Vote to help the Alabama Theatre bring back historic sign

Vote to help the Alabama Theatre bring back historic sign
The Alabama Theatre once had a lighted sign on 18th Street to mirror the one on Third Avenue North. Your vote can bring the second sign back. (contributed)

Help the Alabama Theatre shine a light on Birmingham’s 18th Street.

When the iconic Alabama Theatre opened in 1927, two sides of the building were illuminated with huge vertical signs, rimmed by dancing lights. While the sign on Third Avenue North still proudly hangs on the building, the one on 18th Street is a long-forgotten memory. Now the Alabama Theatre is calling for everyone statewide to help restore that original look in this, the 90th year of the theater.

A fundraising effort is underway to restore the 18th Street Alabama Theatre sign. The public can help by voting in the Partners for Progress 2017 Vote Your Main Street campaign. (contributed)

The theater is among 25 finalists across the nation vying for grant funding through the 2017 Partners in Preservation #VoteYourMainStreet. Through this competition, people can vote for their favorite historic sites along 25 of America’s main streets. The winners will divide $1.5 million.

Votes can be cast through Oct. 31 online at BigAlabamaSIGN.com.

“These national funds will be added to monies already raised to allow us to put back the original 1927 vertical sign that hung near the stage door on 18th Street,” said Brant Beene, executive director of Birmingham Landmarks Inc., which owns and operates the historic Alabama and Lyric theaters. “Both signs were removed in 1957, but only the one on Third Avenue was refurbished and replaced. We think 18th Street is becoming a significant corridor in the theater district with many businesses lighting the night, and we want to add to the dazzle.”

Partners in Preservation was formed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to motivate people to get involved in increasing awareness of historic places and how they fit into communities. Since its inception in 2006, Partners in Preservation has awarded more than $19 million to more than 200 sites.

The bid for the grant is part of a larger campaign to garner corporate support for the Alabama Theatre effort. As a cornerstone business on 18th Street, Alabama Power is a major sponsor of this restoration project, said Tom Cosby, fundraising consultant, Birmingham Landmarks.

“We sincerely appreciate the lead gift that Alabama Power made for this project and believe the sign will directly benefit your company because 18th Street stretches to your front door,” Cosby said. “We consider 18th Street more than a street; with Railroad Park, the Light Rails project and the Powell Avenue Steam Plant restoration, it’s evolving into one of Birmingham’s most beautiful boulevards. The new sign will help further stimulate economic development downtown and make the street safer and more attractive, particularly as Birmingham becomes more and more of a walking city.”

“The Alabama Theatre is a great and historic landmark that continues to enhance the culture and quality of life in our state,” said Jonathan Porter, Alabama Power Birmingham Division vice president. “We are proud to support this project as part of our mission to elevate Alabama.”

Paramount Studios built the Alabama Theatre 90 years ago to showcase Paramount productions. Although it was primarily used as a movie palace for the next 55 years, the theater was the longtime host for the annual Miss Alabama pageant and the weekly children’s favorite the Mickey Mouse Club.

Birmingham Landmarks purchased the theater after the owners declared bankruptcy in 1987. The nonprofit restored the theater to its original 1927 grandeur.

Widely known as the “Showplace of the South,” the new Alabama Theatre for the Performing Arts is one of Birmingham’s leading icons and still the home of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ, which has been serenading movie audiences for years. Today, the theater welcomes thousands of people to more than 150 events annually.

Traveling up 18th Street could have a different look with a restored Alabama Theatre sign. (contributed)

The Alabama Theatre is calling for citizens to help spread the word about the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign. Oct. 6-9, people are urged to take a selfie by the Third Avenue sign, and share the photo on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and email with family, friends and co-workers with hashtags #Birmingham, #AlabamaOn18th and #VoteYourMainStreet.

Through Oct. 31, everyone can vote for #Birmingham five times a day to restore the #AlabamaOn18th sign. Visit BigAlabamaSign.com, and follow the prompts to register and vote.

The grant winners will be announced in early November. The theater expects to install its new, 42-foot Alabama sign by early 2018, Beene said.

“We need your help,” Beene said. “Your votes are critical in making this effort a success. Make yourself a reminder on your calendar to vote five times a day, every day through October. This is a great way to support a worthy preservation project without spending a dime.”

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