Like many cities on the Gulf Coast, Mobile, Ala. has a rich history stretching back hundreds of years. Founded by the French in 1702, Mobile has long been a center of commerce both for Alabama and the entire Southeast United States. Odds are, though, most readers have never seen the Port City as it looked nearly a century ago — stripped of its modern skyscrapers and industrial fixtures like Austal USA and the Aeroplex at Brookley.
In this 1932 photo, the Merchants National Bank Building, completed in 1929, towers over downtown as Mobile’s tallest building. Today, the building — known now as the Regions Bank Building — is dwarfed by neighbors like the RSA Battle House Tower and RSA-BankTrust Building. Across the Mobile River from downtown, Blakely Island remains largely undeveloped.
Today, downtown Mobile has a distinctive skyline, but it wasn’t always that way. In this 1922 photograph, the cityscape was still dominated by low-rise buildings. The city’s tallest building until 1929 was the 11-story Van Antwerp Building, located just outside of this view to the left.
The Van Antwerp Building, the First National Bank Building, and Hammel’s Department Store are all visible in this 1922 image. Wind-powered vessels still dot the riverfront, not yet having been fully replaced by steamships.
Looking south from Mobile’s vast rail yards, the 1907 Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Passenger Terminal is visible just right of center. Though placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the building endured years of neglect after begin vacated in 1986. A public-private investment of $18 million in 2001 restored the building for office use.
In 1922, Pinto and Blakeley Islands weren’t yet connected, and the Causeway, which would connect Mobile to the Eastern Shore, wouldn’t be built for another four years. The Cochrane Bridge wouldn’t be erected until 1927, and the Bankhead Tunnel was nearly two decades away.
By 1943, with World War II in full swing, the Mobile riverfront and Pinto Island had been fully developed with port facilities. The Bankhead Tunnel, completed in 1940, connected downtown Mobile to the Causeway and to points east.
In 1922, the area south of Government Street, including neighborhoods like Maysville, was sparsely developed. Brookley Field hadn’t yet been established, and the spot where Ladd-Peebles Stadium would later be built was just an open field.
The area that is now home to the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley was largely farmland in 1922. The fields in the foreground of the above photograph are now home to the Bishop State Community College campus and Baumhauer Park.
By 1922, Mobile was a bustling industrial center, with a number of factory smokestacks dotting the skyline and heavy shipping traffic filling the city’s Mobile River docks. The steamboat Helen Burke is among the ships docked in the photograph above; the ship was one of the last of the so-called river packets which carried people and cargo up and down the Mobile and Alabama rivers.
Completed in 1907, the 11-story Van Antwerp Building — the first reinforced-steel skyscraper in the Southeast — would remain the tallest in the city until 1929. Today, in this view from Bienville Square, the building is dwarfed by the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel, which after the addition of a spire in 2008 is more than three times as tall as the Van Antwerp.