Alabama Theatre launches campaign to bring back historic sign

Birmingham’s Alabama Theatre is a finalist for a national preservation grant that the historic theater hopes to use to install a replica of a vintage sign that has been missing since the 1950s.

At an event at the Alabama this evening, REV Birmingham announced that the nearly 90-year-old theater is one of 25 finalists to receive grant money from the Partners in Preservation: Main Street campaign.

The theater would use the grant money to help pay for a 60-foot, vertical “Alabama” sign above the double doors that lead to the stage entrance of the theater on 18th Street North. The replica sign will match the iconic Alabama sign at the main entrance to the theater on Third Avenue North.

The theater hopes to unveil the new sign at a New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31, Brant Beene, executive director of Birmingham Landmarks Inc., the nonprofit that owns the Alabama Theatre, told The Alabama Theatre opened on Dec. 26, 1927, and will celebrate its 90th birthday this year.

From 1927 until 1957, the Alabama Theatre had twin vertical signs on Third Avenue North and on 18th Street, according to Beene.

By 1957, both signs were in need of repair, and the one on Third Avenue North was partially dismantled and the one on 18th Street was taken down to be refurbished. The Third Avenue North sign was fully restored by 1960, but the other sign disappeared and was probably scrapped, according to Beene.

“I’m told that it rusted away before we could raise enough money and get it back up,” he said.

Once installed, the new, replica sign will further illuminate the corner of 18th Street and Third Avenue North in the downtown Theater District, Beene said. That corner of the Theater District is home not only to the Alabama Theatre but also the 103-year-old Lyric Theatre, which was restored and reopened in January 2016.

This is an archival photograph of what the twin signs outside the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham, Ala., looked like from 1927 to 1957. (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks Inc.) 

“The Alabama sign on Third Avenue is such an icon,” Beene said. “You see it on television, on shows and in car commercials, and everybody statewide knows about that vertical Alabama sign.

“When the Lyric Theatre (restoration) came along and we illuminated that (Lyric) sign, it really expanded the boundary of what people know as the Theater District.

“Putting that (Alabama) sign back on 18th Street is just a natural extension, not just for the Alabama but for the…

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