In the last two decades, downtown Montgomery has experienced a true renaissance, transforming from an area that held very little life apart from government and some business offices to the undisputed center of the city. Yet shades of “before” remain, abandoned buildings and small pockets of blight. The Grove Court apartment building on South Court Street is one of the most rundown structures on this short list, but it’s also one that holds some serious architectural significance. And now, it’s finally getting the attention it deserves.
Jud Blount, co-owner of Vintage Hospitality Group (VHG), and his architect uncle Tom Blount are partners in GCA Properties, LLC and are in the process of resuscitating the three-story concrete apartment building erected in 1947. While they are still deciding on the project’s final form—it could be apartments, short-term rental units (think Airbnb), a hotel or a combination—it will most likely contain fewer overall units. “It originally had 71 units, but that number will likely go down closer to 50 to make them all a bit bigger,” Jud said. “It will be all geared toward young professionals.” “There are a lot of options, and the ultimate use has not been settled on yet. The first goal is to clean up an eyesore and restore a culturally valuable part of the city’s architectural heritage,” Tom added. As both Jud and Tom noted, some aspects are still on the drawing board, but planned additions include a pool and elevators. Once complete—which should be in summer of 2023—Grove Court will be under the VHG umbrella.
While it’s a huge undertaking that will require a total overhaul, the basic structure is solid, according to Jud, who calls the bones of the building “good and strong.” And he’s no stranger to this type of work. He collaborated with Tom to turn an old bank branch in Cloverdale into VHG’s Vintage Cafe, and the duo is also behind VHG’s City Fed project, the refurbishment and repurposing of a bank building downtown with the coastal Italian cuisine restaurant Ravello as its centerpiece, which is scheduled to be complete later this fall.
It was Tom who first turned Jud onto Grove Court. “He’s always loved the building,” Jud said. The building is in the International Style, a minimalist design marked by rectilinear forms and flat surfaces devoid of excess decoration, often including a large amount of glass. It was designed by locals, the Clyde C. Pearson and Farrow L. Tittle architectural firm with Parker A. Narrows and John H. Hancock associates, and is one of only two structures documenting this style left in Alabama. It was impressive enough to be awarded a “Mention” in 1947 Progressive Architecture Awards and earned a feature in two issues of Progressive Architecture Magazine. It also won an American Institute of Architects Award, and in 2013, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Since its look is what initially drew Tom and Jud to the building, they’re committed to keeping as much of the original design as they can intact, particularly on the exterior. Inside, years of neglect and new thoughts on how to use the space called for a complete gutting. “It’s been empty since the early 1990s. We’re taking everything out and replacing 1,150 windows throughout,” Jud said.
Jud believes investing in Grove Court is a smart move for his company, but the positives won’t be confined to his business. “Where it is, it’s so visible, so when it’s all done, I think it will be great for downtown’s image,” he said. “I’m really excited to bring it back.”
Others seem to be enthused by the potential and progress too. “When we started the demo a few months ago, so many people were driving by and honking and waving, giving our crew the thumbs up,” Jud said. “That’s really satisfying, and I think the community is going to love the final result. Tom and I look forward to continuing our partnership in restoring historic buildings and finding a use that will hopefully continue for years to come.”
- Architect: Tom Blount
- Contractor: Fleming Pruett, RF Pruett Construction, Inc.
- Landscape Designer: David Hill, Program Chair and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Auburn University
Since Grove Court sat abandoned for decades, various artifacts from its past as well as a plethora of bold graffiti—some that rises to the level of art—were found when GCA Properties began the initial clean up and demo at the building. “We found old financial records dating back to the early 1960s in the office,” said Jud. “And the painting on the walls through the decades is actually really cool. We took photos of it and might even turn them into a book.” Mother Nature and other forces have definitely taken their toll on the Grove Court building, but some of the results have provided interesting and even aesthetically pleasing visuals.