Coca-Cola bottler Walter Bellingrath had the structure built, but it was never part of his gardens on Fowl River.
Bellingrath and his wife, Bessie, bought a 10-room home at 60 S. Ann St. in the fall of 1911. Mobile architect George B. Rogers had designed the house in 1907. (Rogers would later assist the couple in transforming Walter’s fishing camp into a world-famous garden.)
Bessie loved flowers, and she filled her Ann Street garden with azaleas and camellias. Within a short time, she was out of room for planting. In 1922, her husband bought the two vacant lots behind their home and extended the driveway out to Bradford Avenue.
HORSELESS CARRIAGE HOUSE
The automobile conquered the American road in the 1920s, and Walter Bellingrath thoroughly embraced the revolution. In fact, he was a partner in the L.G. Adams Motor Car Co. on Government Street. That firm originally sold Fords and Lincolns from a building that had a far longer run as home to the Mobile Press-Register.
By the middle of the decade, Walter had hired Rogers to redesign and enlarge his garage. Automobiles had changed drastically since the original 1907 structure had been built, and this new facility was to store the Bellingraths’ two Lincolns in style.
Rogers created an L-shaped building with large sliding doors. Up a handsome staircase there were two rooms and a full bath. Beneath the stairs was a locker room for the chauffeurs, complete with a walk-in shower lined with Rookwood tile.
Although the second-floor rooms were spacious, their only occupant for many years was an overflow of Bessie’s antique furniture collection.
A growing garden, filled with towering azaleas and seasonal flower beds, quickly surrounded the garage. By the spring of 1925, Mobilians had started driving their cars through the property to admire the azalea blooms. The Bellingraths were happy to share their blossoms with other flower lovers.
In 1928, neighbor Sam Lackland, on a springtime trip to Charleston, found it packed with tourists who were there to admire azaleas. By 1929, he had convinced the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Mobile to create the Azalea Trail. The Bellingrath property on Ann Street was naturally included.
One Sunday, in 1932, the Bellingraths made their Fowl River estate available to the public and hosted more than 4, 700 visitors. After they began to open that property on a daily basis, the couple spent an increasing amount of time on the river and far less time on Ann Street. Blame the automobile. Walter’s commute became easier and easier.
In 1935, Rogers created the couple’s permanent home on Fowl River. They referred to the Ann Street house as “the infirmary” and kept it in case one of them fell ill and needed to be close to their doctor. A maid came in daily and spent her time ironing the mountains of fine linens in use down at the river.
After Walter’s death in 1955, the Ann Street location was sold. The Greek Orthodox Church bought the north half of the block for their new sanctuary and used the Bellingrath home for Sunday school rooms. In the early 1970s, the house was razed for church expansion.
Most passersby never noticed it until the church asked permission to demolish it to create a storage facility. By then, the property was part of the Old Dauphin Way Historic District, so its demolition was prevented. The church offered it for free to anyone who would move it.
In 2005, the owner of the Berney/Fly Bed and Breakfast transferred it to its current location, with plans to use it for guest space. The building suffered during the relocation; among the casualties were the Rookwood bath and handsome staircase. As if that weren’t bad enough, Hurricane Katrina hit days later, pouring water into the open roof.
New owners purchased the property and have completed extensive renovations. The building now holds two luxurious apartments. It is a nice addition to Government Street and would undoubtedly please both the Bellingraths and Rogers.