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November 16, 1999

Mobile: Then and Now

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

by Tom McGehee

Photographs from the post-World War II era of Mobile often reflect the neglect suffered by some of its most historic areas. The war was over and Mobilians were busily moving west to new subdivisions popping up as far west as Spring Hill.

Left in the wake of all that rush were the older neighborhoods once prized for their convenient proximity to the shopping district on Dauphin Street. By the 1950ís shopping malls were on the horizon and the buildings in this view were doomed.

This is St. Francis Street looking west towards Franklin. The photographer is literally standing in the shadows of the Scottish Rite Temple.

The brick double house which dominates the view was one of a pair. Its mate had faced it across St. Francis until Dr. Cecil Ross built his new office building there in 1931. This very urban style of residence was considered quite fashionable for Mobile in the 1830ís and earlier photos show handsome ironwork lining the low masonry walls as well as exterior shutters on the windows.

In the early 1900ís the three structures seen here were occupied by stable middle class families. The cottage just in view to the right was the home of James Quill, a steamboat agent. The double house had Samuel Solomon, a Dauphin Street grocer in number 358 and Mrs. Bertha Levy, a widow in number 360. The LeBaron family lived across Franklin in the house with double galleries.

A photographer in 1900 would have been standing in the shadows of the St. Francis Street Baptist Church steeple. That church dated to 1848 at this location but plans were already underway to build a Government Street replacement. The streetcar and then the automobile began to entice residents towards new development in Dauphin Way and out Government Street.

By the late twenties these houses had been subdivided into boarding houses. The Baptist church had given way to the Scottish Rite Temple complete with its busty sphinxes. The booming war industries of the next decade filled the houses with workers desperate for bed space.

By the time of this photographer, the double house is the rooming house of Michael Vergos who runs a grocery on North Franklin. Number 356 to the east has been subdivided into two and number 400 in the distance has been turned into four apartments.

All three buildings were replaced with asphalt by 1960.


Credit: Marx Collection, USA Archives


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