Then and Now
August 25, 1998
by Tom McGehee
In 1939 a trio of heavily laden delivery trucks posed for this photograph in front of Mobile's Coca-Cola Bottling Company. The structure had occupied the north east corner of North Royal and St. Anthony streets for more than thirty years.
Walter Bellingrath and his brother William took a gamble on buying franchises to bottle Coca-Cola in Montgomery and Mobile in 1902-3. Walter took Mobile and a one hundred mile district because he liked to fish. The original plant occupied space on Water Street and relied on foot and hand operated machinery to cap and fill bottles. The 1906 hurricane flooded the location and no doubt contributed to the need for new quarters at 200 North Royal Street.
1911 advertising called it "the most sanitary plant in the South," and boasted of window screening and shower baths for employees. Customers were invited to inspect the plant where there was "no chance for human hands to touch the contents of a bottle."
By the time of this photograph the mule driven wagons of 1903 were nearly forgotten. Plans were already being drawn by architect Kenneth Giddens to enlarge the plant and give it a modern streamlined look. Alternations would be complete by the following year.
The very success of the operation doomed its future on North Royal Street. By the mid- seventies a huge new plant was opened at Tillmans Corner near the new interstate and this historic site was abandoned.
Nearly twenty five years later the former Coca-Cola bottling plant remains vacant, still awaiting a tenant according to signs attached to its facade. Its original purpose has been sadly forgotten.
Left Photo by The Overbey Studio, courtesy of Bellingrath Archives. Right Photo by L. D. Fletcher.