On the corner of Roseland Drive and Edgewood Boulevard sits a home that holds almost a century of history. Its signature pink shade is brought to life by draping wisteria, an elaborately designed 2.5-acre garden, sprawling greens, creeping ivy, whimsical pathways leading to charming gates and a stunning selection of statues and fountains. And its magnificent exterior is rivaled only by the impressive and impactful lives of its homeowners and guests. This is the Homewood Pink House and Secret Garden.
As a young girl, artist Eleanor Bridges lived with her family of 11 in the Richard Massey Residence in Red Mountain. This is where Eleanor was first introduced to the unmatched beauty of a secret garden. Her family’s home was known for its manicured Italian gardens filled with romantic statuary, elaborate terraces, a large marble fountain and aromatic plants that soon became the backdrop for the city’s loveliest dances and parties. One of the residence’s most notable visitors was President William Howard Taft, with whom a young Eleanor conversed during his 1909 tour. Since, the idyllic residence has become the site of the Elton B. Stephens Expressway.
During this time of her childhood, Eleanor decided to become an artist. She attended the Margaret Allen School, taking lessons from local artists like Hannah Elliot and continued on to the Ogontz School for Young Ladies in Pennsylvania where, for a year, she was Amelia Earhart’s roommate. At the age of 19, Eleanor met Georges Bridges at a party in Birmingham. They were engaged within the week, and in 1921, they built a large pink stucco house in the heart of Homewood.
Under Eleanor’s tutelage, the Pink House also served as a boarding school for children abandoned at mining towns in the district. She taught them a focused curriculum of art and literature. Later, the home became a landmark in the progressive social and cultural scene. The Bridges hosted themed discussions each Sunday evening wherein The Little Theatre, now known as the Virginia Samford Theatre, had its very first performances. Later, the Bridges launched the Valley Civic Theatre with a performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome in a front yard lined with trees and intricately placed blooms.
In the 1950s, Eleanor became one of the most influential women in Birmingham. She was an officer of the Birmingham Beautification Board, the Women’s Civil Club of Birmingham, the Birmingham Festival of Arts and the Birmingham Art Association. Among other achievements, Eleanor established the Festival of Arts as a major cultural event and helped launch the Artist’s Guild, Birmingham Civic Opera and Women’s Committee of 100.
Together with her husband, the couple provided free art classes to students from Homewood City Schools and spoke annually on the importance of cultural education. She was even named Birmingham Woman of the Year in 1953 and became Vice President for Art and Culture for the Birmingham Centennial committee.
On top of all of this, Eleanor was a prolific painter. Her favorite subject? Dogs. Presidential dogs, that is. Eleanor was commissioned to paint Presidential pets such as “Fala,” Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, and “Liberty,” Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever. One hundred of her portraits were exhibited at the Birmingham Museum of Art. She also painted the reading-room mural at the Woodlawn Public Library and a mural in the lobby of the Brown-Marx Building. Because the lobby was paneled in pink marble, Eleanor suggested they install a constructed cylinder for support. This eventually became the Cyclorama of Birmingham History, which is now on display at the Birmingham History Center.
As if the lives of this dynamic couple aren’t impressive enough, the Pink House and Secret Garden played host to many legendary figures, including Ernest Hemingway, who was a frequent guest, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Unfortunately, On March 1, this treasured home and secret garden may be razed and leveled to make room for five new homes, but the Homewood AL Historical Preservation Society, a 501(c)(3), is dedicated to saving this local landmark. They are actively seeking donations to their crowdfunding campaign, angel investors and help spreading the word in order to ultimately preserve the home, so Eleanor and Georges’ legacy can live on through a beautiful community center.
To learn more about The Homewood Pink House & Secret Garden and the efforts to save and preserve it as a community center, visit savethehomewoodpinkhouse.com.
Thank you to Dylan Spencer for providing insight into this local treasure and for the beautiful images!
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