MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Before the Grove Court Apartments in downtown Montgomery became overgrown with trees and covered in garbage, it was a beautifully designed federal housing complex for families during World War II.
The apartments were built in 1947 by Bear Brothers construction company, owned by Carl W. Bear and his brothers, Joe and Jack Bear.
Clyde C. Pearson and Farrow Tittle’s architectural firm designed the three-story reinforced concrete structure with associates Parker A. Narrows and John H. Hancock.
Montgomery native, Ashley DuBose Ledbetter, is Parker Narrows’ granddaughter, who played a big role in the apartments’ original design.
“This project was one of the first projects that he did here in Montgomery, and this started a career in doing different housing developments throughout the country,” Ledbetter said. “He served on the Federal Housing Administration for the United States at a certain time in his career and enjoyed creating these types of developments for families both here in Montgomery and abroad.”
Along with the Grove Court Apartments, Narrows and his partners helped provide architectural services for multiple city projects, including the Montgomery Civic Center, the Montgomery County Courthouse, and the Montgomery Regional Airport. He also helped design several schools and churches in the community, including Robert E. Lee and First United Methodist Church.
In 2000, the Alabama Architectural Foundation honored Narrows in being Alabama’s Distinguished Architect of the Millennium.
“He was a pillar of this community and was a man who truly cared about his community,” Ledbetter said. “He put in the sweat equity and the time and resources.”
“He wanted this community to be one he could raise a family in and that hopefully his children and his grandchildren would want to raise a family in,” Ledbetter went on to say.
The Grove Court Apartments was a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) project and was built to provide affordable housing to the influx of soldiers coming back from World War II.
“These units were very modest and were very limited based upon what the government restrictions were,” Ledbetter said. “But my grandfather was a huge proponent of using every inch of space, and so these apartments really reflect that.”
The apartment building is the only example of International Style in the city of Montgomery and is just one of a few remaining International Style buildings left in Alabama.
Since 2013, it is listed as a historical site in the National Register of Historic Places listings in Montgomery County, Alabama.
“Even though it was in disrepair and crumbling, it was made out of solid concrete, so the bones of it are still standing, which, given the neglect over time, is really astounding that they are still standing,” Ledbetter said.
Its design was so cutting edge for the time it was given an honorable mention award in a Progressive Architecture Magazine in 1947. Among some of the plan highlights that gave the apartment the mention were: cross ventilation for each apartment; individual exterior entrances; light and air; service rooms facing service rooms; living side facing living side; extra storage space for each apartment; play space for children; and on-site parking for tenants.
“That was one of the reasons why the awards were given was the excellent use of space for families,” Ledbetter said.
Narrows was only 27 years old when he helped design the building. Ledbetter said it was a project he was particularly proud of.
“I think there was a lot of pride in the design of that building and especially to be 27 years old to have it recognized at that young of an age I’m sure was a great source of pride for him,” Ledbetter said. “If my grandfather were living today, I know that he would be thrilled with the ideas and the prospects of redevelopment for the apartment complex and for what it can become.”
After being abandoned for decades, the historic apartments are now getting a much-needed facelift.
Developer GCA Properties, LLC, purchased and closed on the property and has plans to restore the old apartments into housing but has not made a firm decision on what the end project will be.
The company leading the restoration project is the same company that has already invested several projects into the city, including Vintage Café in Old Cloverdale in 2016 and the City Fed Development Project in 2021 that includes restoration of 36 and 46 Commerce Street.
Ledbetter said the property manager’s Tom and Jud Blount are coincidentally close family friends.
“It means a lot to our family that we will see this building come back to life in some sort of form or fashion, and given what Jud and Tom have done in different developments already, I know it’s going to be absolutely fantastic,” Ledbetter said.
“And knowing my grandfather, he would probably ask me for Jud’s phone number to pick up the phone and call him and give him some ideas and pointers,” Ledbetter said with a smile.
Given the building’s current conditions, it can be hard to imagine what possibilities lie ahead for Grove Court Apartments. Ledbetter hopes the community gives the property a second chance.
“I think the important takeaway here is that if you build something with integrity and with good design, it can stand the test of time, even through some terrible conditions,” Ledbetter said. “I would hope that the people of Montgomery and this community would give them (Jud and Tom Blount) a chance to see what’s going to come of it because I know it’s going to be fantastic.”
Narrows graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University), where he received a 2nd Lt. Commission in U.S. Engineers in 1940 and graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1941.
In addition to his architectural practice, Narrows served as the Past Chairman of The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, The Men of Montgomery (Committee of 100), The Board of Trustees of The First United Methodist Church, and as Past President of the Alabama A.I.A. Society and Architects, the Montgomery A.I.A. Chapter of Architects, The Kiwanis Club of Montgomery, The Exchange Club of Montgomery and The Men’s Wesley Bible Class.
Narrows was born in 1919 and passed away in 2007.