First Partners Bank Building 2121 Highland Avenue
With its winding tree-lined streets, community parks, and sloping views, Highland Park—established in the late 1800s—endures as one of Birmingham’s most distinguished neighborhoods.
The prestigious Southern Life & Health building, a Renaissance Revival work constructed almost 90 years ago, is a towering reminder of the area’s historic prominence. In 2013, a Shannon Waltchack partnership acquired the extraordinary building for conversion to the corporate headquarters of First Partners Bank. Renovations to the interior have largely restored the original first-floor plan and retained the original stately features of the ground floor, including the magnificent Florentine lobby and mahogany paneled executive offices.
Like most historic structures, the Southern Life building tells its own story of days gone by. In the 1920s, as the Magic City’s central business district thrived, nearby neighborhoods flourished as well. Less than two miles south of downtown, the Elyton Land Company developed Highland Avenue as the looping central artery through the area’s hilly contours. As many of the city’s most influential families built grand homes in the neighborhood, the business community grew as well.
When Southern Life & Health Insurance Company built its headquarters on Highland Avenue in 1927, it was the first move of a non-retail firm out of downtown Birmingham to the Highland area. When the building was developed, the company’s president was Cyrus P. Orr, whose daughter was married to one of Birmingham’s finest architects—William T. Warren, principal of the premier firm Warren, Knight & Davis. It is said that Warren personally designed every detail of the splendid new building.
Having been an established business in Birmingham for more than 25 years at that time, Southern Life led the way for other professionals who would soon reside in the neighborhood. From its beginning, the company leased space for medical offices and other businesses until the 1960s, when the firm began to expand and take up all the floors. Finally, in 1973, Southern Life had outgrown the 1927 building and built for itself new offices next door on the 21st Street corner. Over the years, the building had been modernized for current needs, covering up many of the distinctive original features. Southern Life continued to lease out space in the old building until 1984, when their primary tenant, law firm Dominick, Fletcher, Yeilding, Wood & Lloyd (now Dominick Feld Hyde), bought it and continued interior remodeling to suit their needs. In time the law firm outgrew the space as well, providing the occasion for its purchase and restoration by Shannon Waltchack. Since the building is listed on the state historic register, the project qualified for the Federal historic tax credit and local tax credit, programs which made the undertaking financially feasible.
The building’s restoration was completed in October, 2013. Howard Rasco of Lathan Associates Architects led the design planning, carefully complying with the specifications of the historical commission in recovering the building’s distinct original features. Brad Ingle of Hallmark Builders, who served as contractor, discovered daily surprises as the demolition crew peeled back layer after layer, revealing remarkably preserved detail.
First Partners Bank has settled into its new home, pleased to be part of the rich history. “Sure we could have built a new building or had our headquarters in any number of class A office space locations,” says Kenneth Till, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. “But this project really fit with us and our rebranding.”
At Shannon Waltchack—where we love real estate—we’re proud to be part of preserving some of Birmingham’s finest real estate treasures.
Photos from Birmingham Public Library? and Luker Photography