Mediterranean Grandeur

Tucked away in Historic Forest Park, casual passersby might not notice that behind the imposing 12-foot hedges sits an architectural jewel formerly owned by Walton Brown and Clint Thorne. In a city with a rich array of architectural styles, the Mediterranean Revival is a rarity. Similar in style to the Spanish Colonial Revival, this Mediterranean Revival is an example of the more ornate influences of the Italian Renaissance. Built in the mid-1920s by Ira A. Watson, this very successful entrepreneur wanted a house of the same caliber as the grand estates being built on Red Mountain.

According to Walton, the Watsons had visited Ca` d’Zan, the estate of John and Mable Ringling in Sarasota, Florida. After seeing the Ringling estate, Watson commissioned Ringling’s architect, Dwight James Baum, to design his Forest Park home. The Watson’s spared no expense, importing materials from Italy as well as exquisite hand-glazed Moravian tiles from Pennsylvania.

The tall ceiling of the Grand Salon features a copper oculus skylight, flooding the room with light. Rooms extend off of this vast space. One set of stairs leads to the upstairs landing marking the entrance to the master suite. Here, a 19th-century Demilune chest is framed within a recessed arch. Downstairs leads to guest rooms.

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Walton, a Realestate Developer, says, “I had an itch for a new project, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for one of this magnitude.” He successfully avoided the home until, as luck would have it, a client asked to view the property. After the client decided it was not the one for him, Walton made an offer and the project began.

Walton’s desire to bring the house back to its original grandeur was guided by his respect for the original craftsmanship of the architecture. Walton credits many close friends for their design expertise and architectural skills.

“Gatherings with friends over dinner often result in brainstorming sessions producing a wealth of ideas for our project, ” he says.

Aside from mechanical upgrades, a good scrubbing and a few coats of paint, Walton chose to make very few major structural changes to the house. Those he made—a new kitchen by Bates Corkern Studio and rooftop terrace by Shepard & Davis Architecture clearly improved the livability of the house but were planned carefully so as to remain true to the original design of the property.

One of the first changes Walton and Clint made was to change the approach to the house. Originally the front yard sloped steeply down to the side street. Working with Terry Slaughter of the Slaughter Group, he added a retaining wall and leveled the front yard. The traditional stucco finish of the exterior walls was mustard yellow when Walton purchased the home. The home is now painted Pratt and Lambert’s Lambs Wool, bringing it closer to the original color. The home also features a barrel terracotta tiled roof in keeping with the Mediterranean Revival style. Guests are welcomed into the home on the expansive front terrace, framed by glazed terracotta balustrades. In keeping with the Italian influence, Roman archways with spiral columns and Corinthian capitals frame the loggia, the front door opening into the centerpiece of the home—the Grand Salon.

Inside, a high ceiling features a copper oculus skylight flooding the Grand Salon with light. Original wired lighting gradually disappeared with each owner. Walton replaced it with a chandelier from Circa Lighting. The table in the center of the room is comprised of a two-inch thick piece of round ground glass resting on an antique handcarved capital. The 1930s barrel back chairs are upholstered with Fortuny hand-blocked Italian fabric.

An ornate plaster frieze embellishes the walls of the Grand Salon. Just below the frieze hangs a grouping of original classic pencil and charcoal drawings, all studies of the human form. Examples of Walton’s love for visual as well as functional art are bountiful. The eclectic mixture of old and new revered classic pieces, blending French, Italian, English, German, and even modern designs creates a lively tension that Walton has managed to balance, creating a timeless appeal that seems to suit the house.

“As long as I lived here I was still surprised by the discovery of a detail I have missed or an architectural element I’ve never seen.” —Walton Brown

Walton, a self-professed collector of homes, says, “Even though I own homes that span from Birmingham to the West coast, I am a Birmingham boy at heart.” Although he still loves the house, apparently the itch for a new project propelled him to pass the torch and sell.

His newest venture? Point William—an upscale residential development at Smith Lake with business partner Roger Hagefstration. (See the story on our website and visit

At the foot of the master bed designed is a French canapé, originally owned by Walton’s mother—now covered in sandy-colored nubby mohair. A pair of gold 17th-century candelabra hang on each side of the bed. Master Bed Design: ANDREW BROWN (ANDREW BROWN ADORNO • 205.879.7949 Construction: JIM GOWAN • GOWAN IRON • 334.263.3840


Text and Floral Design by SALLY HERRING • Photography by Jean Allsopp

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