A history of the Alabama Power Building, including Vulcan’s mythical love for Electra [Photos]

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Alabama Power
The Alabama Power Building in downtown Birmingham. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

If you live in Alabama, odds are you’ve heard about the Alabama Power Company. Each year, the company provides power to millions of residents throughout the state. But did you know the company’s Birmingham headquarters are nearly one hundred years old? We took a look at the historic Alabama Power Building to learn more.

Providing Power to Alabama Since 1906

While urban areas like New York City had access to electricity since the late 1800s, agricultural states like Alabama lagged behind. In fact, 90% of Alabamians were without electricity at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1906, several prominent Alabamians founded the Alabama Power Company with the goal of bringing electricity to residents and catapulting the state into the 20th century. The company’s first president, William Patrick Lay, was a former riverboat captain with intimate knowledge of Alabama’s rivers and their potential.

Alabama Power
The Alabama Power Building in the early 20th century. Photo via Alabama Power

In 1925, the company set their sights on a new, state-of-the-art headquarters in The Magic City. Alabama Power Company hired the architects at Warren, Knight and Davis (as well as associate architect Sigmund Nesselroth) to design a 16-story, 217-foot tall skyscraper on the corner of 18th Street North and 6th Avenue North.

Click here to learn more about the history of the Alabama Power Company.

Alabama’s Divinity of Light

High atop the Alabama Power Building’s eastern roof stands Electra, a 23-foot tall golden likeness of the mythological character from two ancient Greek tragedies. But how did she come to rest over 200 feet above The Magic City?

The original blueprints for the Alabama Power Building included a lighted “Alabama Power Co.” sign atop the building, much like the iconic City Federal, Redmont Hotel and Thomas Jefferson Tower signs. However, William Warren of Warren, Knight and Davis suggested an alternative—a proud, golden statue representing the state’s promise.

Originally titled “The Divinity of Light”, the 2-ton bronze statue was secured atop the Alabama Power Building on May 10, 1926. It was designed by Edward Field Sanford, Jr, a sculptor from New York. A coat of gold leaf gives Electra her iconic finish.

“A Love Story of Vulcan and Electra”

While Vulcan is definitely Birmingham’s best-known statue, Electra is a close second. But did you know that these two magical symbols had a love affair nearly a century ago? At least according to a Dr. B.U.L. Conner.

Dr. B.U.L. Conner was the pseudonym of E.T. Leech, a Birmingham Post columnist in the 1900s. In 1926, Leech wrote a series of comic strips in the Birmingham Post titled “A Love Story of Vulcan and Electra”, narrating a supposed romantic relationship between the two iconic statues. According to these comics, the potholes along 18th Street were the footprints of Vulcan during his visits to Electra.

Click here to read Chapter One of “A Love Story of Vulcan and Electra”, transcribed by BhamWiki.

Recent Renovations

Alabama Power
Three stone statues above the entrance to the Alabama Power Building, titled, “Power”, “Light” and “Heat”. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

In the early 1980s, the Alabama Power Company launched a $74M restoration project for the historic building. The project included an 18-story, 900,000 square-foot office tower addition to the company’s headquarters. A massive glass atrium connects the modern and historic Alabama Power Company buildings and features a marble replica of Electra. Electra herself was restored in 1996, in honor of her 70th birthday.

Want to learn more about Birmingham’s beautiful historic buildings? Check out these previous articles:

What is your favorite part of the Alabama Power Building? Tag us on Instagram @bhamnow to let us know!

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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