Ask McGehee

One of Government Street’s most enduring landmarks is the LaClede Building with its cast-iron gallery that stretches over 250 feet west from St. Emanuel Street. The structure is actually made up of three different buildings dating between 1855 and 1940.

The building occupying the northwest corner of Government and St. Emanuel streets arrived in 1855 to house an establishment selling fruit and liquors on the first level, while proprietor Joseph Peter resided above. A year later a building just west was completed to house the family of Caleb Price who operated a hardware store on Water Street.

According to the 1860 census, the Price household consisted of Caleb and his wife, Lavinia, their seven children ranging in age from 21 to 1 and two Irish-born servants. Their choice in domestics may have stemmed from the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Price were both born in New Jersey. 

Birth of the LaClede 

In 1868, Price, described as a “conservative Republican, ” was appointed mayor of Mobile and served until 1870. A year later, he purchased the building to the east of his home and remodeled the two structures into a new hotel. It was at this time that the distinctive cast-iron galleries were added.

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The LaClede Hotel opened amid much fanfare in December of 1871. Pierre LaClede was a Frenchman who traveled north from New Orleans in 1763 to establish a trading post. That post became St. Louis. Just why his name was chosen for a hotel in Mobile is unclear, but cities stretching from Missouri to Montana also had LaClede hotels during this era.

Mobile’s version survived a scant four years. In December of 1875, a public auction sold the contents of the hotel to satisfy debts, and its name vanished from city directories. Price tried once again, and the 1881 directory lists him as the proprietor of the LaClede Hotel. He died a year later,  and the hotel survived until 1888. 

In 1903 the building housed the executive offices of the Mobile Light and Railroad Company, which ran the city’s electric streetcars. When those offices were moved to Monroe Park in 1926, the building was once again converted into a LaClede Hotel. Advertisements in 1928 touted it as “Mobile’s Newest Hotel” while assuring patrons of “Free Parking Adjoining Hotel.” In 1940,  an addition to the west gave the hotel a dozen more rooms with ground-floor commercial space.

The LaClede closed once again in 1963. Within a decade, Downtown had lost the Cawthon Hotel, and the Battle House stood derelict. In the 1980s, a group of developers purchased the long vacant LaClede and converted it into first-class office space. For more than three decades, this historic building has been home to the law firm now known as Helmsing, Leach, Herlong, Newman and Rouse.

Text by Tom McGehee

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