Founded in 1871, Birmingham had become one of the South’s largest industrial centers by 1925. Birmingham’s leaders sought to increase its 600 acres of parkland, creating the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board in 1923 and contracting with Olmsted Brothers the following year. In 1925 the firm published a report proposing both active and passive neighborhood parks within easy walking distance for residents of all socio-economic and racial groups. The work was supervised by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., with Edward Whiting serving as project manager.
With work already underway by the Olmsted firm to prepare plans for Birmingham’s Linn, Hall’s (Rushton), and Underwood Parks, and while the company also served as an advisor for Green Springs (now George Ward), Avondale, and Ensley Parks, a number of these acquisitions and recommendations would be carried out, thanks to a Bond Issue (1931) and Depression-era funds that followed.
In addition to the parks and playgrounds, the firm proposed parkways along the crests of mountains and ridges that afforded views. Of those proposed, the Shades Mountain Parkway (now Shades Crest Road) was realized and survives today, as do segments of the Red Mountain Parkway. The Olmsted firm also urged for the protection of natural scenery associated with outlying parks and scenic reservations. In the area to the north of Shades and Red Mountains, this approach took hold, with protections for the floodplain and the creeks integrated into the planning for Mountain Brook and Homewood in the 1920s. Today, the Mountain Brook reservation, Homewood’s sixty-five acres of old growth forest preserve, the Freshwater Land Trust’s stewardship of areas around Five Mile Creek and Tarrant Springs Branch, and the Crosby and Shadow Lake area remain held in trust for the public’s benefit.