The Denham Building is named for the architecture firm – Denham Van Keuren Denham. D. VK. D designed the building in 1927 and originally dubbed it the Merchants and Manufacturer’s Terminal Building to address the growing needs of a rapidly expanding city. It was remarkable then and will be again as Birmingham’s most dynamic business address.
From Birmingham’s Earliest Days
Everyone in Birmingham knows Sloss Furnaces. But before Sloss, there was Alice Furnaces just a few miles to the west. Alice Furnace No. 1 opened in late 1880 and was the first successful iron-making blast furnace in Birmingham. It was located at the western end of the city’s Railroad Reservation and serviced by the railroad tracks that bisected the city.
Alice Furnaces operated for nearly 40 years with a rolling mill east of the furnace. Slag from the iron making process was piled to the west and became known as Slag Pile Hill, which overlooked West End Park, which became commonly known as “Slag Pile Field.” It was here the Birmingham Barons played their first games and three early Alabama-Auburn games were played. The first furnace was idled in 1905 and the second in 1927. But, not before becoming integral to the founding of Birmingham.
So, what does this have to do with Denham?
Like every growing metropolis, architecture firms began to flourish as the city’s skyline evolved from a gritty industrial town to a modern city. One firm that emerged in the early part of the 20th Century was Denham, Van Keuren & Denham. Formed in early 1920s, D. VK. D contributed to and helped form the modern Birmingham. They designed Highland Plaza Apartments, Fairfield Elementary School, Mountain Brook Elementary School, and made modifications to Rickwood Field.
D. VK. D designed our building on the site of the old rolling mill that served Alice Furnaces. And, without Alice Furnaces, the railroad would never have made the bend that forms the northern edge of our property. And, without that bend, our building would never have been conceived as built.
The Denham Bldg. was designed to be the first in a series of revolutionary buildings using the latest technologies of the time. Structures conceived to facilitate commerce and position Birmingham as a transportation hub for the century to come. It was originally named the Merchants and Manufacturer’s Terminal Building and designed for goods to be passed from railroad cars to trucks and vice versa to facilitate commerce in Birmingham. And, the bend formed by the tracks at the old Alice Furnaces site provided the perfect spur to bring railroad cars alongside the Merchant and Manufacturer’s Building for loading and unloading.
The building featured 22 reconfigurable bays that allowed it to adapt to the needs of different tenants. It featured some of the city’s first Bagby Elevators – a Birmingham family company still in existence today – and was conditioned with vapor steam heat linked to the Powell Avenue Steam Plant down the block. It was a jewel in the D. VK. D crown and a building they designed to stand for the future prosperity of Birmingham.
As envisioned for the next century, the Denham Bldg. will embrace this past of innovation and intersection of commerce to become a hub of activity in the newly revitalized Parkside District. It will again be a place where goods, ideas, and energy pass. A terminus along the historic railroad reservation where much of Birmingham’s growth is again occurring, a beacon of activity at the western end of our city’s most dynamic district. A symbol for what Birmingham was, is and will become.