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December 3, 1996

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now

by Tom McGehee

The City Bank Building was completed in March of 1903 and occupied the west side of Royal Street in the block south of St. Francis Street. Its design was the work of newcomer George Rogers and the New Orleans architectural firm of Andry and Bendernager.

The building housed the growing City National Bank whose president was Edward J. Buck. Its vice president was none other then Mayor Pat Lyons. The institution was a relatively new one having been formed in 1899 with just $18,910 in deposits.

The structure was termed Italian Renaissance and was covered in cream colored terra cotta. Within were marble and tile floors, dark oak paneling and a staircase of ornamental ironwork and marble. There were two "high speed" elevators as well as the convenience of gas and electric lighting. Female bank customers had their own parlor separated from the main lobby by curtains.

The new bank building dwarfed the Customs House to the north and the nineteenth century commercial buildings to the south. The deep balcony next door has a sign advertising the "PO" Cafe, named for its nearness to the Post Office which at this point is housed within the old Customs House.

The cafe's proprietor, Louis Liakopulos, advertises a "High Class Restaurant with Moderate Prices." Ironically the windows along the second floor promote a pool hall within, offering cues at two and a half cents each.

The City National Bank grew rapidly into the City Bank and Trust Company advertising itself as "A Bank of Strength, Service and Appreciation" where "No Account is too small for our careful and prompt attention."

Before the decade was through, George B. Rogers had been contracted again and the building was tripled in size and extended back to St. Joseph Street. The buildings housing the PO Cafe and Werneth's Saloon to the south were razed in the expansion. By 1914 deposits were up to $4.8 million.

The bank's meteoric rise came to a halt in November of 1915 when a panic closed its doors for good. The First National Bank of Mobile quickly absorbed the former bank's accounts and reopened the doors under its name. The building would serve that institution for some fifty years.

By 1965 most of the block was demolished to provide a site for the bank's tower and parking garage which are now operated by a successor.

Above left, photo courtesy of University of South Alabama Archives, Erik Overbey Collection. Above right, photo by Fletcher/Boatman.


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