By Donna Cornelius
Christmas comes but once a year, and so does one of Birmingham’s most anticipated seasonal events.
It may be hard to believe that Independent Presbyterian Church’s Holiday House Tour, set for Dec. 14 and 15, is in its 70th year. But it’s even harder to imagine the Magic City’s festive season without it. For many, seeing the beautifully decorated houses that are featured on the tour year after year makes December especially merry and bright.
In the past, tourgoers have been able to drive themselves to each house. This year, they are asked to park at Independent Presbyterian Church at 3100 Highland Ave. in Birmingham and catch a shuttle to the houses. But don’t jump immediately on that shuttle. Step inside the church, first.
Architect William Warren of Warren, Knight & Davis designed the impressive structure, which was built in 1915. IPC members decorate the sanctuary and parlor for the tour, and tea is served in the Great Hall.
In addition to the church, three houses will be open this year.
Caroline and Stephen Gidiere, 932 Fairway Drive, Mountain Brook
The Gidieres’ house was completed in 2009 by Birmingham-based architect James Carter, whose own home was featured on the 2017 IPC tour. The architecture and interior design are informed by the Regency period in England, spanning from late Georgian period to the early 1800s.
The house has mouldings and casings from the late Georgian period as well as historically accurate block-printed wallpaper from the late Regency period and antiques in the style of William Kent, who is known as the grandfather of Georgian architecture.
Throughout the house are personal treasures acquired from Stephen Gidiere’s grandmother. A game table was one of his favorite toys in his grandmother’s home. She gave it to him, instructing him not to read the note in the drawer until she passed away. He has honored the request by leaving the note unopened in the drawer.
Doug Sutton and Andrew Nix, 2426 Henrietta Road, Birmingham
Journalist Robert Graves Hiden and his wife, Anne Earle, built their home, Hiden House, in 1923. He had moved to Birmingham from Virginia to be the Birmingham News’ associate editor.
The Georgian-style house, designed by Hugh Martin, is in historic Redmont Park. It sits atop the mountain overlooking a valley and Mountain Brook’s English Village.
The house has had several notable residents since the Hidens’ time there. Jennie Robertson kept goats in the side yard, taught dance in the attic and welcomed traveling artists from Europe, helping to bring an international art scene to Birmingham. Alabama Gov. Albert Brewer lived in the house at one time, giving it the nickname The Governor’s Mansion.
The house has undergone several renovations during its almost-100-year existence. Today, it’s home to Doug Sutton and Andrew Nix, who bought the house in 2018. They’ve tried to take the house back to its original character by stripping away work done in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s and highlighting its original aesthetic. They left in place some modern elements that they felt complemented the house.
Follow the link to read more about the Redmont Park home of Mr. and Mrs. John Vawter.
Programs Benefit From the Tour
The IPC tour has a purpose in keeping with the spirit of the season. It benefits several ministries for Birmingham women and children.
One of these is the Children’s Fresh Air Farm. Operated by IPC since 1923, it promotes hope and opportunity through partnerships with children, families and the community by offering programs rooted in Christianity. Nearly 100 years after it started, the Fresh Air Farm continues to minister to Birmingham children through the Christian-focused Summer Learning Program and Lift Off to Learning, a science, technology, engineering, arts and math program.
The tour also supports Stair – Start the Adventure in Reading. Stair works with Birmingham City Schools to identify second graders who are reading below grade level. Volunteer tutors work with these students one-on-one to improve reading skills and self-esteem.
Another ministry helped by tour proceeds is the First Light Women’s Shelter. The downtown shelter works with homeless women and their children to help them find hope, seek opportunity and grow spiritually. IPC volunteers serve dinners and spend the night at the shelter.
This year’s tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 15. Tickets are $30 and available through the church’s website, ipc-usa.org.
After Dec. 1, tourgoers also can buy tickets at the church office during regular business hours and at each house during the tour.