In 1871 the City of Birmingham was established to the west of the existing community. In 1888, John T. Hood established the Woodlawn Land and Improvement Company with an initial $50,000 capital which greatly influenced Woodlawn’s growth as both a commercial center and residential suburb. Streetcar lines connected many of the suburbs to the core growing city of Birmingham, increasing growth outside of Birmingham’s City limits. The Woodlawn Depot was built in 1904. The population of Woodlawn surged to 1,506 by 1890, a remarkable 1592.13% increase in a decade. The “Greater Birmingham” campaign in 1898, sought to expand the city through suburban annexation to bolster the census, tax base, and city services.
Annexed into the City of Birmingham in 1910, Woodlawn featured locally renowned commercial, educational, religious, and civic institutions and facilities throughout the early and mid-twentieth century. After annexation, Woodlawn entered its most prosperous phase and adopted a lasting physical character. Despite lacking major industries or planned company housing, Woodlawn found success due to its proximity to downtown and its strategic location along streetcar lines that connected Birmingham to neighboring suburbs such as East Lake and Gate City. The height of development was reflected, in part, by the phase of second-generation buildings by most of the community’s religious institutions.
By the 20th century, challenges from automobiles, economic depression, and world war arose. However, the use of street rail service persisted because of wartime gasoline rationing. In 1931, the bus service was introduced to Woodlawn, yet it took over two decades to replace the streetcar. The Tidewater streetcar line, which operated along Third Avenue South, running from Ensley to East Lake since 1913, saw its last ride on April 19, 1953.
Civic institutions grew to become major anchors of the community. Notably, Woodlawn’s library became the first branch of the Birmingham Public Library after annexation. In 1922, Woodlawn High School was built on the Wood Family Springs site, and the Gibson School saw a new facility in 1925. In 1926, the City of Birmingham acquired the Edmund Wood Home, known as Willow Wood, transforming it into Willow Wood Park and Community House, a public park and center. These all contributed to a strong sense of place and identity for Woodlawn.
The 1930s brought air transportation, initially benefiting the city but adversely impacting Woodlawn. This led to a significant rise in car traffic, severe noise pollution, and encroachment on undeveloped and residential areas. By 1929, the city’s first air service launched at Roberts Field in West Birmingham. In 1931, the Birmingham Municipal Airport was established at its current location, financed by a $1 million bond and backed by the Birmingham City Commission, Chamber of Commerce, and residents.
After World War II, the exodus of white families from older neighborhoods such as Woodlawn was driven by several factors including opportunities for new housing after years of Great Depression austerity, the ability to live further away from polluting industry thanks to automobile ownership, and concerns that black families would move into the neighborhood and integrate the community. This depleted the middle-class population of Woodlawn. The trend intensified with the court-ordered desegregation of Birmingham City Schools in September 1963, sparking student protests. In 1964, some white high school students staged walkouts, but Woodlawn’s football coach, John Howell, prevented such actions. Until 1970, parents could choose to send their children to formerly all-white schools, but after that year, black students were assigned by district, leading to the closure of many all-black high schools.