Ask McGehee

The parking lot adjoining the Battle House, as well as the neighboring Phelps Dunbar law firm building at the northeast corner of Dauphin and Royal streets, will soon be the site of a six-story parking deck constructed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

Spira and Pincus Building

Although this Downtown corner currently contains no historical structures, this was not always the case. By the 1880s, Abraham Spira and his stepson, Abraham Pincus, had remodeled a pair of mid-19th-century buildings here to house what they advertised as Mobile’s leading men’s clothing store, while promising “the Largest Stock and the Latest Styles.” It thrived in this location for more than three decades.

After the deaths of both Abrahams, their building was demolished for the construction of a chain cigar store in the early 1920s. Reduced down to just one floor, this unimaginative structure’s roof became a prime location for a billboard. 

Local photographer Catt Sirten produced a series of images combining historic scenes of Mobile with their modern day streetscape. The building on the corner of Dauphin and Royal in the late 1940s was selling men’s shoes instead of cigars. Beyond are other retail shops with the Battle House in the distance. Today the RSA Tower dominates the skyline at this intersection.

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Archival image/ Julius Marx Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama. New image and composite art by Catt Sirten. 

The Commercial Hotel

Next door, on the property where the current parking lot is now being bulldozed, once stood the Commercial Hotel; however, the 1905 fire that destroyed the original Battle House also significantly damaged the Commercial. Within less than two years, Andrew Dacovich had replaced it with a new one and named it after himself as the St. Andrew. Two years later, the luxurious new Battle House opened for business.

The St. Andrew Hotel was popular with traveling salesmen and was never a competitor of the Battle House. By the late 1940s, it made way for a pair of unremarkable commercial buildings. A decade later, the block remained a busy retail thoroughfare and contained a large shoe store, a bookstore, a restaurant and, somewhat ironically, a men’s clothing store.

The Wreckers Arrive – Again

Mobile’s downtown was devastated in the mid 1960s with the completion of the Beltline Highway and the adjoining shopping malls. Between urban renewal and urban blight, this block once again met the wreckers, resulting in the parking lot now being removed. The Battle House closed its doors in 1972 and was vacant for more than 30 years. (The Battle House Renaissance was completed in 2007.)

While a parking garage will never replace the long lost Spira and Pincus Building, it is a necessary accessory for a downtown, which is finally coming back to life. The possibility that it may also contain ground floor retail space is even more exciting.

Text by Tom McGehee

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