Fire escapes are fading into the past, but this one on the Hill Building really stood out. This structure was at the northeast corner of Forsyth & Julia, catty-corner from the present-day Bell South Building. Erected in about 1920, the Hill Building contained offices, including the consulates for Britain, Norway, and Belgium (all in the same office). Now occupying the building’s spot is a large parking garage and various businesses, including the Southern Paradise Restaurant. The time period of the postcard is about the 1920s. The white tower with the green cap belonged to the marvelous old marble post office, now long gone.
Throughout the years, fire escapes did save many lives, but they could also prove life threatening. The iron rails could heat up during blazes, scalding the hands of those touched them. The fire escapes might also rust & collapse, unless well maintained. Smoke billowing from lower floors, moreover, could obscure the vision of those who descended the escapes. The outdoor stairs terrified people who were afraid of heights, and they challenged those who were not agile. To make the going even tougher, such items as flower pots and ice boxes might block the landings, creating an obstacle course. Fire escapes also proved demanding to architects & urban planners, who considered them unsightly.
Beginning in 1975, laws effectively banned fire escapes on new buildings. If the escapes are properly maintained, they can continue to serve the older structures. They are gradually disappearing, however, as the new buildings replace the old.
~written by Glenn Emery