In celebration of #ThisPlaceMattersHsv and Preservation Month, I met with several of Huntsville’s City Council members to chat about some of the places that have special meaning in their district. These are places that hold historic and emotional significance and are an integral part of Huntsville’s continuing growth.
Mark Russell, District 2
Goldsmith-Schiffman Field is a multi-purpose stadium that has served the Huntsville community for the past 84 years. In 1934, Oscar Goldsmith, Lawrence B. Goldsmith, Annie Schiffman Goldsmith, Robert L. Schiffman, and Elsie Strauss Schiffman gave the property to the city to use as an athletic field or playground. The field was dedicated during the first night game on October 4, 1934, when 1,000 fans watched Coach Milton Frank’s Huntsville High team defeat Gadsden High. Today, the field is primarily used for city league soccer and lacrosse games.
City Council Member Mark Russell remembers Goldsmith-Schiffman as “the” stadium for Huntsville during its heyday. “This is the best field in Huntsville. It’s where I played football, and almost everyone in Huntsville has been to this stadium,” said Russell. “I remember when people would sit on their front porches and kids would climb trees to watch the games.” The historic stadium is situated on the west side of Andrew Jackson Way in the Five Points neighborhood. Its sturdy stone walls still have the small openings where tickets were sold on game nights.
Currently, Goldsmith-Schiffman’s facilities and parking are not well-suited for large crowds, but Russell is working to ensure the space will continue to serve the surrounding community. “We want to preserve it and use it,” said Russell. “I want kids to know about it and keep it alive for future generations. As the neighborhood grows, we could open it up and make it a real park.” Russell is looking forward at FY 2019 funding to replace the existing concession and restroom buildings with a new building that will incorporate both uses.
Jennie Robinson, District 3
Located in Southeast Huntsville, the original Grissom High School was founded in 1969 and is named for astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom. Because Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, many of the City’s schools bear the names of individuals involved in the space program.
In 2012, Huntsville City Schools announced plans to tear down the original two-story main high school building and replace it with a three-story school building at an estimated cost of $58 million. The new high school was built on a large piece of land southwest of Memorial Parkway and Weatherly Road and opened in 2017.
The construction of a new school left the fate of the original Grissom High in question. City Council Member Jennie Robinson sees the 1969 Grissom High as the heart of the area. “You don’t want to rip the heart of the community, you want to make the heart stronger,” said Robinson.
Through conversations between local leaders and organizations, a plan emerged to redevelop Grissom High School into the Sandra Moon Community Complex that will incorporate new ball fields, playgrounds, tennis and Pickleball courts, art space, walking trails, a festival lawn, reading garden, and the new Bailey Cove Library. Currently, 22 different organizations are interested in being a part of this redevelopment. Beginning in January 2019, space north of the auditorium will be demolished, and the main entrance to the building will be reoriented to the east side. The “GHS” sign that was donated by the Class of 1972 will remain as part of the history of the site.
Sandra Moon served Southeast Huntsville on the City Council for 12 years and was a mentor to Robinson. “Opportunities to redevelop create a lot of energy,” said Robinson. “We’ve built strong partnerships within the community, and you can do so much if you get the right people at the table.”
Bill Kling, District 4
Huntsville is experiencing steady growth and the city’s center, including neighborhoods such as the historic mill villages, Mayfair and Medical districts, and McThornmor Acres are experiencing an up tick in growth.
City Council Member Bill Kling is proud of these neighborhoods and sees their growth as a “great shot in the arm” for Huntsville’s central region. “The revitalization of the central part of the city has created a hotbed of activity and increased property values,” said Kling. Recently, Invent Communities purchased a number of lots in the Lowe Mill Historic District to construct new housing and retail space that is architecturally compatible to existing buildings.
Merrimack is another mill village where people have recognized the value of renovating and living in historic spaces. “Many young couples have moved in and put in a lot of sweat equity,” said Kling. “They take up the old carpets and find solid mahogany flooring underneath. Their efforts have resulted in a lot of momentum in this neighborhood over the past 10 years.”
Kling has also been very involved in the survey and National Register of Historic Places listing of McThornmor Acres, Alabama’s first Space Age historic district. “The neighborhood association has great leadership, and with their help, we recognized McThornmor Acres’ historical significance, and that is a great thing,” said Kling.