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A Magical Transformation: Liberty Motors Building, 1957, New Home for UAB Studio Arts

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2300 7th Avenue South

The same space that once showcased shiny new cars now shows off the creations of leading-edge Magic City artists. Through Shannon Waltchack’s commitment to adaptive reuse, the former Liberty Motors building on 7th Avenue South now houses a first-class art studio for UAB.

The building’s place in Birmingham history reflects the ongoing renewal of the city itself…

Long before the “mid-century modern” Liberty Motors building adorned Southside’s 2300 corner, the automotive industry was the lifeline of the block. In the 1930s, when this area of town hosted an assortment of small businesses, houses, churches, and service stations, the site was an open service bay for Lambert Service Co., specializing “on all Chrysler products.”

But the thriving area of town would continue to see progress. In 1945 the Medical College of Alabama was moved from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham and the University’s Medical Center was founded, signaling a dramatic future of growth and development.

During the post-World War II recovery period, as auto dealerships proliferated along 7th Avenue South, the corner property at 7th Avenue South and 23rd Street was purchased by the Liberty Motor Company, a major Dodge-Plymouth dealer.  In 1957, the company constructed its modern deep-eaved, raked-store fronted sales building, by that time selling Lincolns and Mercurys and, at least for a little while, Edsels.  One of its last automotive occupants was Bart Starr Lincoln-Mercury, which moved, along with many other dealers, to the suburbs beginning in the 1970s.

About 1985 the building was remodeled inside to house Howard Garrett & Associates, an engineering firm. Then, in 2004 it was again repurposed as the home of Independent Insurance Agents.

Purchased in December 2011 by Shannon Waltchack, the historic structure was re-envisioned for UAB Studio Arts, a project that retained the building’s classic exterior character while making it an up-to-date facility for the University.  The 19,000-square-foot building relocates faculty art studios from spaces lost to the construction of the new Regions Park.

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The new Studio Arts facility includes professional studio space for faculty of the Department of Art and Art History—including graphic design, photography, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and painting. It will also be a site for manufacturing stage props for dramatic productions.

Transforming the building into an arts studio with artist-specific renovations proved to be an opportunity for extraordinary creativity for Shannon Waltchack as well. Renovations included a graphic design office bay, eight new sinks, new HVAC, roof maintenance with an exhaust system for sculpture, and exterior paint. Rehabilitating an area that had previously serviced cars required something else a bit unusual—an environmental cleanup due to petroleum pollution. Thankfully, experts from GMC came alongside our team to manage the process and ensure environmental safety.

Finally, after moving six tractor-trailer loads of artwork and equipment, the UAB artists have settled into their one-of-a-kind new home. Extolling the benefits of the new space, they note the scale of the interior, easy loading, and abundant natural light. Also, they say that the proximity of colleagues for support and feedback brings new energy.

James Alexander, professor of sculpture and ceramics, says the new art studio spaces are “some of the best in the country.”

At Shannon Waltchack we’re pleased to partner with progressive organizations to bring innovation and ongoing renewal to a city that grows more magical all the time.

Purchased in December 2011 by Shannon Waltchack, the historic structure was re-envisioned for UAB Studio Arts, a project that retained the building’s classic exterior character while making it an up-to-date facility for the University. The 19,000-square-foot building relocates faculty art studios from spaces lost to the construction of the new Regions Park.

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by Suzanne Echols
11.24.2014