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August 31, 1999

Mobile: Then and Now

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

by Tom McGehee

Early in the twentieth century a photographer caught the novelty of a new “horse-less carriage” on Government Street. Included in the view is the fine old Rives house on the north east corner of South Franklin Street.

Back in 1879 this had become the residence of Colonel Alfred Landon Rives. The Colonel had arrived in Mobile to serve as Vice President and General Manager of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

The position was a lofty one and afforded Rives this fifteen room home boasting sixteen foot ceilings, black and white marble floors and mahogany doors with beveled and etched glass panels.

Colonel Rives daughter, Amelie, was taught at home by private tutors. She professed a dislike of the morning hours and was seldom seen before two in the afternoon. Her wardrobe was rich and extensive. As she strolled Government Street with her well-groomed collies they say she turned many a head.

In 1888 Amelie became an immediate literary sensation when she published a novel, “The Quick or the Dead.” A brief New York marriage followed, ending in divorce. While in London she attended a garden party where she was introduced to her next husband by no less than Oscar Wilde who proclaimed the couple “the two most beautiful people here.” She married Prince Pierre Troubetskoy, a Polish artist in 1896.

By the time of this photograph the Rives had long ago returned to Virginia. Number 354 was the residence of Anna Hall, a widow, whose son, Henry Hall, served as President of the First National Bank from 1904 until 1921. Just in view to the east is a wing of the Sydney Lowenstein home, dating to the 1850’s.

The Rives-Hall home was almost a mirror image of the Bernstein-Bush House across at 355 Government Street. That house dates to 1872 and at present serves as the Museum of Mobile.

This block was one of many along Government Street which fell victim to commercial growth. Both houses visible in this photo were at first converted to office space. The Lowensteins moved to the Antoinette Apartments by 1916. Their mansion then housed federal offices. The Rives home became a doctor’s office in the 1930’s.

In the 1940’s the Rives home made way for a Delchamps Grocery Store which lasted a comparatively brief time on this corner. The Lowenstein house went next to provide a location for a marine supply business which disappeared long ago.

Ironically, both lots now house buildings for office use.


Photo above left: Courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives. Above right: photo by Kevin Marston.


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