Ask McGehee: What’s the story behind Downtown’s long-forgotten St. Andrew Hotel?

Black and white illustration of the St. Andrew Hotel
Architectural rendition of the St. Andrew, 1905. Photo courtesy Tom McGehee

In the 1880s, Austrian-born Andrew Dacovich operated a restaurant and “coffee saloon” on North Royal Street just south of the Battle House Hotel. Coffee saloons offered coffee as well as tea and hot chocolate, but there was no food beyond a cold sandwich. Dacovich’s adjoining restaurant took care of that.

By 1895, he had added furnished rooms to the mix, and in 1900, he had established the Commercial Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe at 14 N. Royal Street, right next door to the Battle House. According to city directories, the second floor held the hotel’s billiard hall.

A spectacular fire on a cold February night in 1905 took the original Battle House Hotel, but few recall that the Commercial was also a victim. Dacovich wasted no time planning its replacement, and in June of that year, it was announced that architect Rudolph Benz was preparing plans for a 150-room hotel, making it the largest in the city. The name St. Andrew apparently honors the owner, not the patron Saint of Scotland.

Mobile’s Largest Hotel

Before construction was complete in 1907, an addition to the structure was announced, which brought the room count to just over 200. The hotel was advertised as being “strictly on the European Plan,” indicating that food was never included in the price of those rooms.

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Management was provided by Dacovich and his two sons, George and Joseph. Advertisements proclaimed that the establishment was “Elegantly furnished (with) Modern Equipment; Mahogany, Walnut, Quartered Oak and Birdseye (maple) Furniture.”  

A fanciful postcard depiction of the St. Andrew, then located on North Royal Street, just south of the Battle House Hotel.

The building’s design called for “ladies’ parlors, cozy corners, large sample rooms on every floor, carpeted rooms, each equipped with a telephone.” No mention was made in the ad campaign regarding private baths for those hotel rooms. The “sample rooms” were there to attract traveling salesmen or “drummers” as they were known at the time. Food service was provided in a cafe within the hotel and a separate bar was operated for male patrons.

By 1920, Dacovich was running the St. Andrew alone. An account in the September 1 issue of the Register recalled the former hotel on the site noting, “there are men and families who stopped at the Commercial, came back when the St. Andrew opened, and have continued to do so on their visits to Mobile ever since.”

The Dacovich family was out of the hotel business by 1927, evidenced by directories listing different proprietors, and in 1930, it had been renamed the New St. Andrew. Its last listing was in the 1946 city directory, showing it had been renamed once more as Gilbert’s St. Andrew Hotel. 

From Commercial Hotel to Commercial Space

Like other hotels in Mobile, the St. Andrew flourished during severe housing shortages during World War II. At war’s end, the Battle House Hotel underwent major upgrades, which the owners of the St. Andrew either could not or would not undertake. 

Times had changed and the days of “drummers” were over. By 1947, the hotel had been demolished and replaced by an uninspiring one-story commercial building, housing a clothing store. Sadly, the St. Andrew, like its short-lived predecessor the Commercial, has been long forgotten.

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