Louis Pizitz immigrated to the United States in 1899 in search of a greater opportunity. He arrived in New York and quickly naturalized as a United States citizen. He would save a part of his wages to purchase goods that he could peddle from his backpack, soon he headed South. Louis Pizitz moved to Birmingham sometime between 1896 and 1898, and established a store on 1st Avenue North with $10,000 worth of merchandise in stock.
The flagship store was the eight-story Pizitz building, completed in 1923 at the store’s original location at 1821 2nd Avenue North. The building was designed by Harry B. Wheelock. It has an attached parking garage, which was added in 1965. The family-owned business grew to become a chain of thirteen department stores. Nine of the stores were around Birmingham, two were in Huntsville, with one each in Florence and Montgomery. Louis Pizitz was admired as an honest and successful merchant. He was notably generous with his employees, offering three weeks’ bonus pay after a year of service.
The building was purchased in 2000 by Bayer Properties for potential redevelopment. Bayer secured an “historic preservation certificate” from the National Park Service to qualify for federal tax credits. They received a $1 million low-interest loan from the City of Birmingham to facilitate the renovation. In 2004, Operation New Birmingham put it on their list of 12 Most Wanted list of downtown buildings in need of renovation.
In 2010, Bayer Properties announced that they found lead tenants and were moving forward with the $60 million renovation. Bayer planned to relocate their headquarters to the building which would also include 23,000 square feet of ground level retail space, most of it facing the McWane Science Center. In September 2010, the Birmingham City Council approved a multi-million dollar incentive package to get the project underway. The completion date was set for the Fall of 2012.
Several months later, two of the lead tenants determined they would not be able to wait for the completion of the renovation, forcing Bayer to find new tenants. The City of Birmingham rescinded their incentives in December 2011 pending further developments. For the next few years the project appeared stagnant.
In January 2014, Bayer Properties announced they were moving forward with the $60 million apartment renovation project, even though they deferred consideration for a first round of state tax credits for historic restoration. Brasfield & Gorrie were awarded the $67 million contract for construction. Completed in March 2017, the building now houses 143 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, 13,000 square-feet of office space, and the Pizitz Food Hall.
Abandoned Birmingham Book
Founded in 1871 after the Civil War, Birmingham rapidly grew as an industrial enterprise due to the abundance of the three raw materials used in making steel–iron ore, coal, and limestone. Birmingham’s rapid growth was due to the booming iron and steel industries giving it the nickname “Magic City” and “Pittsburgh of the South.” The city was named after Birmingham, England, as a nod to the major industrial powerhouse. The iron and steel industries began to dry up by the early 1970s, leaving behind dozens of abandoned structures that now dot the city’s landscape. In the last several years, Birmingham has begun to experience a rebirth. Money has been invested in reconstructing the historic downtown area into a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use district. In Abandoned Birmingham, photographer Leland Kent gives the reader an in-depth look at the forgotten buildings and factories throughout the city. This copy will be signed. Shipping included.