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National Biscuit Company, 1914: Railroad Square

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There’s no trace of the horses and wagons that lined the street in those days, but the same honey-colored brick building with pale terra cotta trim stands as stately as ever.

In April 2011 a partnership headed by Shannon Waltchack acquired the former National Biscuit Company (also known as Nabisco) building, a century-old structure in the Railroad Park district. It was here that Shannon Waltchack launched its move into historic preservation and adaptive reuse.  By rehabilitating the crumbling warehouse and adapting the interior as modern office space, we could reclaim historic value while accommodating today’s business needs.

Originally built as the local headquarters for the National Biscuit Company, architect Albert G. Zimmerman of Chicago designed Birmingham’s building on a somewhat smaller scale than company buildings in larger cities, but with the same quality materials and architectural character of the day. This was one of the numerous buildings developed and owned by Judge William I. Grubb, locally prominent on the federal bench for many years. With the charge led by local contractor C.M. Allen, the building was completed in early fall of 1914.

For more than 30 years, production hummed within the building’s walls, as the National Biscuit Company was amalgamating bakeries everywhere with their distinctively packaged and labeled boxes of crackers.

Stables and a warehouse adjoined the back of the plant along Second Avenue South (then Avenue B).  But as horses and wagons gave way to motorized trucks for delivery, the rear portions of the property were leased to paper companies and to other businesses for warehousing. By the late 1940s, the entire plant was occupied by a food broker, and subsequent decades saw it used by plumbing and wholesale distributors.  Before its recent purchase by Shannon Waltchack, the building had been known for some years as the Lewis Building, housing a law office and a cabinet shop, although much of the building was left vacant.

When the Shannon Waltchack partnership purchased the property in 2011, we engaged distinguished architect Richard Carnaggio of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds for the bold redesign challenge and G & B Enterprises served as contractor. With a plan that completely transformed the building’s interior, the architectural firm was awarded the Adaptive Reuse Merit Award in 2012 by Birmingham’s chapter of The American Institute of Architects. A dynamic mix of historic preservation and modern space-making, the renovated building was thriving once again. The community—and even The New York Times—took note.

Railroad Square now houses Shannon Waltchack, Retail Specialists, Decision Data Resources, Enrollment Advisors, and Details Communications.  And bringing back a vestige of former days, the old paper company warehouse is now the home of the UAB Printing Office.

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Photographs:

Birmingham Public Library Archives:  main building and warehouse, 1950s
Railroad Square, Photo by Luker Photography

In April 2011 a partnership headed by Shannon Waltchack acquired the former National Biscuit Company (also known as Nabisco) building, a century-old structure in the Railroad Park district. It was here that Shannon Waltchack launched its move into historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

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by Suzanne Echols
06.03.2014