildred Underwood was built in 1963. The 8,867 square-foot ranch-style house featured five bedrooms, five bathrooms, two kitchens, and multiple living areas. The east side of the house contained a large vaulted atrium complete with skylights, tropical plants, and fountains that ran water into the indoor swimming pool. One of the rooms in the home was also said to have been made specifically for the Underwoods’ pet birds with large windows, dirt floors, and an opening in the ceiling that allowed them to fly between the first and second floors. Japanese-style gardens and koi ponds surrounded the home along with statues and antiques that the Underwoods collected over the years in their travels.
Norris Underwood died on March 14, 2006, at the age of 79. Mildred passed away years later on August 19, 2012, at the age of 84. The property remained in Norris’ estate and was put up for sale in 2017 for $369,900. With zero interest and no offers, the property went into foreclosure. After sitting vacant for eight years, the property was sold to a new owner who intended on renovating the house.
Birmingham Post-Herald. (December 20, 1969). Irondale Fabrication Company Adds New Plant; 1st Step In Expansion Plans
AL.com. (accessed April 30, 2022). Norris Underwood Obituary
Birmingham Post-Herald. (November 25, 1980). Steel executive sentenced