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May 4, 1999

Mobile: Then and Now

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

by Tom McGehee

This photograph from the late 1950’s reflects yet another block of Government Street destroyed by “progress.”

This is that street’s north side in its block between Dearborn and Wilkinson. Number 652 shown at center, will soon meet the fate of so many of its once proud neighbors, and be demolished.

This had become the home of the Sigmund Haas family back in the 1890’s. Haas had prospered as a cotton factor and had the honor of presiding over Mobile’s Fidelia Club. The facade of his home had earlier been dressed with lacy ironwork in a day when fashion dictated a home’s exterior be as elaborate as the carved furnishings it held within.

Back in the 1890’s this block only held two houses. To the east of the Haas house was number 650, long the residence of Samuel Hahn, a cigar manufacturer. The large vacant lot to the west of the Haas home held the new Fidelia Club by 1915. That building was the design of George B. Rogers and is just visible in the photograph.

Mr. Haas died in 1923 and was spared the downward spiral of Government Street. His widow was not.

First went the Hahn house. Its replacement was the “Chinese” filling station of the Huxford Oil Company. It was built with its back to the Haas home in an era when there was no zoning and no set back regulations. Its close proximity can be seen in the photograph,

Next went the Fidelia Club. The building survived but the organization dwindled in the years following the Crash. The building was sold. Where Mobile’s most prominent Jewish residents had once danced the twenties away, Higgins Mortuary opened its door advertising “Faster Ambulance Service.’

Poor Mrs. Haas found herself jammed next to a noisy gas station on one side and a funeral home on the other.

By the seventies, Higgins Mortuary had abandoned its downtown location for a spiffy Beltine locale to attract the westward flight. It did not survive the move.

Huxford Oil Company went under much earlier. Its building was occupied by Bob Oliver Tires when the wreckers came for number 652.

McDonald’s obtained the former Fidelia Club site as well as Mr. Haas’ old home for a new location. The former gas station made way for additional parking a few years later.

Nothing from the earlier scene survives.


Photo courtesy of University of South Alabama Archives


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