By Emily Williams
Though the landscape of Mountain Brook’s Crestline neighborhood has changed during the past 60 years, there are some things that never change.
One of those things is a Grodner living in the family home.
The house was built by Paul Grodner and served as the childhood home for his son, Ken. After sending his own kids off to college, Ken and his wife moved into the house. Now Ken’s son, Alex, has taken ownership of the home and is raising his own son, Bryant.
As the new owner, Alex plans to keep many of the home’s traditions alive, creating memories with family and friends, whether through a Shabbat dinner or an Alabama football watch-party.
“When my dad turned 90 and Bryant turned 1 last year,” Ken said, “we held a ‘bookends’ party at the house for the oldest and youngest family member. We had cousins come in from New York and Florida, and they all asked us to hold the party at ‘the house on the hill’ that they remembered fondly from visits during their own childhood.
In the Beginning
Paul built the home in 1958, drawn to the area by his wife, Charlotte’s, brothers, Myer and David Staff. Myer Staff was developing the subdivision Donna Lynn Estates in Crestline, and all three siblings built homes in the subdivision. The three homes sit within two blocks of one another and are still owned by the original families.
“Friendly is the best word I would use to describe the neighborhood,” Paul said. “There were never any rifts with any of the neighbors and we all seem to look out for one another.”
The Grodner home was quite contemporary for its time, according to Paul. He built a ranch-style, mid-century modern home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the main floor and an oversized carport. A partially finished basement included a third bathroom.
A survivor, the home sits on the high ground of a small hill and has withstood a kitchen fire and a fallen tree that landed on the den. The only casualties over the years have been two cars that managed to roll down the hill.
With the 1950s and ‘60s being a very social time, Paul recalls many supper clubs, card games and cocktail parties spent with other adults in the neighborhood; meanwhile, the home’s basement became a gathering place for the kids as they entered their teenage years.
“To this day, I do not know what went on down in the basement, but I always knew my kids were safe,” Paul said.
Ken said he hopes his grandson’s friends enjoy the basement, just not exactly like he and his friends did.
The Second Generation
Though Ken and his wife, Vikki, were drawn away from Alabama by their careers, they frequently brought their daughter, Stirling, and Alex back to Birmingham for visits. Ken was able to pass on some of his favorite childhood tricks and activities during those visits, such as sliding down the steep hill in cardboard boxes.
“My brother and I also figured out early on that there was a perfect spot to hoist ourselves on the roof and look at the night sky,” Ken said.
Ken and Vikki moved back to Birmingham in 2007 and took up residence in the family home as empty nesters.
“The house had been maintained, but not updated, since it was built in 1958,” Ken said. “It was truly a time capsule.”
The couple gave the home a facelift, incorporating some modern touches to make it more livable. A complete kitchen renovation was the largest update. The space was gutted to add new Jenn-Air appliances, more windows and storage, and to create a more open space.
In the basement, multiple smaller rooms were reconfigured into one large media room.
“One of our favorite features we retained and enhanced both inside and outside of the house are the flagstone floor and steps in the entry hall and the flagstone patio in the back,” Ken said.
“When we returned after living outside of the area for almost 20 years, many of the original owners (in the neighborhood) were still in their houses, meaning that the number of young children had diminished somewhat,” Ken said.
In the 10 years since, he has noticed an influx of younger families, just in time for his son to take over the house.
The Third Generation
Ken had moved out of the house and rented it for a few years, then decided to sell it last fall, just in time for Alex, his wife, Colette, and son, Bryant to make the move back to Mountain Brook from North Carolina.
“As we started moving in, we had to trans- form some of the house from the home of empty nesters to one with young children,” Alex said.
Sitting rooms that had featured chaises and chess boards are now multi-purpose playrooms, but many aspects will remain the same and the tradition of treating the home as a gathering space for family and friends will live on.
Alex plans to host many Friday evening Shabbat dinners and revived one of his favor- ite traditions last year, hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family.
“Bryant, now 2, sleeps in his Uncle Brian’s room – Ken’s brother. Uncle Brian is Bryant’s namesake, who lost a brilliant battle with can- cer several years ago,” Alex said.
Though Crestline has grown significantly, Ken said he can still see a connection between his life growing up in the neighborhood and the experiences his grandson might have.
He recalls riding bikes to Mountain Brook Village to buy football cards at Smith’s Variety and playing after-school pickup games of football, basketball and kickball, now replaced by organized after-school sports programs.
Britlings Cafeteria was the place to be on Sunday nights; Browdy’s corned beef sandwiches were the closest thing to a New York deli; and you had to go buy a coke at Ariel’s for a quarter after a ballroom dancing class at Steeple Arts Dance Academy.
When Bryant reaches grade school, he may not be able to buy a coke for a quarter, but he might just be found dressed in a coat and tie at Steeple Arts for ballroom dancing.
“I am waiting for the green light from Bryant’s mother to allow me to put him on a box and slide down the hill,” Ken said. “Since he is already two, time is a-wasting.”
Perhaps Ken will get his chance at the next family gathering. ❖