By Donna Cornelius
This time of year, most children are making their lists for Santa and checking them twice.
Grownups, on the other hand, likely are checking to make sure their calendars are marked for one of the Birmingham area’s most anticipated seasonal events: Independent Presbyterian Church’s Holiday House Tour.
Those who look forward to the annual tour, now in its 68th year, can choose from two dates. Five houses plus the church will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9 and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 10. Each tour stop, including the church at 3100 Highlands Ave. South in Birmingham, will be festively decorated.
Founded in 1915, the church was designed by William Warren, an architect with Warren, Knight and Davis. IPC members will decorate the sanctuary and parlor. A Christmas tea will be available in the church’s Great Hall both days for ticket holders.
Jason Turner is this year’s tour chairman, and Elizabeth Faught is co-chairman.
While it’s fun to see the church and houses decked out in their holiday finery, the tour has a serious purpose, too. Proceeds help support three church missions: the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, the Open Door Ministry and the Stair reading program.
The Children’s Fresh Air Farm is one of IPC’s oldest missions. It’s a six-week summer learning program for underserved children in the Birmingham area. Kids in the program get classroom instruction in the mornings and participate in extracurricular activities such as science, swimming and drama during the afternoons. The program’s focus is to keep children fed and prevent summer “brain drain.”
The Open Door Ministry started in 2016 to provide free basic literacy, GED, and English as a second language classes to people who live in the North Avondale and Kingston communities. Free childcare is provided for those who participate. The program aims to help participants achieve their goals of education, employment and family stability.
Stair – Start the Adventure in Reading – works with Birmingham City Schools to identify second-graders who are reading below their grade level. Volunteer tutors work with students one-on-one to help the children improve their reading skills and to boost their self-esteem. More than 700 children have graduated from the program since it started in 2000. In 2016, 56 second-graders graduated from the program with average reading gains of 86 percent.
Hanover Place, the site of two of the tour homes, was built in 1981 in the Highland Park neighborhood. Residents there have sweeping views of the Birmingham skyline to the north, Sloss Furnaces and the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport to the east, Red Mountain and Vulcan to the south, and Regions Field and Legion Field to the west.
Two of Hanover Place’s 16 units will be open for the tour.
The home of Ken Northrup and Tommy Bice has a recently renovated kitchen and an intricate ceramic nativity set carved by Northrup’s grandmother. In the home of Chris Carter and John Dorsett, tourgoers will see an eclectic collection of things that Carter has collected over the years.
The Hirsch home was built in Mountain Brook two years ago by a young entrepreneur and his wife, an artist who once worked for a well-known designer in Los Angeles. The family needed a bigger home that could balance their entrepreneurial and artistic spirit with the demands of an expanding family. Their house mixes contemporary and traditional design by combining brick and cedar with the more modern elements of steel and glass.
The Kents’ original Robert Jemison house in Mountain Brook Estates was built in 1929 in the American Tudor style with brick, stone, timber and stucco. The graduated slate roof creates an optical illusion of a steeper angle. Renovations made by the Kents since 1990 include the master bath, a paneled den assembled on site, and an enlarged kitchen/den with an added screened porch.
The Kents’ house features wood carvings, reclaimed beams, chandeliers, and a 16th century Tudor mantel from England. There’s also a collection of Jacobean, Queen Anne and French provincial walnut furniture. Other items of interest include a collection of tea caddies, a Jacobean tester bed from 1687, and an oak Tudor Rose roof boss, which is a decoration in which cross-members of a roof or ceiling intersect. A wooden carving made after the Black Death, a plague pandemic that swept through Asia and Europe in the Middle Ages, is inscribed with “God’s providence is thine inheritance.”
Tour tickets are $30. You can buy them at ipc-usa.org, at the church reception desk during regular business hours beginning Dec. 1, or at the church and at each home during the tour.