Montgomery’s Landmarks Foundation is celebrating a half-century of existence this year, marking decades of hard work protecting and promoting the city’s heritage.
In the late 1960s, local businessman James Loeb recognized the importance of Montgomery’s historic architecture and took steps to preserve this heritage. With the help of Milo Howard, who served then as head of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and another local businessman, Lanny Crane, Loeb established the Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery in 1968. “Landmarks has been involved for 50 years with the preservation of architecture, history and culture of Central Alabama,” said Michael Panhorst, Ph.D., who has served as its executive director since December 2017.
The organization’s most visible efforts are located in a sixblock area on and around North Hull Street in downtown Montgomery. The work began with the Ordeman-Shaw House, an 1850s house and outbuilding, which was purchased and renovated in 1968 in conjunction with the City of Montgomery. The Cleveland Avenue Presbyterian Church, built in 1885 for African-American worshipers, was moved here and restored in 1977. The Yancey dogtrot from the 1850s was relocated in 1979 as well as Lucas Tavern, Montgomery County’s oldest building.
These structures and others that have since been added are part of Old Alabama Town, a living history museum where guests can view two dozen authentically restored and furnished buildings that reflect home life and work life in 19th century Alabama. Visitors to the historic village number around 35,000 a year; many are fourth graders from around the state traveling to the capital city for annual “Alabama history” field trips.
Another two dozen structures within this neighborhood are used for commercial rentals. Some are owned by the City of Montgomery and some by Landmarks Foundation, though all are managed by Landmarks and provide income for the non-profit organization. (Properties are currently available for rental for businesses or organizations seeking downtown locations.)
Part of the Present
Old Alabama Town is also the site of popular annual events, including Herb Day, the Alabama Book Festival each spring and TavernFest, which is held each October and features craft beer, live music and local food.
There’s more to the Landmarks Foundation than Old Alabama Town, however. The organization conducts other events such as annual house tours that focus on World War II, and they have been involved in the resurgence along Dexter Avenue and other parts of Montgomery. Landmarks has also hosted “Trekking through the Past” walking tours featuring Montgomery historian Mary Ann Neeley. In addition, Renovators Open House, which is held every other month, gives Landmarks Foundation members an opportunity to peek inside a renovation either completed or underway.
Landmarks also operates Rescued Relics, an architectural salvage store located on Madison Avenue that is open in the mornings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Remnants from buildings, such as tubs, sinks, light fixtures, tiles and wooden decorative elements are donated and sold at thrift store prices. A non-profit organization, Landmarks Foundation receives the generous support of Montgomery’s business community in a variety of ways. The organization offers corporate memberships and also features corporate sponsors for their events. “We could not do what we do without the financial support of the Montgomery community,” Panhorst said.
In some cases, the support is hands-on. Sandra Nickel, CEO of The Hat Team Realtors, has served on the Landmarks board forseveral years, including a term as president. “Historic preservation is good business,” Nickel said. When a building is rehabbed, restored or preserved, she said, “That generates more jobs – than new construction.”
The process is also environmentally friendly. “When you renovate a building, there’s very little waste because your entire objective is to preserve what’s there,” Nickel said. And revitalizing a building is stabilizing for the neighborhood.
Plus, historic tourism is very important to a community like Montgomery. “Tourism generates about 1.5 million a day in Montgomery, of that, 20 percent is related to historic tourism,” Nickel said. “Those people stay here longer, spend more money and go back and tell the Montgomery story.”