Ask McGehee: What’s the history of The Antoinette Apartments on Government Street?

In August of 1911, Mobile’s Register reported “work commenced last week on dismantling of the Government Street home which was occupied by Augusta Evans Wilson. The handsome old antebellum structure will be replaced by a modern two-story apartment house to be built by Louis Forcheimer.”

The idea of an apartment house was a relatively new one for Mobile. Those not wanting to buy or rent a house had previously only had the option of selecting a rooming house. There they were served communal meals without the option of an individual kitchen attached to their rooms.

Louis Lowenstein, who had made a fortune in the wholesale boot and shoe trade, had extensive real estate interests in town and built the first real apartment building in 1908 at 803 Government St. The Lowenstein Flats held four apartments, each with its own kitchen and bath, with construction costs topping $10, 000.

Finding success with the first building, Lowenstein and his brother-in-law, Louis Forcheimer, built a more ambitious four-unit building on Government Street in 1911 at a cost of $35, 000. Forcheimer named it The Antoinette to honor his late mother, who would have also been Lowenstein’s mother-in-law. A marble marker, still embedded in the front sidewalk, reads “The Antoinette, ” above the long-changed street number of 930.

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New Orleans Inspired

According to lore, Forcheimer patterned the building after one he had admired on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. The property file at the Mobile Historic Development Commission has no record of the architect, but architectural historian Cart Blackwell suspects it was designed by Stone Brothers, a New Orleans firm which had done work for the Lowenstein family before.

As an apartment building, The Antoinette defies current definitions. Each unit had the elegant detailing its occupants would have enjoyed in a Government Street mansion.  Beyond the marble clad entry were four flats, which featured high, coffered ceilings, inlaid floors and elaborate plasterwork, complimented by varying styles of fireplace mantels, built-in china cabinets and bookcases. 

Louis Forcheimer and his wife, the former Josie Lowenstein, shared one unit with their son, Leopold. Josie’s brother, Aaron, and his wife, popularly known as B, occupied the next. Aaron Lowenstein was a principal in the firm of Taylor, Lowenstein & Co., which dealt in turpentine and “naval stores.”

A third apartment was home to Louis Lowenstein and his wife, Florence. The couple and their two sons apparently were downsizing from their prior address on Government Street, which one writer later described as “too large to be of any use to any one.” 

Leo Pollock occupied the fourth unit. Pollock was a principal in his late father’s firm of J. Pollock & Co., which sold “dry goods, wholesale notions, hosiery and furnishing goods.” His wife was the former Daisy Forcheimer, a sister of the building’s creator.

The Antoinette was home to a variety of prominent Mobilians over the years. First National Bank president LeBaron Lyons lived here in the 1930s, and J. Finley McRae, president of the Merchant’s National, also called it home in 1961.

William O. Pape, the owner of WALA, rented an apartment here, and by 1942, attorney and Morrison’s Cafeteria exec George C. Outlaw and his wife were in residence. The two longest occupants were two widows: Mrs. Outlaw was here for more than 30 years, while Josie Forcheimer stayed some four decades before moving across to the St. Charles Apartments in the late ’50s.

In the 1960s, Government Street traffic increased, and the once residential thoroughfare was thoroughly invaded by new fast-food franchises joining an array of other commercial ventures. The new Maison Imperial in West Mobile was offering a luxury apartment complex by the 1970s, and The Antoinette was looking a bit dowdy in comparison. By 2001, the building was down to just one tenant.

Today, the apartments, which rented for between $137.50 and $150 a month in 1930, have been converted into luxury condos. Joining every 21st century essential is a level of architectural detail rarely found outside of an Edwardian townhouse. This landmark structure has received a new life, and ironically, its older sister, the former Lowenstein Flats, survives in a restored state a few blocks to the east.

text by Tom McGehee

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