In 1699 Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, then only 19, was urged by his brother Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, 19 years his senior and the first great Canadian adventurer born in North America, to settle a defensive position on the eastern edge of the French holdings on the Gulf of Mexico. In 1702 Bienville selected a spot on a bluff of a river near where it was ending its 45-mile run to the sea and established the first capital of the French colony of Louisiana.
Whereas the colonization of America is rife with conflicts with the indigenous peoples Europeans were displacing, Bienville had the opposite problem - he was worried about his French soldiers fraternizing with the native women of the Mobilian tribe. In 1704 he imported 23 women from Cuba, known as “casquette girls” for the boxes they carried, to the colony. In addition to the girls the ship, the Pelican, also carried yellow fever. The disease would send the population of the colony from 279 to 178 and, with a series of floods, precipitate the relocation of the town downriver to its present location in 1711. In 1720 the capital of Louisiana was moved to Biloxi and Mobile settled into a role as a military and trading center. In the next 100 years the French flag and the Spanish flag and the British flag would all fly over the town until 1813 when Mobile was included in the Mississippi Territory under American jurisdiction. At the time the sleepy frontier town barely numbered 300 people.
Mobile quickly bloomed in the American economy, becoming a leading player in the cotton trade. By the time of the Civil War Mobile was the fourth busiest port in the United States. In that conflict Union forces would eventually take control of Mobile Bay in August of 1864 and the city would surrender to avoid destruction. Ironically less than two months after the war ended an explosion at a federal ammunition depot shattered the city and claimed a reported 300 lives.
Federal grants of more than $3 million in the early 20th century to deepen the shipping channels in the harbor lay the groundwork for Mobile becoming a modern city. Shipbuilding and steel production made Mobile a vital piece of America’s war efforts in World War I and World War II. In its rise as one of the Gulf Coast’s main economic and cultural centers, Mobile was an enthusiastic participant in urban renewal. Yet many heritage structures still remain scattered around the city, including antebellum houses and surviving examples of Creole achitecture. As a nod to baseball home run king and Mobile native son, Henry Aaron, we will seek out 44 heritage landmarks downtown in the Port City and our walking tour will begin in ground that the United States Congress decreed would be forever used as a city park back in 1824...
1. Bienville Square
Dauphin, Saint Joseph, Saint Francis, and North Conception streets
This square had its beginnings as a public park back in 1824 when the United States Congress passed an act that transferred a large plot of land to the city of Mobile and specified that the property be forever used as a city park. A Spanish hospital once stood on part of this land. The city started buying up chunks of the block in 1834 and it took fifteen years to acquire the entire block. Walkways were laid out in the 1850s and in the 1890s a large cast iron water fountain decorated by classical acanthus leaves was added to the center of the square. The fountain was placed in honor of Dr. George A. Ketchum, a prominent physician, civic leader and president of the Bienville Water Works.
EXIT BIENVILLE SQUARE ON THE SOUTH SIDE ONTO DAUPHIN STREET. TURN RIGHT.
2. Spira & Pincus Building
169 Dauphin Street
Rudolph Benz emigrated to America from Germany in 1869 at the age of 22, carrying with him training in engineering. He traveled the country surveying for the Union and Pacific Railroad, fighting Indians, manufacturing furniture. Benz found a home in Mobile around 1880 and became one of the town’s busiest architects. Several of the commercial buildings on Dauphin Street came from the pen of Benz, including this classically-inspired stone building from 1899. Look up to see the elaborately designed overhanging cornice.
3. Scheuermann Building
203 Dauphin Street
Look up above the modern-day street level storefront to see the handiwork of Rudolph Benz that includes an ornate keystone on the central arched window, carved stone ornamentation and a profusion of small polished granite columnettes. The Victorian commercial building, as you can see at the parapet, is a survivor from 1893.
4. Sangrouber Van-Antwerp Building
225 Dauphin Street
Garet Van Antwerp was born in the Dutch stronghold of the Hudson River Valley in New York in 1833. After apprenticing and clerking in a drug store in New York City, Antwerp came to Mobile in 1858 and three years later, despite his northern upbringing, was enlisted in the 21st Alabama Infantry. After the war he was a partner in the pharmacy business on the southwest corner of Joachim and Dauphin streets. In 1884 Van Antwerp’s Drugs and Seeds opened its doors and came to this location in 1899; it once had been the home of Swiss immigrant Edward Sangrouber. W.H. Hammond designed the three-story building with its unique fenestration; pilasters rising to capitals separate the upper story windows. Van Antwerp moved into the town’s first skyscraper in 1908. The balcony is a 1990s addition.
TURN RIGHT ON JOACHIM STREET AND WALK TO THE END OF THE BLOCK AT ST. FRANCIS STREET.
5. St. Francis Street United Methodist Church
15 North Joachim Street
This red brick Romanesque church was constructed in 1896 on plans drawn by the architectural firm of Watkins and Johnson.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO DAUPHIN STREET. CROSS DAUPHIN AND CONTINUE ONTO SOUTH JOACHIM STREET. WALK A HALF BLOCK DOWN. ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
6. Saenger Theater
6 South Joachim Street
Armed with degrees in pharmacology from Johns Hopkins University, brothers Abe and Julian Saenger moved to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1890. Inside their drug store and soda fountain was a “kinetograph” peep show machine that was operated by the insertion of coins followed by the turning of a handle to display a moving picture. In 1911 the brothers made the leap into the amusement field and crafted their first Saenger Theatre. They moved to New Orleans in 1917 and built one of the most powerful theater empires in motion pictures with movie houses across the South.
Architect Emile Weil was dispatched from New Orleans to design the chain’s Mobile theater. After $500,000 his continental European-flavored movie palace and vaudeville hall opened on January 19, 1927 to raves as “the most beautiful playhouse in all of Dixie.” “Alabama’s Greatest Showplace” thrived until 1970 when it suffered the fate of most downtown theaters and closed. The Saenger was one of the lucky ones; the University of South Alabama brought the venue back to life; the City of Mobile purchased the grand stage in 1999.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS AGAIN TO DAUPHIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
7. Crown Theatre
270 Dauphin Street
The Crown Theatre opened on February 22, 1911 as the first building in Mobile constructed specifically to screen movies. Over the years its days as downtown movie palace deteriorated to a stint as an adult theater, operating as the Midtown. In recent years the stuccoed building with its fanciful blend of Spanish Mission and Neoclassical architecture has received a welcome facelift and survives into its second century as a dance club.
TURN RIGHT ON JACKSON STREET.
8. Cavallero House
7 North Jackson Street
Behind the two-story cast-iron gallery, that was a mid-19th century addition, is an 1835 building constructed in the Federal style. The two and one-half story brick building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
WHEN YOU SEE THE PARKING LOT ON YOUR LEFT, WALK THROUGH IT OVER TO THE CORNER OF CLAIBORNE STREET AND ST. FRANCIS STREET.
9. Scottish Rite Temple
351 St. Francis Street
This one-of-a-kind downtown building was constructed in 1922 for the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Prominent Mobile architect George Bigelow Rogers drew upon the influences of ancient Egyptian buildings, down to a monumental entrance flanked by a pair of sphinxes, for the temple. Rogers was on his way to a Mexican vacation in 1901 when he stopped over in Mobile. He stayed until 1945, designing some of the town’s most distinctive buildings in a variety of styles.
TURN LEFT ON CLAIBORNE STREET.
10. John Dahm House
7 North Claiborne Street
This two-story, three-bay townhouse was constructed in 1873 for John Dahm and is noteworthy for its ornate ironwork; its design is attributed to Bassett Capps. The side structure is a 1929 addition.
11. Meaher-Zoghby House
5 North Claiborne Street
This brick townhouse was constructed in 1901 for Augustine Meaher. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the building retains its original cast iron veranda and fence.
AT DAUPHIN STREET, CROSS OVER TO YOUR LEFT INTO THE OPEN SPACE THAT IS...
12. Cathedral Square
North Claiborne, Dauphin, North Jackson, and Conti streets
In the early days of Mobile this was the town Catholic cemetery, the Campo Santo. Most of the burials were moved to the new Church Street Graveyard in 1819 as Mobile’s city boundary expanded. After that businesses moved in and this became a commercial block like the surrounding neighbors. The buildings were demolished in 1979 to create a public park in the image of the neighboring Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The brick sidewalks mirror the walls and nave of the cathedral while a semicircular colonnade featuring fountains mirrors the apse.
WALK OVER TO THE CATHEDRAL ON THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE SQUARE ON CLAIBORNE STREET.
13. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
2 South Claiborne Street
Mobile’s Cathedral Parish was the first on the Gulf Coast, established on July 20, 1703 by Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec. Mobile was elevated to a diocese in 1829 and Michael Portier, was named its first bishop. Bishop Portier’s first “cathedral” was a small wooden structure located in the Old Spanish Burying Ground, site of the present cathedral. Portier soon set out to construct a cathedral worthy of the new status of the parish. The plans for a Roman basilica-styled building were drawn by Claude Beroujon, a former seminarian turned architect. The cornerstone was laid in 1835 but it took 15 years for Bishop Portier to realize his dream; he consecrated the cathedral on December 8, 1850. The classical portico, with eight massive columns of the Roman Doric order, was added in the 1870s and thetwo towers were completed in 1884. The building has survived fire and renovation through the decades and in 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the cathedral to a minor basilica, a title bestowed, only by the pope, on churches of historical and spiritual importance.
TURN LEFT AND WALK OVER TO CONTI STREET.
14. Bishop Portier House
307 Conti Street
This is one of Mobile’s best surviving examples of a Creole cottage, constructed in the early 1830s. Michael Portier, Mobile’s first Roman Catholic bishop, used the one and one-half story structure as his home from 1834 until his death in 1859. Claude Beroujon, who designed Portier’s cathedral across the way, added the classical flavor to the house. The residence is still owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile although it has been more than a century since bishops resided here.
TURN RIGHT ON CONTI STREET.
15. Martin Horst House
407 Conti Street
Martin Horst came to America with his family from Germany in 1838 when he was eight years old. The family settled in Mobile where Horst was a prosperous commission merchant, eventually becoming mayor of the town in 1871. This post-Civil War house has been little changed since Horst moved in and stands as a splendid example of Italianate architecture with its tall, slender windows, bracketed eaves and fine cast-iron veranda. Mayor Horst died in 1878 and the house remained in the family until 1923.
TURN RIGHT ON HAMILTON STREET.
16. Metzger House
7 North Hamilton Street
The one-story Italianate-influenced brick structure was built by the Metzger family in 1875. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 5, 1984, due to its architectural significance.
TURN LEFT ON ST. FRANCIS STREET.
17. Bettie Hunter House
504 St. Francis Street
This two-story Italianate house was built in 1878 and fit seamlessly into the 19th century Mobile streetscape. It is atypical, however, in that it was constructed for a young woman barely a decade removed from slavery. Bettie Hunter grew wealthy while still in her twenties operating a successful hack and carriage business with her brother, Henry. She died unfortunatelyat the age of 27, only one year after the house was finished.
TURN LEFT ON LAWRENCE STREET.
18. Washington Firehouse No. 5
7 North Lawrence Street
This building was constructed in 1851 as a synagogue and wound up serving the privately run Washington Fire Company. The two-story brick Greek Revival structure came with a price tag of $5,500. The building boasts a cantilevered second floor supported by Doric columns with Doric pilasters above. After its days as an engine house were extinguished the building did duty as a furniture warehouse and, most recently, a law firm.
CONTINUE TO GOVERNMENT STREET. TURN RIGHT.
19. Barton Academy
504 Government Street
In 1826 Willoughby Barton introduced an act into the Alabama State Legislature that led to this monumental Greek Revival building thirteen years later that was the first public school in Alabama. Architects James H. Dakin, Charles B. Dakin, and James Gallier created the three-story building that was constructed of brick that has been stuccoed and scored to look like more expensive ashlar block. With the exception of the Civil War, a school operated here until the 1960s. The low-pitched roof is topped by a landmark domed cupola, ringed by 28 Ionic columns.
TURN AND WALK IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION ON GOVERNMENT STREET, HEADING TOWARDS THE BAY.
20. Spanish Plaza
Government Street between Hamilton and Franklin streets
Spanish Plaza is a downtown park that honors the Spanish occupation of the city between 1780 and 1813. It features the “Arches of Friendship,” a fountain presented to Mobile by its sister city of Málaga, Spain. March 21 was designated “Malaga Day” in Mobile and “Mobile Day” in Malaga.
21. William H. Ketchum House
400 Government Street
William H. Ketchum was a prosperous cotton planter and merchant who constructed this Italian villa, one of the town’s grandest mansions, in 1860. The three-story house featured a full basement, double parlors that stretched sixty feet in length and a ballroom. The interior was generously appointed with carved marble and plasterwork. It was said that the final furnishings for the house arrived on the last boat into the town before the outbreak of the Civil War. After federal troops won the city in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 Union General E.R.S. Canby used the house as his headquarters, staying as a “guest” of Mrs. Ketchum while here husband served as a major in the Confederate Army. William Ketchum died in the 1890s and the house remained in the family until 1906 when it was sold to the Catholic Diocese; a century on the landmark house with splendid ironwork looks much as it did when the Ketchums lived here.
22. Mobile Carnival Museum
355 Government Street
There was mention in Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville’s diary of an observance of the Catholic festival in Mobile of Mardi Gras as far back as 1699. America’s celebration of “Fat Tuesday” traces its beginnings to an impromptu parade staged on New Year’s Eve 1831 by cotton broker Michael Krafft and his friends who carried rakes and rang cowbells as they marched through Mobile. The “Cowbellions de Rakin Society” was staging an annual themed parade with masks and costumes by 1840. Their traditions would migrate to New Orleans in the coming decade.
The museum home was once that of Henry Bernstein, who made his money selling shoes and boots - enough footwear to hire architect James L. Hutchisson to build this $15,000 house in 1872. John Curtis Bush, a cotton factor and future mayor of Mobile, bought the house in 1891. Before the Mobile Carnival Museum moved in during 2005 it was the home of the Mobile City Museum.
23. Mobile Register Building
304 Government Street
The Mobile Press-Register is Alabama’s second most-read newspaper and the state’s oldest, being a direct descendent of the Mobile Gazette that put out its first issue in 1813. In 1944 the paper moved into this building that began life displaying Fords and Lincolns for the L.G. Adams Motor Car Co. The paper stayed for the rest of the century, finally departing for a modern facility on Water Street in 2002. In the years since the geometrically flavored brick building did some government duty but awaits the revelation of its next chapter.
24. Government Street Presbyterian Church
300 Government Street
This was one of the early projects of architects James Gallier, James Dakin and Charles Dakin who partnered briefly in New Orleans in the 1830s. The meetinghouse, now a National Historic Landmark, stands as one of the oldest and least-altered Greek Revival church buildings in the United States. One unintended alteration was the loss of an octagonal steeple that was toppled in a hurricane in 1852. The Government Street Presbyterian Church organized in 1831 and operated from a small frame structure until this brick church, wrapped in white stucco, was completed in 1837. Gallier, an Irish-born architect who came to America in his thirties, would go on to design several important New Orleans buildings, including City Hall, he perished in a storm aboard a steamship off the coast of Cape Hatteras in 1866.
25. LaClede Hotel
150-160 Government Street
This Mobile landmark was originally a pair of Federal-style buildings erected in 1855; one was a family residence and the other a fruit and liquor business. In 1871 the two were joined into a hotel with the help of an overhanging cast iron gallery as a unifying architectural element. The LaClede became a hub of social life in Mobile and continued to greet guests until 1963. The building, that includes a third block added in 1940, was the recipient of a meticulous restoration in the 1980s.
26. Office of Dr. Henry S. LeVert
153 Government Street
This Italianate brick building was a doctor’s office for almost 100 years, beginning with physician Henry S. LeVert in 1858. LeVert was the son ofFrench physician Claudeus LeVert, who came to Virginia as fleet surgeon under General Rochambeau during the climactic days of the Revolutionary War. Henry LeVert’s wife, Octavia Celeste Valentine Walton, also had ties to the American Revolution - her grandfather George Walton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. From their home in Mobile Mrs. LeVert became one of mid-19th century’s most celebrated socialites. Her roster of friends spanned the most famous political and cultural names of the day and she published books about here world travels. The LeVert’s lavish home has been destroyed but the office building was preserved by the Mobile County Commission in 1971.
TURN AND WALK BACK TO THE CORNER WHERE CONCEPTION STREET ENDS. OPPOSITE CONCEPTION STREET, WALK THROUGH THE CONCRETE PLAZA TO CHURCH STREET. TURN LEFT.
27. Christ Church Cathedral
115 South Conception Street
Christ Church was founded in 1822 as the first protestant church in Alabama with all denominations using the frame building that stood on this present site. The various denominations left for their own meetinghouses leaving the Episcopalians, the first in Alabama, to worship here. The cornerstone for this Greek Revival temple, constructed of brick and covered with stucco, was laid in 1838 and consecrated in 1842. A major hurricane in 1906 collapsed the original steeple through the roof and it was never rebuilt with the reconstruction. The modern building looming over the church complex is the Mobile County Government Plaza. The complex also contains two antebellum houses that function as church offices.
CONTINUE ON CHURCH STREET TO ROYAL STREET. TURN RIGHT.
28. Fort Conde
150 South Royal Street
This is a 1976 reconstruction, at 4/5 scale, of an original 1720s French fort at this location. The fort had been built to defend against British or Spanish attack on the strategic location of Mobile and its Bay as a port to the Gulf of Mexico, on the easternmost part of the French Louisiana colony. The fort was shaped in the form of a four-pointed star with guard towers raised at the points. It operated under English rule and Spanish rule before it became an American possession. No longer a strategic necessity by that time, the United States Congress authorized the sale and removal of Fort Charlotte, as it was known by U.S. troops, in 1820. By late 1823, most of the above-ground traces of Mobile’s fort were gone, leaving only underground structures.
TURN RIGHT ON THEATER STREET.
29. Condé-Charlotte Museum (Kirkbride) House
104 Theater Street
This house was built on the remains of the town’s first courthouse and jail, constructed back in 1822. Jonathan Kirkbride, a New Jersey native, bought the property in 1849 and erected a classical two-and-a-half story home fronted by a two-tiered gallery with a Doric order below and a Corinthian order above. The home remained in the Kirkbride family until 1905; since 1957, the house has been owned, preserved, and operated by The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Alabama. Theater Street, which today exists far from any stage, takes its name for the first theater in town that was erected here in 1824 by N.M. Ludlow.
WALK BACK TO ROYAL STREET AND TURN LEFT, WALKING BACK PAST THE FORT. CONTINUE ON ROYAL STREET ACROSS CHURCH STREET.
30. Old City Hall
111 South Royal Street
The genesis of this building in 1854 was as the Southern Market where folks could buy and sell vegetables, meat and fish. As construction was progressing the existing city hall, sited at Jackson and Conti streets, went up in flames. When the Italianate building designed by Thomas Simmons James opened in 1858 it contained the marketplace, space for the local militia to assemble and offices for the municipal government. Alterations through the years have resulted in a complex of four rectangular sections linked by three arcaded passageways. You could still buy a basket of vegetables here as late as 1942; since 1997 the building has housed the Museum of Mobile. Mobile’s City Council continues to convene in this building a few times a year in order to carry on the tradition of having met in this location continuously since its opening in 1858.
31. Raphael Semmes Statue
Government Street at Royal Street
Maryland-born Raphael Semmes joined the United States Navy at the age of 17 in 1826. He helmed a brig in the Mexican-American War, after which he took an extended leave to practice law in Mobile. When Alabama seceded from the Union in January 1861, Semmes resigned from the United States Navy and sought an appointment in the Confederate States Navy. He would become the most famed commerce raider in the Confederacy, claiming 69 prizes, most as commander of the CSS Alabama. After 22 months of harassing Union shipping the Alabama was sunk off the coast of France by a the Union sloop-of-war, USS Kearsage. Wounded, Semmes survived the battle and was rescued, along with 41 of his crewmen, by the English yacht, Deerhound. After recuperating in England he made his way back to the Confederacy, where he was promoted to rear admiral in the months before the Civil War ended. Semmes returned to a law officein Mobile, where a grateful citizenry gave him a house in 1871. He remained in the Government Street residence until his death in 1877. The bronze statue in his honor was unveiled on June 27, 1900.
CONTINUE TO THE INTERSECTION WITH DAUPHIN STREET WHERE THERE ARE THREE LANDMARKS...
32. Van Antwerp Building
103 Dauphin Street
This was the first concrete skyscraper constructed in Alabama when it rose in 1908. George Bigelow Rogers designed the highly decorative Beaux Arts tower on a commission from Garet Van Antwerp and his sons who had operated an apothecary on this corner since 1884. The drug store, including the town’s most popular soda fountain, occupied the first floor of the 120-foot high structure and the upper floors became Mobile’s most prestigious office address. The Van Antwerp family drug store stayed open into the 1960s as the building’s fortunes declined. After 100 years the historic high-rise has lost some architectural decoration and in recent years all but the ground floor has been vacant.
33. Pincus Building
1 South Royal Street
Versatile Victorian architect Rudolph Benz turned to the eclectic Queen Anne style for this picturesque corner commercial building in 1891. Look up to see decorative elements across the facade and a centered cast iron balcony on both the Dauphin Street and Royal Street elevations. Each elevation also sports a turret with a pyramidal roof; a rounded corner tower with spire was removed in the 1940s.
34. Burke Building
1 North Royal Street
Cast iron, when affordable, is better suited to the moist semi-tropical climate of the Gulf Coast than wood. The first iron balconies began appearing in Mobile in the 1840s. This decorative two-story gallery was an addition to an 1875 building. The two-story brick building also boasts ornate cast iron window moldings.
TURN RIGHT ON DAUPHIN STREET.
35. Chighizola-Thompson Building
7 Dauphin Street
Jean Baptiste Chighizola, a native of Genoa, Italy, constructed this two-story Italianate brick commercial building in 1875. It still retains its elaborate window treatment on the upper floor with molded window hoods. At the roofline is a broken pediment.
36. Daniels, Elgin & Co. Building
2 South Water Street at Dauphin Street
Cast Iron was an extremely popular architectural material during the second half of the 19th century and was particularly suited to the needs of a commercial building. It had been used in New York City as early as the 1840s, when the famed inventor, James Bogardus, experimented with the material and advanced the use of iron for structural supporting systems. The Architectural Iron Works of Daniel D. Badger greatly popularized the use of cast iron for facades and gained a worldwide reputation, shipping prefabricated iron parts to many foreign ports, including Nova Scotia and Cuba. This is a superb example of a Badger Iron Works facade from 1860, modeled on the waterfront palazzos of 15th and 16th century Venice. It is the only cast iron facade in Mobile.
TURN LEFT ON WATER STREET.
37. The Battle House RSA Tower
11 North Water Street at St. Francis Street
Construction began on this tower in 2003; four years and five hurricanes later it topped out as the tallest building in Mobile by more than 300 feet. At 745 feet tall, it is the tallest building on the Gulf Coast outside Houston. The building is named for the neighboring Battle House Hotel, which was restored and renovated as part of the tower complex.
TURN LEFT ON ST. FRANCIS STREET.
38. First National Bank Building
68 St. Francis Street
The First National Bank took its first deposits on October 18, 1865 down the block at the corner of Royal and St. Franics streets. The move to this Neoclassical vault, designed by local architects Watkins, Hutchisson and Garvin, took place in 1905. Dominated by a large central pediment and Ionic portico, the building was crafted of brick, stone, and terra cotta.
39. Battle House Hotel
26 North Royal Street at St. Francis Street
A guest house has stood on this site for the better part of 200 years. James Battle and two half-nephews constructed a four-story brick hotel here in 1852 that replaced a previous wooden structure that had burned. It was the town’s leading hotel with such notables as Henry Clay and Jefferson Davis and Millard Fillmore signing the guest register. Stephen A. Douglas was guest in the hotel in 1860 on the night he was defeated by Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election. The Battle House burned as well, in 1905.
A new grander steel frame building faced in brick and marble rose in its place, executed on plans drawn by New York architect Frank M. Andrews. The classically designed Battle House quickly regained its prominence; the first meeting of the Mobile Rotary Club was held here and President Woodrow Wilson was a guest in 1913 when he declared before World War I that the United States would never again wage a war of aggression. By the 1960s the Battle House was declining rapidly in a decaying downtown Mobile. It closed its doors in 1974 and by 1980 the seven-story hotel was the only building on its block. In 2001 Retirement Systems of Alabama acquired the property and revitalized the hotel as part of its project to construct Alabama’s tallest office building here.
40. RSA–BankTrust Building
107 St. Francis Street at Royal Street
This 34-story International Style tower was constructed for the First National Bank in 1965. To make way for this skyscraper two historic buildings were scraped off the ground - the bank’s 1913 headquarters and a century-old United States Custom House. This was the tallest building in Mobile for 40 years and the tallest in Alabama for twenty.
41. Merchants National Bank Building
56 St. Joseph Street at St. Francis Street
This 23-story skyscraper became the city’s tallest building when it was completed in 1929 and held the title until 1965. The Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White gave the 236-foot building an Art Deco look with setbacks on the upper floors and lower floors stripped of decoration. The tower is crowned with a distinctive copper-plated pyramidal roof structure.
TURN LEFT ON ST. JOSEPH STREET.
42. Franklin Fire Engine Company #3
6 St. Joseph Street
The Franklin Fire Company’s roots extend back to 1831 and the company moved into this stuccoed, Italianate-flavored building in 1852. Franklin was folded into the consolidated city fire department in 1889 but the old station sill trundles on.
TURN LEFT ON DAUPHIN STREET.
43. Kress Building
115-117 Dauphin Street
Samuel H. Kress took as much pride in the artistic appearance of his five-and-dime stores as he did in the profits they churned out in the early 1900s. An avid art collector, he considered his stores to be pieces of public art and kept a bevy of architects on staff. This building was designed by Seymour Burrell in 1914. While most retailers sought a corner location Kress often favored an L-shaped design with mid-block entrances on two streets. That was the case here although the building is now cruciform and has fronts on Royal, Dauphin, St. Emanuel and Conti streets. Although the lower floors have been modernized you can look up to see the decorative terra cotta tiles and Kress masthead familiar to early 20th century American shoppers.
TURN AND WALK BACK TO BIENVILLE SQUARE. ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE CORNER IS...
44. McCrory Building
125-127 Dauphin Street
When John Graham McCrorey opened his first store in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania in 1882 he legally changed his name, dropping the “e” to save money on signage. Despite that slavish devotion to the bottom line, McCrory’s first foray into retailing went bankrupt. McCrory would bounce back, and at its pinnacle his chain would operate 1,300 five-and-dime stores under the McCrory name and others. This two-story brick store came on line in 1924 and absorbed an Art Decoish facade with geometric designs carried around the corner.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN BIENVILLE SQUARE.