Ask McGehee

This eight-story building with a penthouse was apparently constructed in 1958. The 1957 city directory indicates that there were three houses on the south side of Government Street just west of Marine Street. The following year, there were none. Several houses on the south side of the property facing Church Street would also meet the wrecking ball.

Designed as an office building, it was simply called “The 951 Government Street Building” by 1959. I could find no one who has any idea as to which architect, if any, designed it. A 1964 guide to Mobile featured the picture shown above and noted “the eight story air-conditioned building has a fine restaurant and private parking facilities.” That fine restaurant was apparently the B & G Cafeteria, which city directories place at that address at the time.  

Just what possessed developers to start building tall office buildings west of Broad Street is unclear. A clue may be found in the description of those ample parking facilities, which were at a minimum around Downtown Mobile.

One of the earliest tenants appears to have been Roberts Brothers Real Estate Inc., along with Southern Bell Telephone, which occupied two full floors. There was also the B & G Corporation, whose initials match the partners Joseph Barter and restaurateur Constantine Gulas, as well as the first floor cafeteria.

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From IRS Offices to The Prayer Closet

The building had a wide array of occupants over the years. The State Department of Revenue was on the second floor in 1963, along with the American-Korean Foundation. That year, more than a dozen insurance agents had their offices on various floors, while the Olan-Mills Photo Studio was on the eighth floor.

In the late 1960s, the “fine restaurant” on the first floor had dwindled down to become the Freeman House Snack Bar. The building continued to house the offices of various insurance agents, as well as assorted labor unions. The Master Mates and Pilots Organization was on the third floor, the Mobile Federation of Teachers was on four and the Retail Clerks’ Union was up on five.

By the mid-1970s, the Internal Revenue Service shared the seventh floor with the office of the Federal Energy Administration, and the eighth floor was occupied by the U.S. Customs Service.

Competition has always been keen for first-class office space in Mobile, and developers have been happy to oblige. A variety of office space opened up within the downtown grid in the 1980s, as well as near I-65 to the west. The occupancy rate for 951 Government reflects those changes over the years.

In the mid-1990s, the building held quite an odd assortment of entities. The Franklin Memorial Treatment Program was on the first floor while K. Thompson Haute Couture Maison Inc. offered high-end custom-made ladies’ clothing on the third. The city directory reveals that the seventh floor was shared by the County Drug Court and The Prayer Closet.

More than a decade later, according to city directories, the building was largely vacant, and a developer sought to obtain a zoning change to allow for its conversion to a storage facility. That project was loudly protested by the neighborhood, which must certainly be pleased with the structure’s conversion to residential units today.

According to the building’s website, renters have already begun moving in to what are described as “Luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments” with some spectacular views. No word yet on whether the Freeman House will be resurrected for its lobby. 

Text by Tom McGehee

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