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The 20th century found Birmingham struggling with the dilemma of how to remain a small town and how to grow. The pressure to become another suburban spoke in the hub of the Motor City wheel was intense; the village was just too small and didn't have enough tax base to maintain its independence. This point was driven home in a big way in 1916 when (S. Old) Woodward Avenue was paved from Detroit to Pontiac, and dramatically altered the downtown, against the protest of many businesses and residents. The solution to the problem was never clear, and continues to generate active interest today in this unique and highly desirable city.
You can't make an omelette without cracking an egg, the saying goes. In the early 20th century, the Village of Birmingham's leaders felt pressure from without and within. The beautiful countryside around Birmingham was drawing middle and upper management auto executives to its new subdivisions along the fast-paced divided super highway of Woodward, routed around downtown Birmingham between 1922 and 1939. Watch a video presentation about the growth of Birmingham's neighborhoods. The schools were bursting at the seams, and the Village looked at ways to expand its tax base by annexing parcels on its perimeter. Bloomfield Township was growing likewise, and had more to say about Birmingham than its citizens liked. One answer to maintaining independent control was to become a city, and get out from under the township. But this effort took years. Finally, during the latter 1920s, voters agreed and the process of becoming a city was finalized in 1933.
During this time, other efforts were underway to make Birmingham even more special while trying to keep its character. A grand scheme to build a civic center in the downtown to house a new library and municipal building with a large public park was the brainchild of Charles and Ruth Shain and other prominent leaders. The project involved demolishing several homes in the downtown, and not everybody was happy with the Shain plan. But their efforts resulted in the iconic and beloved center of downtown that is Birmingham's center of gravity, consisting of Shain Park at the center, bounded the the Baldwin Public Library and the Birmingham Municipal Building.