A behind the scenes look at Birmingham’s John Hand Building. Photos included!

OV Hunt 2 A behind the scenes look at Birmingham's John Hand Building. Photos included!OV Hunt 2 A behind the scenes look at Birmingham's John Hand Building. Photos included!
The John Hand Building in 1912 and 2019

When I first came to Birmingham, I became obsessed with its hundreds of beautiful historic buildings. I used to spend hours driving through downtown, marveling at the old structures. Of course, the John Hand Building immediately grabbed my attention. Read on to learn more about one of Birmingham’s famous (and coolest!) skyscrapers.

Fun Facts

John Hand Building in 1912
John Hand Building under construction in 1912. Photo via Birmingham Public Library Archives & Manuscripts
  • A series of names: Before it was the John Hand, the building was originally named the American Trust and Savings Bank Building.
  • Ornate decor: Beautiful Sylacauga Marble makes the inside of the building stand out. Also, Sylacauga Marble is the official state rock of Alabama! I bet you didn’t know our state has an official rock.
  • Who designed the building? The architect, William Leslie Welton, also designed the original Tutwiler Hotel, the Ridgely Apartments (aka the new Tutwiler Hotel) and the Vestavia Estate of former mayor George Ward.

Humble Beginnings

Alabama National Bank Building
The Alabama National Bank Building, constructed in the early 1880s. In order to build the John Hand Building, this 19th century building was demolished. Photo via Bhamwiki

In 1903, the American Trust & Savings Bank opened with $100,000 in capital funds (that’s nearly $3 million in today’s currency). After a series of mergers with other local banks, including the Alabama National Bank, they constructed a skyscraper on the southeast corner on 1st Avenue North and 20th Street as their headquarters.

When the building was finished in 1912, it was the tallest building in Alabama. However, the City Federal Building stole the title a year later.

The Heyday of the American Trust and Savings Bank Building

John Hand Building in 1950
Downtown Birmingham in the 1950s. To the right, the backside of the John Hand. Photo by O.V. Hunt, via Birmingham Public Library Archives & Manuscripts

During the 20th century, the American Trust and Savings Bank went through a series of mergers. The biggest merger was with the First National Bank of Birmingham, which moved its headquarters to the building in 1940.

In 1970, the skyscraper was named the John A. Hand Building in honor of First National’s president.

Bringing New Life to the John Hand Building

AbandonedSoutheast1 A behind the scenes look at Birmingham's John Hand Building. Photos included!
The old vault in the basement. Photo via Abandoned Southeast

In 1994, AmSouth vacated their offices in the John Hand Building in order to move to two new towers. After 82 years in service, the building sat empty.

Then, in 1997, a man named Jimmy Taylor bought the entire building for $1.5 million. As a result of the multi-million dollar restoration, several businesses began to lease offices in the historic building.

Shipt Takes Over

John Hand
The Shipt headquarters are located in Birmingham’s historic John Hand building. Photo via Shipt

In 2014, Bill Smith leased the bottom six floors and the basement for his new startup, Shipt. Since the company quickly became a success, the Shipt UFO logo was added to the top of the building in 2016.

Now, Shipt has outgrown the John Hand Building. Although they are keeping their offices in the building, the company is expanding their business to the former Wells Fargo tower. In fact, you may have recently seen the Wells Fargo letters floating across the Birmingham sky in preparation for Shipt’s upcoming move.

What the John Hand Building is Now

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Interior of condo inside John Hand, Birmingham, AL. Photo via H2 Real Estate

In addition to Shipt, there are a number of condos in the building. With hardwood floors, a fireplace, 24-hour security and one of the best views of downtown Birmingham, these condos are fab.

If you’re not looking to move in but still want to experience the history of the building, the John Hand Club and Hotel might be for you. This private club is located on the top two floors of the skyscraper. Members have access to the club and six gorgeous rooms, as well as special rates for private events.

Although it has strayed from its banking roots, the John Hand Building still shines as one of Birmingham’s most beautiful skyscrapers.

Which of Birmingham’s historic buildings would you like to read about next? Tag @bhamnow and let us know!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

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