Ask McGehee

What’s the history of the Cheese Cottage building?

The building that has resided at 650 Saint Louis St. for over 80 years held many identities in its heyday. After multiple runs as a gas station, as shown in this photo taken sometime between 1935 and 1969, it now serves as a cozy cheese shop teaching Mobilians the art of cheese boards and charcuterie. Julius E. Marx Collection, the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

The building at 650 Saint Louis St. first appeared in the 1937 Mobile city directory as “Mrs. Jean D. Morrill, filling station.” It shared the block between North Dearborn Street and Washington Avenue with a Delchamps, which was the largest grocery store in the state when completed in 1928. This end of the street had previously held modest cottages until they rapidly made way for commercial structures.

Mrs. Morrill’s new gasoline station was of a cottage plan first promoted in 1927 by the Pure Oil Company. A self-taught architect who worked for Pure Oil came up with a design very different from its competitors. The house form, with a bay window and flower boxes, was intended to blend into residential neighborhoods. The last known example was completed in 1946 and, by the next decade, the company had firmly embraced modernism for their new stations.

Number 650 changed names quite a few times over the years. In 1938, it was listed as the “St. Louis Street Service Station” and advertised that it sold Tiolene Motor Oil — a Pure Oil product. Then, in 1946, it began a long run as the “Rayford Brothers Gas & Oil Service Station.” Saint Louis Street in the post-World War II years was booming as “Auto Alley, ” selling countless new and used vehicles to returning vets as well as to Mobilians who had not seen a new car since before the conflict.

It was not until 1969 that the Pure Oil name was directly associated with the address. That was the year it was first listed as the “Trail Cadillac Pure Oil Service Station.” The reason for this is something of a mystery, since the Pure Oil name vanished with its sale to Union Oil in 1965. The Union 76 name quickly replaced the familiar blue and white Pure Oil logo.

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In the 1970s, car dealerships moved west to an extended Dauphin Street and Government Boulevard, leaving a comparably deserted Saint Louis Street. The former gas station at number 650 survived as “Moore’s Garage, ” with the last listing appearing in 1980.

The renovation of this survivor of an earlier age of automobiles is nothing short of a miracle. It is a wonderful addition to a revitalized Saint Louis Street.

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