Cool spaces . . . Shaken, Not Stirred

 

Written by Joe O’Donnell

Photography courtesy of Lewis Communications

You could almost imagine Don Draper wandering through the lobby humming a Coca-Cola jingle quietly to himself, before unleashing it on the world at large.

Almost, that is. Because though the downtown building Lewis Communications renovated back in 2015 as the Birmingham home for the agency has a Mad Man feel, the work that goes on in this vintage 1961 building is as contemporary as it gets.

Over the past 65 years, Lewis has become one of the Southeast’s leading agencies, consistently producing award-winning integrated campaigns by using research-driven strategy to inform strong creative. The agency has clients across the country and in varied industries, including transportation, healthcare, energy, resort, and food and beverage. These have ranged from Alagasco, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Habitat for Humanity to Seasick Records and Hero Doughnuts.

The agency has approximately 110 employees and offices in Mobile and Nashville, in addition to Birmingham. Lewis was founded in Mobile in 1951.

The agency’s new Birmingham home at 2030 First Ave. N. was constructed in 1961 as the headquarters for a bank. Most recently it housed the New City Church. The building was vacant at the time Lewis purchased it for $925,000 in 2013. While the building has retained much of the original exterior look (with some interesting modifications), the interior brings to life the best of the original design updated for today’s business environment. Lewis wanted to preserve as much of the history in the 1961 building as possible—but it has been transformed. And the experience has transformed the agency and its employees in turn, agency head Larry Norris says.

“A lot of the advertising and other creative industries has moved back downtown recently. We really wanted to be a part of that experience, and our employees really love being down here,” says Larry Norris, president and CEO of Lewis Communications. “People can get out and walk, and that is what we really wanted. It is so different than our old space in the suburbs.”

The four-story building retains traces of its original purpose; you could imagine someone walking in with a deposit back in the mid-sixties. One of the conference rooms retains many of the original features of the bank’s board room. One of the main elements of the building is all new, however. All of the glass, that is the most prominent feature of the exterior, had to be replaced to bring the building to code.

The interior has been both lovingly restored and modernized for agency operations. The 1960s era floating staircase in the lobby is a dominant feature, which with the pinkish marble and off-white furnishings makes the lobby an elegant introduction to the agency. The rooftop was transformed into a work and relaxation space, offering great views of downtown.

The 28,000-square foot building renovation was overseen by the architecture firm, Williams Blackstock. The firm describes the project as a “historic tax-credit renovation of a Postwar International style five- story building in a dynamic and growing urban downtown setting. The design goal was to create an interior design that is simple, clean, and timeless. The new interior brings a contemporary edge and complements the historic interior elements remaining.  The design captures the natural daylight and provides a creative, fun, collaborative and comfortable workplace for the employees.” The aesthetics of the mid-century architecture really shine through in the renovation.

AGL General Contractors was the contractor. EGS Commercial Real Estate worked on the building purchase.