By George!

It was George who built this city. Well, not the entire city, but most of its noted buildings. In 1901, George B. Rogers was just traveling through Mobile en route to Mexico but ended up living here for the rest of his life. The well-known architect designed the Van Antwerp Building, Bellingrath Home and Gardens, and Murphy High School, among many others.

It was also George that tried to destroy the city, in the form of the not-so-dear Hurricane Georges. The storm surge was more than 11 feet at Fort Morgan, with 25-foot waves on top of it. Rainfall reached 29.66 inches in Bay Minette. The entire area saw torrential rains and flooding. In typical Mobile fashion, we weathered the storm, recovered, repaired and rebuilt.

Having weathered many a Gulf Coast storm, good old George Street runs through the Oakleigh Garden Historic District and leads to one of Mobile’s finest culinary institutions, Kitchen on George, an appropriately named neighborhood eatery where students busily prepare seasonally inspired dishes.

Named for the first teacher hired for the Maysville community, George Hall Elementary School is celebrating 50 years of educating students. More than 95 percent of the students live within 2 miles of the school.

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Another Mobilian of the same name also makes a difference in local children’s lives on a daily basis. Dr. George Hall, a graduate of UMS-Wright and the University of South Alabama and University of South Alabama Medical School, has tended to sick youth as a physican at Pediatric Associates of Mobile since 1979.

You may know him as Babe, but his real name was George Herman Ruth. The record-setting pitcher and slugger visited the Port City three times to play ball on local diamonds during the 1920s and ’30s.

Next came the four-time governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate for whom The George Wallace Tunnel was named. The journey beneath Downtown and the Mobile River should be a magical experience. Instead, the tunnel has earned itself its own traffic cam. There’s nothing like a sharp curve and merging I-10 traffic to up the anxiety of your drive. If only those round walls could talk …

As for Three Georges Candy, “It’s a 100-year-old story, ” says owner Scott Gonzalez. Three Greek immigrants decided to open the original business together. One wanted a soda shop, one wanted to make sandwiches and the other wanted to sell chocolate and confections. What did the three partners have in common? All were named George, of course.

Today, you’ll also find another George of Greek descent doling out deliciousness from local kitchens. George Panayiotou reigns as chef and director of culinary operations at Cooper Restaurants (the distinguished Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Felix’s Fish Camp and Bluegill Restaurant). While many fathers choose to pass their names down to their sons, George’s Greek immigrant father, Constantine, chose to lend his name to his legendary 1930s restaurant instead.

George Radcliff III, of Saraland, has traced his lineage through that of Wilmer Hall founder, the Rev. Richard H. Wilmer, who has roots all the way back to the Royalist Wilmers of England. Radcliff inherited the moniker and continued the tradition with his 8-year-old son, who goes by Will. He is the IV, and the family hopes for a V. “I love the name George, ” the elder Radcliff says. “Isn’t it the new prince’s name? I am excited the tradition continues.” Moreover, the family ties are not only over the pond, but also in Hollywood. Oddly enough, Winston Groom’s book “Forrest Gump” is dedicated to Radcliff’s father, George Willis Radcliff II. Perhaps, as a subtle nod, in the movie’s opening scene, the title character is reading the book, “Curious George, ” when a feather floats onto its pages.

Ah, but this tale of too many Georges gets curiouser and curiouser. “It was my father’s name, and he wanted a little George, ” says native Mobilian George Cunningham. “I would rather be named ‘Rock, ’ ‘Brad, ’ ‘Ruben’ or ‘Bob.’” Instead, his parents chose a slightly peculiar nickname for him: “Buzz.”

text by Christy Dobson Reid

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