Louis Pizitz, a Russian immigrant who gave up rabbinical studies for retail, built and stood at the helm of Birmingham’s leading department store chain throughout much of the last century. The business passed to his son Isidore and eventually, in 1987, was sold to McRae’s, which summarily closed the flagship building on 19th Street North and Second Avenue. The historic structure with the decorative terra cotta facade was purchased in 2000 by Bayer Properties and is slated for a $59 million redevelopment into apartments and first-floor shops.
Twenty six years later, a mini-trove of Pizitz items left behind during the McRae’s closure was donated to the Birmingham History Center. The donor was a contractor hired to clear out the building’s contents; the donated material was removed from a single office. Here are pictures of just a few items donated, followed by a summary list of the other objects and papers.
Other donated objects include:
1) Photographs and picture postcards of an unidentified Pizitz family member;
2) Newspaper advertising sections from the Birmingham News, Birmingham Post and Birmingham Age Herald for the years 1928, 1929, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1950, and 1969;
3) A 1975 “key to the city” of Homewood to Louis Pizitz son, and business successor Isidore Pizitz;
4) Deeds and mortgages on Georgia property and residential property in Mt. Brook;
5) Pizitz annual reports and several Christmas catalogs from late 1960s;
6) A copy of a 1970s (?)-era spoof of a Pizitz catalog with mixed race models and entitled Christmas with Contrast;
7) A folder documenting Louis Pizitz research into, and rejection of, a nomination to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
As much interest as there is in the Pizitz name and building, the road to redeveloping the iconic building has been a rocky one. The plans for office and retail hit a major snag with the Great Recession, and the first office tenant to commit, in 2010–law firm Baker Donelson–backed out later that year. The city of Birmingham is now assisting Bayer with $1.9 million in streets improvements and facilitating efforts to land a federal HUD loan and tax exemptions. Construction hasn’t begun.
For more information on the Pizitz building and the history of its prominent entrepreneurial family, read bhamwiki’s account at http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Louis_Pizitz.
For questions or comments on the donation, write firstname.lastname@example.org.