Kirkbride Buildings Blog

July 18th, 2008

Bryce Hospital Landmark Intrigue

Bryce HospitalThere’s a story on about efforts to get Bryce Hospital designated a national historic landmark: Panel Urges Landmark Protection for Bryce. The application for landmark status has to be made within a month, but much like that fickle girlfriend or boyfriend we’ve all had at one time in our lives, the University of Alabama wants to keep its options open. So far it has opposed the landmark application. The school plans to purchase the Bryce Hospital property when the hospital moves in a year or so, and seems to believe that landmark status will somehow “hurt the university if it owned the building.”

If I were the pessimistic type, I’d say it sounds like UA is considering demolishing the Kirkbride even though they say otherwise. I can’t think of any other reason they’d oppose an historic landmark designation, especially since it would make the building eligible for federal preservation funds.

I’m also not exactly sure why the university even has a say in this at all, but my guess is no one wants to sour the deal whereby they’ll purchase the property.

Photo credit: A Friend.

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  1. Phil July 18, 2008, 10:51 am

    I’ve read comments on photos at Flickr saying that police and/or security will confront any one taking photos around the kirkbride and order them to put their camera away.
    Another comment stated that one possible reason for not allowing photos could be that they don’t want people to see the state of disrepair the building is in. So that when the University of Alabama buys the land, they can have it condemned and removed, then build something Crimson Tide Football related.

    Obviously these are just random comments from individuals. But considering the fact that the building doesn’t look in the best of shape, it could be possible that they are planning on doing something along those lines. And that they are making efforts to keep it off the Historic Register is even more evidence of this.

    You can see in this photo the poor condition of the dome above the admin.

  2. Ethan July 18, 2008, 11:39 am

    I’ve heard that theory about why security/police is cracking down, but it doesn’t really make sense. Seems like if that were the case, they’d want people to see the disrepair so the public would understand why they’d want it condemned and demolished etc.

    I think it’s just enforcement of the usual laws regarding patient privacy.

    It does look to be in pretty rough shape though. I’ve heard that the inside of the wings is particularly bad.

  3. squad546 July 19, 2008, 12:33 am

    Here’s the thing about National Historic Register. Anyone can nominate a building for the Register, but the owner of the property can object to it. It then goes back to committee and the person that nominated it can fight it etc. Landmark status is much tougher and involves alot of politics, especially since the current Secretary of the Interior is, well, not the best to deal with. There is also a more difficult process of meeting certain criteria to get Landmark status. Kankakee State Hospital is part of a historic district which is the best way to do it. I imagine the University has alot of influence and if they don’t want the Kirkbride to have that status, it won’t get it unfortunately. I would agree that the University has plans to demolish the building since having Landmark status would definitely cause problems with that!

  4. Karen Kasulke July 19, 2008, 1:17 pm

    This seems to be a pattern with some of these buildings, though, as I have just been reading about Greystone and they did the same thing. They close down parts of these buildings and leave them abandoned and in disrepair to rot from time and weather. Then when they get their shiny new facility, in lieu of restoring the historically significant and architecturally beautiful one, and move out of the occupied part, they have their built in(pardon the pun) excuse to tear it all down. Sorry, if I sound a little harsh, but it is frustrating to see these historic places being traded for a few dollars.

  5. Joseph A August 5, 2008, 12:23 pm

    Hi all! I visited Bryce on the way back from a train trip and took the picture of the dome’s poor condition. First of all, the conspiracy theory that was posted about my photo is probably not true, since the building is quite far from the football stadium. Additionally, the behavior of the police officer who stopped me seemed more reflective of the current treatment of photography in general. The weird thing was the lack of a solid excuse when I was confronted: it changed from private property to state property to an acknowledgement that state property is, in fact, public property. His final excuse was “patients’ rights,” although the Kirkbride itself is mostly empty and only used for administration. It is, however, a fascinating building and one of very few of its type left in the south. Samuel Sloan, who designed Natchez’s octagonal Longwood mansion and the Greystone Park Asylum, was a highly prolific architect, and this is a great surviving example of his work. It would be a shame and an irony if the building did not get National Historic Landmark status because it was blocked by the University of Alabama, which strives so hard to imitate the landscaped neoclassical architecture that the Kirkbride embodies.

  6. Phil August 11, 2008, 10:40 am

    Thanks for posting Joseph, it’s always good to hear from the people that were actually there. I certainly hope that you are correct about the theory not being true. It does seem some what backward from what universities usually do with older buildings. Typically they seem to do a really good job at preserving older, historic structures, but maybe that is only the case when it has been a university building since it was built, and not a state hospital. I really hope that Bryce gets the restoration and preservation that it deserves.

  7. Leslie Helfer May 23, 2014, 11:40 pm

    I stumbled upon this building while driving through the UA campus. Being from out of town I had no idea what this place was and walked around snapping several pics before campus police very kindly asked me to leave. The idea that they would demolish any portion of this building is heartbreaking to me. So much beautiful history being taken for granted and lost…so sad.

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