The Ramsay-McCormack building, also known as the Bank of Ensley, is a 10-story office tower on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street in downtown Ensley, Alabama. The 144 foot tall, Art-Deco style building was built in 1929.
Investment partners Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack of the Ramsay-McCormack Development Company announced the project in 1926 as a six-story tower costing roughly $200,000. However at Ramsay’s suggestion the tower was extended to ten stories during construction and included a two-story mechanical penthouse and a full basement.
The Ramsay-McCormack building is built of a cast-in-place concrete frame with perimeter columns and one row of interior supports. The frame is filled in with structural clay walls and wrapped in beige brick. The ground floor is trimmed in brown granite and terra cotta. A barrel-vault coffered plaster ceiling highlights the lobby hallway along with Alabama marble floors and walls.
The Ramsay-McCormack building housed the Bank of Ensley on the ground floor as well as the developer’s offices and the offices for U.S. Steel. The tenant space was never completely leased. Rumors that TCI Steel may relocate from the Brown Marx Tower never materialized. Despite a 1970 renovation, the closure of the Ensley Steel plant left much of the office tower vacant.
The building closed its doors in 1979. The City of Birmingham acquired the building in 1983 for $1. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and has been empty since 1986.
At some point, two large illuminated five-point stars were mounted on the elevator penthouse as a Christmas decoration. In 1998, the City of Birmingham funded a study to determine if the Ramsay-McCormack building could be renovated. The study found numerous deficiencies in the soundness of the balcony and roof levels.
Asbestos was also found in the some of the interior finishes and pipe insulation. The study concluded the best use for the Ramsay McCormack building would be low income apartments. The proposal never moved forward.
Over the next decade, the Ramsay-McCormack building continued to deteriorate. In an effort to save the building the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation added it to its “Places in Peril” list in 2008. The same year a New York investor proposed to renovate the property into 40-50 senior apartments if the City of Birmingham removed the lead and asbestos.
After the deal fell through, a local attorney named Antonio Spurling filed a lawsuit against the city for not maintaining the property. The lawsuit was dropped after a city attorney promised the renovation would move forward. The Mayor said the renovation would be done or the office tower would be demolished. Loose bricks and falling debris were among the many concerns of the neighboring businesses.
A year later, no progress had been made. Spurling filed another lawsuit against the city seeking to force either a demolition or renovation of the Ramsay-McCormack building. He dropped the suit when the city pledged to appropriate $900,000 and initiate redevelopment of the office tower. In 2012, with no tangible results of the pledge, Spurling joined other local business owners in a lawsuit calling for the demolition of the building.
In November 2016, the Mayor of Birmingham announced a $40 million renovation project to create a Birmingham Public Safety Complex combining the Birmingham Police, Fire, and Municipal Court administrative offices inside the Ramsay-McCormack building. Two days after his announcement a judge ruled on the 2012 lawsuit from local business owners and issued an order requiring the city to demolish the building.
The Ramsay-McCormack building remains in legal limbo. The Mayor stated his Public Safety Complex would work with or without the historic building. The plaintiffs asked the judge to revise his order to require that the city begin renovation by February 2017 and complete the renovations within two years.