Ask McGehee

According to a 1908 account in the Mobile Register, Mr. Fernand S. Frederic was erecting “a 3-story dye house and cleaning establishment” at 308 – 312 Dauphin Street. It continued, “The building will occupy a lot 152 feet deep, allowing stabling etc., while the front will be of ornamental design with large plate glass windows. This improvement gives a modern store in place of an old structure which had been occupied by Mr. Frederic for many years.”

Unfortunately, there is no mention of the architect, but Cart Blackwell of the Mobile Historic Development Commission suspects this to be the work of George B. Rogers. The design is heavily borrowed from Stanford White’s 1907 Colony Club, New York’s first for ladies and patterned after dozens of private men’s clubs in that city. (Ironically, the ladies in New York occupied their clubhouse for less than a decade. By 1916, they had built a grand new building on Park Avenue, which members still enjoy.)

White gave the fashionable club a federal revival façade reminiscent of Virginia’s Tidewater region. The height of the second floor allowed for a long assembly room in the New York version while Mr. Frederic’s living quarters occupied a smaller space in the Mobile adaptation.

French Dry Cleaner

Fernand Frederic first appeared in Mobile city directories in the 1880s with his occupation listed as “Dryer and Scourer.” By 1891, his address was given as 308 Dauphin Street. Dry scouring was first patented in the U.S. in 1821 and was later called “dry-cleaning” by the French who perfected the use of petroleum-based solvents to clean fabrics that could not be washed. It would not be until the 20th century that a less flammable mixture was invented to do the job.

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By the 1920s, Frederic advertised his business as “The House with a Reputation, ” as well as the “Largest French Dry-Cleaning Plant in the South.” As late as 1929, newspaper ads claimed that Frederic’s Cleaning Company guaranteed “Garments for Mourning Dyed in One Day.” Frederic died in 1930, at the age of 73, and his operation was renamed Consolidated Cleaners. 

From Cleaners to a Shopping Center

Also in 1930, members of the Zoghby family moved their notions business west of the cleaners. Eight years later they purchased the Consolidated Cleaners’ space. Their much-enlarged business was dubbed Zoghby’s Greater Store with the Georgian façade ultimately obliterated under metal panels. By the 1960s, the firm had been renamed Zoghby’s Downtown Shopping Center as an apparent attempt to appeal to shoppers drawn to the new malls to the west. It did not work.

Spot of Tea opened one door east of the former department store in 1994. Ultimately, the classic brick façade of the Frederic Building was uncovered and restored. The popular restaurant then expanded to the west.

Text by Tom McGehee

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