Ask McGehee

What’s the history of the building on Broad Street that once housed the Red Cross?

This photo from a news clipping, which still hangs in the current Delaney Development, Inc. office, dates to Christmas of 1950, when a giant Santa Claus figurine towered beside the DeSoto window display.

In July of 1947, the building on the southeast corner of Broad and Dauphin streets opened its doors as Delaney’s Inc. It was built to house a car dealership, a gasoline station and an appliance store, as well as space for offices and storage.

For weeks prior to the opening, Edgar “Bill” Delaney bombarded Mobilians with advertisements on billboards, the radio and in the newspaper, advising them to “Watch for the Opening of Delaney’s!” Ads also noted that there would be a raffle for a new washing machine and that every customer purchasing five gallons of gasoline would receive six “water glasses.”

A Grand Opening

The grand opening brought an estimated 10, 000 visitors. Large windows displayed DeSotos and Plymouths at one end while the remainder showcased employees demonstrating the latest washing machines, vacuum cleaners and electric ranges. The gas pumps had a steady line of customers who purchased 15, 000 gallons of gasoline and took home 17, 000 drinking glasses.

Bill Delaney started out as a bookkeeper for Stephen Quigley’s tire store on lower Government Street in the late 1920s. Mr. Quigley later moved to St. Louis Street, where he added refrigerators and a variety of radios to his tire inventory.

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By the mid-1940s, Delaney had ventured out on his own and was operating several businesses. Delaney Specialty Co. was selling appliances out of a building at 756 Government St., which also housed an assortment of his businesses including commercial refrigeration, electrical contracting, plumbing and butane supply.

Additionally, he operated two gas stations, one at 401 Government St. and one in Prichard. He obtained the southeast corner of Broad and Dauphin to house his DeSoto / Plymouth dealership.

By 1947, Mr. Delaney had narrowed his operations down to Delaney’s Inc. with a staff of 200 employees. Mobilians were hungry for new appliances and cars, which had been nonexistent during World War II.

Westward Shift

Delaney’s lasted a little over a decade. In 1950, during a trip to Dallas, Bill Delaney noticed the novelty of suburban shopping centers, and by 1958 had begun construction on Springdale Plaza. His Broad Street operation dwindled down to just selling appliances.

When the sprawling shopping center opened its doors in 1959, the building on Broad Street briefly housed a Rambler dealership. Delaney’s appliance business moved to Springdale, joining 33 other businesses surrounded by a parking lot capable of holding more than 3, 000 vehicles.

By 1970, the Red Cross had moved its operations into Bill Delaney’s former showrooms, where it would remain for some 30 years. After standing vacant for more than a decade, restoration plans are finally developing for this reminder of a booming postwar Mobile.

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