Then and Now
September 5, 2000
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by Tom McGehee
In the prosperous decade which followed World War II, Mobileís North Royal Street was a busy shopping thoroughfare. Tinsel and stars entice well-attired Christmas shoppers in this view of the block north of Dauphin Street, with the Battle House dominating the scene. The year is 1958 and within a year Springdale Plaza will open far to the west.
A garish array of neon signs hawks everything from the wares of Ross Jewelers to Alís Bootery which is advertising its "Penny Shoe Sale." The Battle House has undergone an extensive postwar renovation, removing its rooftop ballroom and adjoining garden, and remains the cityís premier hotel.
To the immediate south of the hotel had once been a competitor, The St. Andrew Hotel. Its early success had led to a 1907 expansion by architect Rudolph Benz. The arched windows and cast iron balconies apparently seemed too dowdy and it vanished in the late forties leaving space for a very unimaginative replacement. Here is now housed the Metropolitan Restaurant and a menís clothing firm. Next door, in the base of the Battle House, Ralphaelís is offering "Ladies Ready-to-Wear."
The dark brick building to the right, dated to the post World War I era, replacing one housing the menís clothing emporium of Spira and Pincus. Here it contains the Mobile Book Store offering everything from phonograph records to pipes.
By the 1970ís change came to downtown Mobile rapidly and destructively as the malls expanded and opened offering oceans of asphalt and air-conditioned "sidewalks." The numerous new "motor motels" of the sixties helped lead to the abandonment of the Battle House by the Sheraton chain. The hotel giant opted to build a silo-like replacement on Government Street which never was very successful. Retailers closed downtown locations by the dozens and flocked west.
By 1980, only the abandoned Battle House survived in this block. A parking lot had long ago replaced the restaurant seen in the earlier view, and a building housing law form Lyons, Pipes and Book stood where a prior generation bought phonograph records and books.
Credit: University of South Alabama Archives, Marx Collection
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