Historic preservation enthusiasts hope another month will give them time to save an 1850s-era building in downtown Tuscaloosa.
But one of the owners of the Buck Carriage House said it’s too far gone to save and is seeking permission to have the health hazard demolished before anyone gets hurt.
Located at 1818 University Blvd., the Buck Carriage House was built about 1854, according to City Hall records.
The two-story, stucco-covered brick carriage house, believed to have been constructed by slaves, features a side gable roof of asphalt shingles, exposed rafters and a two-flight staircase with single-leaf paneled doors on the first floor.
But it has now fallen into disrepair, with holes in the roof, water damage on the floors and roof with vegetation and mold growing throughout.
“It’s not repairable,” said Tuscaloosa resident Marjorie Meredith Hudson, one of four family members who own the structure. “We don’t have any plans for it, just to save someone from injuring themselves.”
Hudson said the land near the intersection of Queen City Avenue and University Boulevard on which the Buck Carriage House sits has been owned by her family since the 1950s.
Her share of the property came to her in 2012, but Hudson said she was never notified of the Carriage House’s historical significance or the rules of the Druid City Historic District that govern it. Three other relatives came to be partial owners of the site about a month ago, following the death of a relative.
In May, City Hall issued notification to Hudson that the building was in violation of several building codes, with a requirement to have them complete by July 14.
Since then, Hudson has had the building inspected by an architect — “he said there (was) no redeeming … value of anything from the 1800s” — and a structural engineer, who described it as “very dangerous,” she said.
Now, Hudson is seeking permission from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to tear the building down.
“When you inherit something, no one tells you the rules for when (the property is) within an historic district,” said Hudson, 77. “There needs to be a way to notify people when there’s a change of ownership of what the rules are for having an historic property.
“That would be very helpful.”
In a letter sent to City Hall by Hudson’s attorney, Farley A. Poellnitz of the Tuscaloosa law firm Phelps, Jenkins, Gibson and Fowler on Greensboro Avenue, he said the owners believe any attempt to sell it “would be futile as it is more valuable to be used as additional parking spaces for the owners’ adjacent property.”
Last week, the Historic Preservation Commission elected to delay a decision on the building until at least its Sept. 12 meeting, after a City Hall inspection of the property can be conducted.
But some want to see the structure protected no matter what the city inspection reveals.
“We’ve seen with a lot of the slum lords intentionally letting properties fall into disrepair so they then can sell it,” said Ian Crawford, the outgoing executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Historic Preservation Society and former member of the Historic Preservation Commission. “If the city allows this to become a precedent, then what’s to stop other slumlords from buying property and allowing them to do the same thing?”
Crawford believes efforts to demolish the Buck Carriage House to be “demolition by neglect and that’s illegal,” and points to its cultural and historical significance for reasons it should be saved.
For one, the company that oversaw its construction also built the original Bryce Hospital and Jemison-Van de Graff Mansion, Crawford said.
He also said it’s a remaining example of a mansion’s “out building,” many of which have long since been destroyed.
While more mansions remain than the out buildings, this is a site where the original mansion has been removed while the out building has remained, Crawford said.
“Rarely do we still have the working-class story,” Crawford said. “It’s an excellent example … of an urban slave dwelling.”
For historic district residents, it’s a matter of protecting other buildings from a similar fate.
Like Crawford, Original City Association President Kelly Fitts is concerned that the approval of the Carriage House’s demolition would encourage other property owners to neglect their historic buildings in order to tear them down and build something new, like student housing.
“We are concerned with any demolition in the historic district from people neglecting their buildings,” Fitts said. “We don’t want it to become a trend.”
And whether the building can be — or is worth saving — is another question she has.
Either on the site or transferred to another location, Fitts said it should be definitively determined whether the Carriage House can be salvaged before a demolition decision is made.
“I would like to have somebody who is an expert in historic buildings be allowed to evaluate it and determine whether it can be saved or not,” Fitts said. “We need to make very, very certain that this cannot be salvaged before tearing down something as historic or as old as this building.”
Reach Jason Morton at email@example.com or 205-722-0200.