RSA Tower – The Monroe Axis

Monroe Street

Monroe Street as It Appeared a Decade Later, With RSA’s Jonah Project Underway.

Monroe Street is only nine blocks long and early in the Tower development, we determined that the RSA was proposing to construct a major project on over half of the blocks which comprised its length.  That meant that the curbs and sidewalks on these five city blocks would be completely rebuilt.  It was a glorious, once in a century, opportunity to realign the streetscape on a street whose existing bordering attributes were as crooked as a snake.  The issue was especially important because we were about to install a seven block long row of trees and new light standards.  A meandering curb and gutter line is not particularly noticeable when hidden behind parked automobiles, but misaligned rows of trees and poles would be readily apparent.

With Bronner’s encouragement, we approached the City with a proposal that we realign the middle seven blocks of Monroe along a new East-West axis.  Because the RSA had no projects in two of the blocks, we proposed that the City itself agree to straighten up those two otherwise untended sections.  The RSA agreed to make the new street light standards in those blocks a gift to the City, if only Montgomery would put in new walks and curbs in the missing blocks.  Of course, Dr. Bronner could have done all the work in the missing stretches, but that would have been politically unwise.  Besides, the City routinely conducts a program to upgrade and resurface streets, re-level sidewalks, install handicap ramps, etc.

To facilitate our grand plan, PH&J and its engineering consultants established a complete set of parameters which all the architects working along Monroe were to follow.  We set streetlight spacing and locations, a landscape concept, zones for underground utilities, traffic lane widths, pavement crown, parking setbacks, the whole works. The streetlight standards were those developed for the RSA Plaza and ACC.

Mayor Folmar was delighted with our proposal and enthusiastically endorsed the concept to all City departments.  In fact, he became so enthused and so closely monitored our efforts that I almost became trapped in the minutiae of my own design.  For instance, I learned that the Tower itself, whose foundation work was already in place, was not parallel with my new axis.  Our building had been laid out parallel to the property line of that block, and from block-to-block, the property lines were totally incongruent.  To remedy that oversight, I had to bend my own arrow-straight axis where it crossed McDonough Street.

Over the next year or two, as each of the RSA buildings were completed, the new street curbs and walks of the related block were added.  Alabama Power, the Water Works and Alagasco put in their new duct banks and mains.  Our underground wiring, new signal systems, landscaping and asphalt followed.  Hearing nothing from the City, we became fearful that as soon as the Retirement Systems projects had progressed too far to turn back, Emory Folmar would lose his enthusiasm and renege on his promise to complete the two non-RSA blocks

That is exactly what happened.  It’s now three years after the balance of the street was completed, and the City has yet to do its part.  It’s sad to envision such a grand scale concept, only to see it fail on the back of a broken promise.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Tower stories. The rest can be found here.

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