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.
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.
Alabama’s Divinity of Light
Electra atop the Alabama Power Building. Electra in the New York studio of Edward Field Sanford, Jr. in 1926. Photo via bhamwiki
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.
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:
- Prince Hall Masonic Temple (1924)
- John Hand Building (1912)
- Empire Building (1909)
- Brown-Marx Tower (1906)
- Woodward Building (1902)
- Steiner Building (1890)
- Iron Age Building (1886)
- Protective Life Building (1928)
- Sibyl Temple (1929)
- Webb Building (1871)
What is your favorite part of the Alabama Power Building? Tag us on Instagram @bhamnow to let us know!