In 1998, Sheila Chaffin, an Architect and City Planner, was recruited from New York City by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to be their Executive Director for Campus Planning. She was tasked with redesigning the campus master plan, identifying real estate to be purchased, utilities to be undergrounded, buildings to be built and/or renovated, and establish a town/campus edge of mutual support. She successfully did so for almost 20 years until her retirement. She was honored for this body of work by the American Planning Association with the “Distinguished Career Professional Planner in the State of Alabama” award.
Her husband, Ira Chaffin, a life-long professional sculptor, also made Birmingham his adopted home. The couple purchased an 1898 Victorian Mansion of 4,000 SF at 1309 19th Street South, 2 blocks from the Hassinger Mansion, in the same Five Points Historic District. After several years of restoration, it was ready for occupancy. It became the city of Birmingham and 7-county region’s first Bed and Breakfast.
Unknown to them at the time, Mrs. Venoa Daniels quietly watched as the couple restored their Victorian Mansion into the state of Alabama’s largest bed and breakfast. One day, she appeared at the Chaffin’s b&b front door and asked to tour. Ira introduced himself and toured her. She was very complimentary. She returned several times with peachtree suckers from the Hassinger Mansion yard for the Chaffin’s yard. Mrs. Daniels attended many public hearings and saw Sheila present UAB projects and knew she was an architect and city planner.
Ira established his Chaffin Carousel Carving Art Studio on the floor above Dave’s Pub in the Terrace Court Building, at the corner of 20th Street South and Highland Avenue South. At night, the sculpted carousel animals came to life with spotlights and their bright colors, some even turned on a turn-style. Mrs. Daniels admired these creations in the windows and asked to see the art school. She came from time to time and would quietly sit and watch as Ira’s adult students would follow his instructions and create horses, giraffes, lions, and the occasional elephant or eagle.
In 2010, Mrs. Daniels needed to go to assisted living and she sought to sell the mansion to someone who would restore and love it in perpetuity. The family received a proposal from a developer who intended to demolish it and build back a new building at a higher density that current zoning would allow. Mrs. Daniels asked her family to accept her preferred proposal from the Chaffins to restore it back to its 1898 Silk Stocking Victorian glory and establish a bed and breakfast and art studio in the 12,500 SF Mansion.
The Chaffins went through the Design Review of the City, Part I, Part II and Part III of the National Historic Registry, and consultations with the Birmingham Historical Society and Jefferson County Historical Society. The building needed a lot of TLC to bring it back to its glory days, but they did it. Hassinger Mansion was the tour subject of an Alabama Historical Commission professional symposium in 2012. It was on the “Most in Peril Historic Structures” listing of the Commission. Sheila gave tours and discussed historic construction techniques then in process of the Mansion.
Today Hassinger Daniels Mansion is a 4-story, beautifully restored Victorian Mansion offering guest lodging on three floors and an art studio on one story.