For 113 years, Vulcan has held a position of prominence over Birmingham. Named for the Roman god of fire and forge, Vulcan was cast from iron made from the city’s natural resources as Birmingham and the state of Alabama’s entry into the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
Today, a new renovation and expansion project at Vulcan Park and Museum, where the notable statue stands, is underway and aims to reconnect the colossal cast iron statue atop Red Mountain to downtown Birmingham. The effort is a part of the commemoration of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham’s centennial anniversary.
“Vulcan has always stood as a unifying symbol of Birmingham,” said Morgan Black, director of marketing and public relations for Vulcan Park and Museum. “This visionary project will better connect Vulcan with the city both figuratively and physically.”
The statue was placed on its pedestal in the 1930s by the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, where it became the city’s famous symbolic icon. It was designed by Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti to showcase the mineral riches and manufacturing capabilities of the Birmingham area, which played a vital role in the creation of The Magic City.
But the decades took a toll on Vulcan, and from 1999 to 2004, the statue was taken apart, meticulously restored to its circa 1904 glory, and placed back on its pedestal overlooking the city. In 2004, the newly renovated Vulcan Park and its new museum was opened to the public and designated as an official Birmingham information center by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
Vulcan faces north, pointing his spear toward downtown Birmingham. At the north base of the bluff on which Vulcan stands is a small piazza and walking path. But the piazza and path have not been accessible to the statue for some time. This disconnected trail was a major aspect of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham’s November 2016 announcement that it was investing $4 million toward an expansion and renovation project at the park to reconnect Vulcan to the city and enhance its role as the heart of Birmingham.
“Supporting and strengthening our city has always been the mission of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham,” said Club President Tom Thagard. “Invigorating Vulcan’s role as the unifying symbol of Birmingham is fitting for our club’s Centennial Project. We hope that it will serve as a catalyst for renovation, rejuvenation, and transformation for a new Birmingham.”
The Kiwanis project is a cooperative effort with Vulcan Park Foundation, the City of Birmingham, and Freshwater Land Trust. Corporate and community partners, including Protective Life Foundation, also provided funding for the project.
The plan consists of three components. The first is to resolve the disconnected trail with plans for new landscaping to the north side, renovation of the lower piazza entrance, and the addition of new steps to connect the piazza to the statue on the bluff above.
The second component will be a two-mile jogging and bike trail where the current walking path, Vulcan Trail, is located. The plans extend the trail about a mile farther to Green Springs Highway. This will enable Vulcan Trail to serve as a future hub for the planned 750 miles of Birmingham’s Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System – a project designed to connect many existing trails in Birmingham, Homewood, and Mountain Brook.
The third component literally puts Vulcan in the spotlight with a dynamic, multicolored light show designed by Schuler Shook that will be projected onto the statue, illuminating Vulcan at night to create a new postcard image for Birmingham.
A grand opening ceremony is planned for some time during the first quarter of 2018, and is expected that Vulcan Park and Museum, and Birmingham, will be able to welcome even more visitors from around the world.
“Vulcan has always been a popular tourist attraction,” Black said. “Once completed, the project will physically reconnect Vulcan as the central hub from which locals and tourists will access our cultural institutions and parks, as well as enhance Vulcan’s prominence on Birmingham’s skyline.”