by David McElroy
I had to drive through a part of Birmingham Wednesday where I hardly ever go anymore. Years ago, I spent a good bit of time in that area. As a drove down a major road, my mind catalogued changes that have taken place in the 15 years or so since I regularly spent time there.
The O’Charley’s that was the popular brand-new mid-priced restaurant in the area about 15 years ago was closed and the building was in disrepair. What had once been a Pizza Hut where my ex-wife and I used to spend a lot of time was now a run-down title pawn store. A home supply store where I bought live Christmas trees for a number of years was closed and the building was crumbling from lack of use. There was example after example of this along the highway.
I was surprised to find myself feeling a little disoriented from seeing it all.
My rational brain understands that retail buildings are thrown up as cheaply as possible to serve the purposes they’re intended for. If a building needs to project an air of solidity and permanence, the building’s facade might be stone or be made of something else designed to look like something that will last. But underneath, today’s commercial buildings are cheap and intended to be thrown away in just a few years, after they’ve served their brief commercial purposes.
As I looked at those decaying and abandoned buildings, it occurred to me why I’m so strongly attracted to old buildings that are still in good repair and still in use. I find them charming and oddly alluring, wherever I find them. For instance, Hagia Sophia, pictured above, was built as a church in 537 AD. It spent most of its history as a church and then became a mosque. Today, it’s a museum. I’d like to visit it someday.