Monday, October 31, 2011

The Pythian Temple of Alabama in Birmingham

The building now known as the Pythian Temple of Alabama was built in 1913 for the Alabama Penny Savings Bank, the first bank in Alabama to be owned by a black resident; additionally, the Alabama Penny Savings Bank, founded by William Reuben Pettiford, became the second largest black-owned bank in the United States. The Penny Savings Bank, in operation from 1890 to 1915, was a staple of the black community in Birmingham. The bank provided mortgages and business loans for many residents of Smithfield and other Birmingham areas, who were unable to procure loans elsewhere.

The Pythian Temple building was designed by Wallace A. Rayfield, who was also the architect behind the 16th Street and 22nd Avenue Baptist Churches, among other buildings. In addition to the indelible mark his architecture has left on Birmingham, Rayfield taught at Tuskegee Institute under Booker T. Washington, and designed buildings elsewhere in the South. More about Rayfield can be found in the biography of the man and his work: The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield: Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Alabama.The Windham Construction Co., also with black ownership, was contracted to erect the building; the Windham brothers, Thomas and Benjamin, had previously collaborated with Rayfield on the 16th Street Baptist Church, among other projects.

In 1915, the Knights of Pythias purchased the building for $70,000, and it became a social hub in the city. The Knights of Pythias are a fraternal order, with a very distinguished heritage including the following members: William Jennings Bryan, Justice Hugo Black, Louis Armstrong, and Presidents Warren G. Harding and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order was established in 1864 by Justus Rathbone, who had an eye toward healing the Union once the Civil War came to an end.

[Do not be fooled by the apparent authenticity of the owls. They are 
plastic and were manufactured in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1990.]

A.G. Gaston purchased the Pythian Temple and other neighboring buildings later in the 20th Century to house his various Booker T. Washington Corporation subsidiaries. In 1980, the National Register of Historic Places added the building to its books.

Offices of A.G. Gaston

Many renovations later, the Pythian Temple of Alabama is little more than an office building with an old foundation and a largely forgotten history. Very little is left that could indicate the building's past importance to a large segment of Birmingham's populace.

[Left: Elevator Room          Right: The very eery Basement]

Sources: Nancy C. Curtis, Black Heritage Sites: An African American Odyssey and Finder's Guide, 1996 <>; Rebecca Dobrinski, "Investing in the Past: The Pythian Temple," Magic City Post, 14 August 2011 <>;Chianti C. Legget, "A Fight to Maintain, Propel Birmingham's African American Heritage," The Birmingham Times, 22 December 2010 <>; "Pythian Temple of Alabama," Emporis, <>; John Sledge, "Southern Bound: An Overdue Look at Architect Wallace Rayfield,", 12 August 2010 <>; Wilson Fallin, Jr. "Penny Savings Bank of Birmingham," Encyclopedia of Alabama, Updated 13 May 2011 <>.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ensley Steel Works, Property of US Steel

The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI) established its largest production facility in Ensley, Alabama, at the site that has subsequently become known as the Ensley Works. According to John Stewart, "The Ensley Works became a very significant steel property and was key in the growth and development of the Birmingham District as a steel and particularly a rail manufacturing center." Eventually, US Steel purchased TCI and procured control of the Ensley Works.

1909 Panorama of the Ensley Works :: Copyright Deposit, Haines Photo Co., January 14, 1909
In August of 2010, several friends and I came upon this site while out looking for another site, which turned out to be less interesting than had been hoped for. We spent several hours checking the place out, but I wasn't really prepared for an in-depth photo session, not having either of my nicer cameras nor a tripod on me at the time. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to return in the not-too-distant future, with proper equipment in tow.



Festive Fall Fireworks

Pretty soon, it's going to be boring, drab ole' winter, 
so enjoy these colorful bursts of foliage autumn provides.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goldenrod Season

One of those late-blooming flowers inherent to Alabama is Goldenrod. Although easily mistaken for a weed, goldenrod apparently has medicinal value. Medical herbalist Holli Richey has a recipe for goldenrod tea, which she purports will prevent colds. Without further ado, here's some goldenrod found near our house.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Republic Steel's East Thomas Plant

A little more than a year ago, two friends and I were given permission to shoot the remains of Republic Steel's East Thomas plant, which lies on the premises of Wade Sand & Gravel on the western side of Birmingham. 

I haven't shared these photos until now, but at long last, here they are.

Part of the reason I share this now is that I've been given permission to photograph another historic Birmingham structure at the end of this week. I'm pretty excited, though I have no idea how it'll turn out; the only photos I've seen of the building's interior are nearly 100 years old.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9

I just purchased Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 which, for me, was an upgrade from Elements 6. There are innumerable reviews on it, so I won't elaborate. But Adobe Camera Raw, which allows me to manipulate the RAW files from both my Panasonic LX3 and Canon Rebel T2i, is worth the price of admission by itself. I think it's probably going to change my whole workflow; ACR is so much more user friendly than Canon's Digital Photo Professional, with the added benefit of no more switching from one program to the other.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Puppy-Sitting with Ellie and Maggie

A while ago on a Saturday, I was tasked with puppy-sitting my in-laws Shih Tzu's, which is really no great chore. So it was only natural that I take a couple of photographs while they were in my care. Normally, they're a bit camera shy, but on this occasion, they more-or-less ignored me in anticipation that I might soon quit pestering them, I suppose.



Notice Maggie's look of concern that this might continue for any substantial length of time. Her fears were allayed when the camera was stowed away shortly thereafter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Octoped Resident...Now Deceased

Well, Silas the Orb Weaver moved out. I think he got pissed on Saturday when I was mowing and stirring up a bunch of dust. But on that same day, I found a new arachnid; this one I was much less pleased to find. This was the fifth Black Widow I have found since we bought the house, this one the smallest. Fortunately, none have been found inside the house. When I found this specimen Saturday morning it was already dead; I think I unwittingly killed it the previous day when spraying for ants; but I would have wittingly killed it had I known it was there. Nonetheless, here she is, still hanging by a thread, looking as menacing as ever.

Canon Rebel T2i, Tamron 70-300 LD Di @ 300mm, 1/320s @ f/8, ISO 100

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review :: Camelbak Lobo [Update]

After carrying my Camelbak Lobo on both an 8-mile run and equidistant hike this weekend, I can reconfirm both its comfort and utility. Regarding carrying the Lobo while running, nothing has changed from my initial review. But as it pertains to hiking, I am even more pleased with the Lobo than I had anticipated. 

That's me and the Lobo on its inaugural hiking trip.
I planned a several-hour hike at the Sipsey Wilderness (report from that venture, here) with a couple of cameras. I intended to carry two small cameras [Panasonic LX3 and Agfa Billy Record], a monopod [Velbon RUP-40 w/Slik SBH-100 ballhead], KA-BAR knife, film, Leatherman utility tool, small medical/first aid pack, snacks, compass, trail maps, cell phone, other small necessities/accessories, and of course, a fairly full bladder of water.

Camelbak and Gear :: I know, a little over-prepared
Result: No problem. There wasn't any extra room, but everything fit sufficiently well. And perhaps most importantly, even though we went off-trail a bit (intentionally), none of the survival gear became necessary to use.

Please feel free to leave any comments regarding your own experiences, or questions you might have. I strive to make this as informative as possible.

Lyric Alley (Vol. II)

Follow these links to access either Volume I of this set or the Gallery.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lyric Alley (Vol. I)

Last Friday night, I went with friends to see the Civil Wars at the Alabama Theatre. We park about a block-and-a-half away from the Theatre, and as we were walking we passed the Lyric building, itself containing an old theatre. But in the alley behind that building, something caught my eye, and I made a mental note to return with a camera. So yesterday, with a little extra time between work and class, I did just that. 

This one (above) was the initial 'inspiration.' But as it turned out much of that alleyway was interesting to some degree or another.

This set served as further inspiration to start a new gallery on my website, simply titled: The Doors. Over the years I have photographed so many interesting doorways and doors in Birmingham, that I thought it only appropriate that they receive their own designated space.

So this is the first half, with the rest to follow tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bogen 3047 Pan/Tilt Head - Interchangeable Handles?

Synopsis: The Bogen 3047's handles are not interchangeable with the knobs to be found on the newer models, Bogen 3437 or Manfrotto 460MG.

For several years now I have used the Bogen 3047 Pan/Tilt Tripod Head atop a set Bogen 3001BN legs (now replaced by the Manfrotto 190XDB). While the 3047 has been a great head, it is not easily portable. The large handles are obtrusive and do not condense to a smaller size. But their size does allow a user to get plenty of torque and have sufficient controlling over tightening/loosening, even in very small increments, so as to produce only minute movements.

But as my hiking, paddling, and traveling have increased, so too have my needs for portability and practicability. And the 3047 does not fit that bill. The 3047 was succeeded by the Bogen 3437, which was itself replaced by the Manfrotto 460MG (Bogen and Manfrotto are sister companies, of which Manfrotto has become the US distributor). The advantages of the 3437 and 460MG, at least as far as my needs are concerned is that rather than protrusive handles, they have knobs, which are both smaller and lighter.

My hope was that the knobs on the newer models would be interchangeable with the handles on the 3047. So I contacted both [not affiliated with the manufacturer] and Manfrotto. These are the responses I got, first from BTP, "Unfortunately we know of no way possible to replace the handles on the 3047 with knobs"; then from Manfrotto, "I just spoke with my service technicians and they said they could not be switched out." Thus died that dream, quickly and unceremoniously.

So now my options are reduced either to carrying on with my bulky but functional 3047 or adding the 460MG to the ever-growing Things Desired list, and establishing its priority. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you might have. I strive to make this as informative as possible.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sipsey Wilderness Hiking on Randolph Trail

Blake, Tyler, and I visited the Sipsey Wilderness again on Sunday afternoon. Rather than taking FT 201 again in search of the possibly mythical Big Tree, we embarked on FT 202 (also called "Randolph Trail," trail map), which passed between two older but well-maintained cemeteries, collectively known as Johnson Cemetery.

The season has begun to change at the Sipsey Wilderness :: Panasonic LX3
The trail then proceeded down and past some bluffs, and eventually intersects the Sipsey River, where it dead ends into FT 209 (trail map). After going off trail a bit coming down toward the Sipsey, we crossed and hopped on 209, and followed it a ways in an attempt to locate Little Ugly Branch, which is home to a couple nice waterfalls. But by that point the trail miles and approaching late hour had more-or-less sapped our cavalier spirit (that I almost simultaneously sprained my ankle and was stung by a hornet, no small feat, I assure you).

Most surprising siting: Bison. We spotted them at a farm on the way home.

For any of you using Apple devices that are not Flash enabled and thus cannot view the slideshow, you can find the gallery containing the slideshow's photos here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Silas the Orb Weaver

Found this fellow hanging out behind the house. His web was empty of any dinner and looked pretty newly spun. I thought he could have stood to tidy the thing up a bit; it looked a little amateurish for a guy with "weaver" in his name. 


Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm Lichen that Rock

Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, Alabama :: Orange Lichen

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review :: Camelbak Lobo

I recently purchased a Camelbak Lobo, which has a 100 oz. reservoir and a good bit of storage space. My intentions for it are multifold. Primarily, I will use it for running; when I'm trail running or getting those long runs in for half-marathon training (and soon, the full 26.2), the 32-ounce bottle I carried on my waist just didn't cut it. The Lobo's capacity more than triples that, and is more comfortable. I was concerned that a shoulder pack would slosh and negatively affect my rhythm, but after a couple of minutes of getting accustomed to the pack's movement (which fell in line with my own), it was no longer a conscious thought.

Seen here in mid-stride at the Huntsville Half Marathon
sporting my Camelbak Lobo 100oz pack.
After getting the Lobo, I was pleased to see that it has enough compartments to carry some light camera equipment on hikes. I will easily be able to carry my Panasonic LX3 along with its Conversion Adapter, which allows it to accept filters. And even then I'll have room for a couple small snacks, a utility knife, first aid kit, and perhaps a couple of other small necessities.

Filling and cleaning the bladder was easier than with any other hydration pack I've used previously. The straps are easily adjustable for various body types and sizes. The padding is of a type that's designed to wick away moisture and increase breathability, thus keeping you cooler. Additionally, a number of reviews indicate that the water in the pack will be kept cold for hours; of course, that will depend on the ambient temperature, I imagine.

If you're looking for a hydration pack with a large reservoir and multiple utility, the Lobo should be a strong consideration.

Peavine Falls at Oak Mountain State Park

After the Sipsey Wilderness adventure on Friday, Blake, Tyler, and I opted for something a little more tame and closer to home on Saturday morning, so as to be home in time to inundate ourselves with football the rest of the day. So we went to Peavine Falls in the Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham.