The team behind Sloss Furnaces has big plans for three long-vacant structures on the Sloss campus, including artist gallery space, art studios and more resources for the Sloss Metal Arts program. Keep reading to learn more about the history of the structures and what’s next.
The History of Sloss Quarters
Located across the street from Sloss Furnaces, the three vacant buildings at 124 32nd Street North are all that remain of the once-sprawling community named Sloss Quarters. Located next to the Furnace grounds, Sloss Quarters was a company town where many of Sloss Furnaces’ workers—and their families—lived in shotgun-style houses.
“The Furnaces burned 24 hours a day, seven days a week and often had breakout fires and explosions. The company needed a resource of firefighting labor nearby that could be called at any time, so they built Sloss Quarters to house a considerable portion of their workforce.”Steven Reider, President of the Board of Directors of Sloss Furnaces Foundation
To support the residents of Sloss Quarters, the company constructed three infrastructure buildings:
- A commissary where workers could buy supplies using cash or scrip (credit that can only be redeemed at the company store).
- An infirmary.
- A power vault.
The old shotgun-style houses are long gone, but the stone and brick infrastructure buildings remain.
Sloss Quarters Renovation Project
In late 2021, the Sloss Furnaces Foundation applied for and received a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts to investigate the feasibility of restoring the three infrastructure buildings for use by the Sloss Metal Arts program. The Foundation hired local architecture firm Design Initiative and engineering firm Dynamic Civil Solutions to help develop a plan and conceptual renderings for the project.
Since the buildings have been vacant for decades, they’re in need of some serious TLC. For instance, the roof of the former commissary building—the stone structure—is caved in.
According to Steven Reider, the renovation plans for the three structures include:
- Transforming the northern brick building into a space for artists with Sloss Metal Arts. The building would include space for full time artists and visiting artists to work, collaborate and rest.
- Turning the southern building into a gallery and event space, with space for art studios, classrooms and workspace.
- Utilizing the small infirmary building to house a historic exhibit about Sloss Quarters.
Long-term, the Sloss Furnaces Foundation wants to utilize the rear yard as a community green space, where local organizations or schools can host outdoor art classrooms and events. Eventually, the team would like to transform the area under the 1st Avenue viaduct into a connective space linking the Sloss Quarters property to Back Forty and Sloss Docks.
“We have some healthy cost estimates of what it will take to fund this project, and there may be some tweaks and reconfigurations to the project based on the total cost. And whether we renovate both structures at once or view them as two separate projects remains to be seen, but there are a lot of grant opportunities available to help fund the Sloss Quarters Renovation project in addition to our fundraising campaign.”Steven Reider, President of the Board of Directors of Sloss Furnaces Foundation
The Sloss Quarters Renovation project is still at an early stage. Now that the team has conducted a structural analysis and has a conceptual rendering, the next step will be creating a true architectural plan.
“Sloss Furnaces is an important chapter in the story of Birmingham—in fact, there will be a documentary of the history on Alabama Public Television on Thursday, January 19. Projects like the restoration of Sloss Quarters help link our past to our future. Funding the cost of projects like this, along with maintaining the incredible structures that make up all of Sloss Furnaces, can be overwhelming. We rely upon grants and, more importantly, donations from people, foundations and corporations in our community.”David Arias, Executive Director of Sloss Furnaces