Sunday, March 23, 2014

Neighborhood of Eastlake in Birmingham, AL

(Cover from a brochure advertising the new suburb of Eastlake 
printed in 1890 courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library)

I lived in Eastlake in the 1970's and now I own a home in the Eastlake neighborhood.  Back in the 1970's, Eastlake was an eclectic blend of homeowners/renters.  It was well maintained, quiet and just a perfect place to live.  This area is really a very centrally located part of Birmingham.  It's close to downtown, hospitals and within a stone's throw of several interstate connections that will take you to major shopping/entertainment areas in a matter of minutes.  It's minutes from the airport but isn't directly beneath the major flight paths so the noise level is slim to none.

Eastlake was a mecca for families when it was built.  One of the greatest attractions was the Cascade Plunge which was located at 68th St. and 2nd Ave S.  Below are a couple of pictures taken in 1929.

This business offered the most swimming pools of any other similar establishment, it offered a fine dining room, meeting rooms, hosted numerous weddings/receptions, birthday parties and later served as a private fishing area with the swimming pools remodeled and repurposed as stocked fishing areas.  Later in life it was used as a private club for the Elks organization.  Currently it sits vacant and for sale - all 19 acres which includes its own park and picnic area.

"Perhaps the most famous Eastlake attraction is the actual Eastlake.  East Lake was planned in 1886 by the East Lake Land Company to help sell home sites to the men who came in the 1870's to work in Birmingham's steel industry. First named Lake Como, after the lake in the Italian Alps, it soon came to be called East Lake. Using water from Roebuck Springs and Village Creek this 45 acre man - made lake, within a 100 acre park, enhanced the area by providing a year round pleasure resort.
In a short time East Lake Park became a major recreational center of the Birmingham area and in 1887 a streetcar line was run out to the park. Among the amusement offered at the park through the years were a ferris wheel, a shooting gallery, boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, golf, baseball, a steamboat, a zoo, band concerts and other entertainment events in the pavilion.
The City of Birmingham purchased the park in 1917 and today, East Lake Park is one of the largest municipal recreational facilities in Alabama." (courtesy of

Eastlake Park is still a well maintained and beautiful area.  However, the neighborhood that butts up against it is probably beyond redemption.  

The Eastlake neighborhood wraps around the Ruffner Mountain on two sides, so most of the streets are hilly and all of them are tree lined.  Ruffner Mountain is a wonderful nature preservation area with miles of walking/hiking trails some leading to the top of the mountain with fabulous views of both the city and uninhabited areas. Below are a few shots of the Ruffner Mountain center and views from the preserve.

The houses range from Tudors, German four squares all the way to Craftsman bungalows with a few Spanish style ranches & 1950's era ranches thrown in for good measure.  It's just as convenient as other more popular neighborhoods such as Clairmont, Crestwood and Avondale.  However, with the exception of a brief time in 2005-2007 (just before the real estate market crashed here) it has largely been ignored and allowed to fall into near ruin in many areas.  The tornado that hit this area in 2011 coupled with the high number of foreclosures has hit this area particularly hard.  Another contributing factor is that Eastlake has been ignored by the same investors who brought the above mentioned neighborhoods back to life and instead has attracted the investors who want Section 8 government housing.

(Gabrella Manor on 4th Ave is a spectacular wedding/private party venue)

This is both good news and bad news for investors.  The bad news is it will take a few years and some cohesion among investors to bring it back to life.  The good news is the properties in this area are dirt cheap so it would behoove investors to spend their money here and bring it back to life - block by block.  (Case in point, I bought a nearly 2,000 square foot tudor bungalow in excellent shape for under $30,000. Other than cosmetic fixes, I am out zero for repairs and have a mortgage payment well under $300 all inclusive.)

The long term payoff would be enormous both in cash flow and in equity.  I can remember when Avondale and parts of Crestwood weren't that great either but money was poured into those areas and now those homes are at least triple the price they were even 10 years ago.  The same could be accomplished in Eastlake.

To invest in Eastlake and make a profit with good equity and cash flow, one would need to start at the Ruffner Mountain area and go down the mountain from there.  One side of Ruffner has the Roebuck Springs and Shadywood neighborhoods.  Both of these neighborhoods have maintained their value well so butting up against these neighborhoods would be a big plus.

Investing should be about something more than immediate cash.  It should be a long term commitment and about improving the area in which you invest.  There are several neighborhoods in the Birmingham area that while once stellar (such as Norwood) are lost.  The majority of Eastlake is far from lost.  That is, as long as investors are willing to put their money where their mouths are while setting their standards higher when it comes to the types of tenants they allow to live in their properties.

At the end of the day, improving the area in which you invest greatly benefits the residents of that area AND the investor.  Nicer area equals nicer equity equals much larger sales price.  It's a simple thing really.

But that's just me.

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