Ask McGehee

What’s the history of the old Providence Hospital being demolished on Spring Hill Avenue?

“Modern and efficient” Providence Hospital as pictured in 1952. Photo courtesy Mobile Public Library, Local History Division

Although occupied by divisions of the University of South Alabama since the late 1980s, the original building was completed in the summer of 1952 as the third home of Providence Hospital. Fifty years earlier, the hospital was located in a Mediterranean-inspired structure in the midst of a park-like setting. It had gotten its start on St. Anthony Street in 1854 opposite two older hospitals: City Hospital (1833) and the U. S. Marine Hospital (1839).

After the explosive growth in Mobile’s population during World War II, the 1902 structure was deemed inadequate, and funds were raised for a new facility. By 1950, construction was underway. Patients were moved into the adjoining Allen Memorial Home while the old hospital was demolished.

In July of 1952, the new hospital was officially dedicated. The brick E-shaped, six-story building was far closer to Springhill Avenue than its predecessor and much larger, with more than twice as many beds. Every room had a private bath, telephone, “piped oxygen,” and, according to a newspaper account, was “decorated in the most modern hues.” 

Modern and Efficient 

Reporters described the $4 million hospital as “modern and efficient … with terrazzo floors, aluminum windows and fully air-conditioned.” There was a snack bar and dining room, general and special kitchens, and the ground floor featured an “Autopsy Room and Museum.” The sixth floor included a “Sisters’ Suite” for the Sisters of Charity who ran the facility.

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The brochure for the grand opening stated that the new hospital was “to serve all people regardless of race, color, creed or financial status.” That was quite a statement for 1952 Alabama.

Less than 10 years later, the hospital was enlarged to add 72 more rooms, and in 1964, a five-story building, costing $1.4 million, was completed to the north to house 124 women enrolled in the hospital’s nursing school. Each floor featured a television lounge, and the grounds included a kidney-shaped swimming pool.

The Growth Continues

Providence Hospital kept growing. In 1967, a $4.5 million addition was announced, consisting of a 140-room addition to be built to the east above the existing parking lot. Additional office space was added in front of the building along with a covered entrance drive. More than $2 million was spent on modernization as well as an enlarged emergency room, intensive care unit and operating rooms. This brought the bed count to 400. 

In the late 1970s, Providence Hospital sought the help of the city to assist with obtaining adjoining land. According to hospital officials, landowners were holding out for more than three times the appraised values, and city officials were asked to use eminent domain to acquire the properties. The city declined.

By 1980, a $10.3 million 90,000-square-foot expansion was announced, as well as the renovation of 105,000 square feet. A large wing facing Lafayette Street would feature a new main entrance and canopy, a boutique-style gift shop, an entrance for admitting and more parking. On March 2, the new addition was opened to the public for a special preview with special guest Chuck E. Cheese joining the Azalea Trail Maids. A reporter described the interior as featuring “warm earth tones, coordinated carpets, laminates and innovative designs in furnishings.”

The Largest Expansion Yet

The management of Providence Hospital declared 1982 as a “Year of Celebration” while boasting “our current construction program is the largest and most elaborate expansion plan that Providence has undertaken in its 125-year history.”

Once that year of celebrating ended, Providence made a startling announcement. In May of 1983, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on Airport Boulevard where the public was told a new Providence Hospital would be built at a cost of $46 million, terming it “a positive move for the future of Mobile’s medical community.” The plan also called for adjoining property to become a high-end residential development.

As construction began on Airport Boulevard, it was reported that the former site might become a new VA Hospital, but by May of 1985, that plan had fizzled. Two years later, the University of South Alabama purchased the entire property for what the Mobile Register termed “the bargain basement price of $4.5 million,” noting that the appraised value was $24 million. A smiling university president left the closing exclaiming, “They gave us a hospital.”

Today, that hospital is eerily vacant and the wreckers are already at work. Once the site is cleared, it is hoped a good use for the space will be determined.

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