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February 20, 2001

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now
(Click on a photo to see a larger version)

by Tom McGehee

In 1924 Dr. Jessee Ullman Reaves built this impressive stucco home at 1862 Government Street on its north side just west of Memorial Park. Architect C.L. Hutchisson gave the Reaves a memorable residence in the popular Spanish Revival style, complete with a large living room with a beamed cathedral ceiling.

Dr. Reaves’ wife was a native of Iowa and received her medical degree from the state university there. Nell LeCompte Reaves while not actively practicing, assisted her husband in writing articles which appeared in medical journals of the day. Her great love was gardening and she not only would serve as president of the Mobile Garden Club but also be named a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society of London. Her gardens at number 1862 were a showplace.

Nell Reaves received a special place in Alabama history when she arranged the return of Alabama’s original flag to the Capitol in Montgomery. It had been taken as a souvenir by an Iowa solider in the Civil War and through her efforts and that of her brother, a congressman, the flag was eventually returned.

Jesse Reaves died in 1959 and his widow remained in their handsome home until her own death. The street had rapidly changed over the years and the back of this property suddenly fronted Airport Boulevard. This photograph shows the home near its end as a residence. A housekeeper, broom in hand, pauses to watch a real estate agent snap this picture. The house is protectively screened by magnolias and large azaleas.

By the 1970’s the house had been converted into Tony’s Restaurant, which advertised Mobile’s "finest Italian food." By the early 1980’s another restaurant, The Casbah, offered upscale dining in the Reaves’ elegant former living room. At least one more restaurant made a brief try here before vacating the address.

In 1988 a work crew descended on the vacant house and neighbors were optimistic that a renovation was underway. A bulldozer and wrecking crew followed and Mobilians looked in horror as one of Government Streets finest homes vanished. The block had never been placed within an historic district, leaving its fate to the whim of a developer.

When the Reaves house and all of the gardens Mrs. Reaves had so carefully developed were a memory, a Burger King arrived. Its dining room has more recently been closed and sealed off, limiting the site for drive-through cuisine alone.

The Tudor-style home visible to the east survives as professional offices.

Photo credit: Julius E. Marx Collection, University of South Alabama Archives


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