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March 28, 2000

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Mobile: Then and Now

by Tom McGehee

In 1896 architect Rudolph Benz designed the Spira and Pincus Building on the southeast corner of Dauphin and Conception streets. While the ground floor was leased to retailer C.J. Gayfer, the upper stories held the Fidelia Club in elegant surroundings. The tall windows held views of the oak canopy of Bienville Square.

The building had a short existence. Reportedly a heater in the Fidelia’s Reading Room sparked a spectacular blaze which left the corner in ashes. The structure was not yet three years old.

Mr. Gayfer decided to stay on the corner and Benz was called upon once again to design the building which still occupies the site. When completed late in 1899 the store had one of the city’s first passenger elevators and Mobilians would come in just to try it out.

A 1920’s fire destroyed the store’s stock and prompted the retailer to move over to its well-remembered location on St. Emanuel Street. Subsequent acquisitions would lead to Gayfer’s becoming the city’s largest department store before the firm abandoned downtown in the mid-eighties.

The Fidelia Club moved further west on Government Street in 1915 but vanished in the 1930’s as membership dwindled.

More recently the renamed “Gayfers” vanished in a merger with Dillards.

The building designed to house the once proud department store still stands on Dauphin Street. A sympathetic remodeling has created a prime site for office space.


Credit: USA Archives


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