Elements of Urbanism: Mobile

April 30, 2010 38 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores the downtown of Alabama's port city: Mobile

Tale of the Tape:

Mobile Population 2008: 191,022 (City); 411,721 (Metro - 2009) - (incorporated in 1814)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro - 2009) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Mobile (129,009)

City Land Area

Mobile: 117.9 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Mobile: +2.97%%
Jacksonville: +15.86%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Mobile: 317,605 (ranked 98 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Mobile: 1,506.9
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Mobile: -7,893
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Mobile: Mobile Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center (1993) - 100,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Mobile: Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel (277 units)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Mobile: RSA Battle House Tower - 745 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Mobile: (0)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Mobile: Water Street, railroad and port cut Downtown Mobile from waterfront
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Mobile: Dauphin Street
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Mobile: 89 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Mobile as keyword)
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Mobile's land area.

About Mobile

Mobile is the third most populous city in the state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 198,915 during the 2000 census. Mobile is the principal municipality of the Mobile Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), a region of 399,843 residents which is composed solely of Mobile County and is the second largest MSA in the state. Mobile is included in the Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope Combined Statistical Area with a total population of 540,258, the second largest combined statistical area in the state behind Birmingham.

Mobile began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. The city gained its name from the Native American Mobilian tribe that the French colonists found in the area of Mobile Bay. During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony for France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile first became a part of the United States of America in 1813. It then left that union in 1861 when Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, which collapsed in 1865.

Located at the junction of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay on the northern Gulf of Mexico, the city is the only seaport in Alabama. The Port of Mobile has always played a key role in the economic health of the city beginning with the city as a key trading center between the French and Native Americans down to its current role as the 9th largest port in the United States.

As one of the Gulf Coast's cultural centers, Mobile houses several art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera, a professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture. Mobile is known for having the oldest organized Carnival celebrations in the United States, dating to the 1700s of its early colonial period. It was also host to the first formally organized Carnival mystic society or "krewe" in the United States, dating to 1830. People from Mobile are known as Mobilians.

Fort Conde

Originally founded in 1702 at 27-Mile Bluff up river, Mobile was relocated in 1711 to the current site where a temporary wooden stockade fort was constructed to protect the town. It was named Fort Louis after the old fort up river. In 1723, construction of a new brick fort with a stone foundation began. Renamed Fort Condé in honor of King Louis XIV’s brother.

Fort Condé protected Mobile and its citizens for nearly 100 years from 1723-1820. It was built by the French as a defense against British and Spanish attack on the strategic location of Mobile and its Bay, the eastern most part of the Louisiana colony. The military importance of Mobile and Fort Condé was huge. The fort and town protected access into the strategic lands between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic colonies along the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers.

Fort Condé and its surrounding features covered about 11 acres of land. It was built of local brick, stone, earthen dirt walls, and cedar wood. Twenty black slaves and five white workmen did initial work on the fort. If the full size fort were present today, it would take up large sections of Church, Royal, Government, St. Emanuel, and Theatre Streets in downtown Mobile.

From 1763 to 1780, England was in possession of Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Charlotte in honor of King George III’s wife. From 1780 to1813, Spain ruled Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Carlota. In 1813, Mobile was occupied by United States troops and the fort again named Fort Charlotte.

In 1820, Congress authorized the sale and removal of the fort since it was no longer needed for defense. City funds paid for the demolition to make way for new streets and construction built towards the river and southward. By late 1823, most above ground traces of Mobile’s fort were gone.

The current Fort Condé, about 1/3 of the original fort recreated in 4/5-scale, opened on July 4, 1976 as part of Mobile’s United States bicentennial celebration.

Admission is free.

Government Street

The Mobile Carnival Museum is a history museum that chronicles over 300 years of Carnival and Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama.[2] The museum is housed in the historic Bernstein-Bush mansion on Government Street in downtown Mobile.

Old City Hall, also known as the Southern Market, is a historic complex of adjoining buildings in Mobile, Alabama, that currently houses the Museum of Mobile. The complex was built from 1855 to 1857 to serve as a city hall and as a marketplace.[3] It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

The Gulf Coast Exploreum is a non-profit science center that features three permanent exhibitions, a wide variety of traveling exhibitions, a virtual theater, and an IMAX theater in downtown Mobile, Alabama. The center opened in 1998 and had reached a total of 1.5 million visitors by 2007.

Port of Mobile

The Port of Mobile, located in Mobile, Alabama, United States, is the only deep-water port in the state, and was the 9th largest by tonnage in the nation in 2008. It is located along the Mobile River where it empties into Mobile Bay. The Port of Mobile has public, deepwater terminals with direct access to 1,500 miles of inland and intracoastal waterways serving the Great Lakes, the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys (via the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway), and the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama State Port Authority owns and operates the public terminals at the Port of Mobile. The public terminals handle containerized, bulk, break bulk, roll-on/roll-off, and heavy lift cargoes. The port is also home to private bulk terminal operators. The container, general cargo and bulk facilities have immediate access to two interstate systems and five Class I railroads. Additionally, the Central Gulf Railroad operates from the port as a rail ferry service to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, in Mexico.

In 2008, the Port of Mobile had a trade volume of 67,635,501 tons. The Port of Mobile is the largest break bulk forest products port in the United States, and the Alabama State Port Authority's McDuffie Terminal is the second largest coal terminal in the United States and largest import coal terminal.

Adjacent to the Mobile Convention Center, Cooper Riverside Park offers a spectacular vantage point for watching the ship traffic in Mobile's busy port.

Mobile Convention Center

The Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Passenger Terminal is a historic train station in Mobile, Alabama, United States. Architect P. Thorton Mayre designed the Mission Revival style terminal for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. It was completed in 1907 at a total cost of $575,000. The Mobile and Ohio merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad in 1940 to form the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Passenger service was discontinued by the late 1950s, and the building served as railroad offices. The terminal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 15, 1975. It had suffered neglect, extensive interior alteration, and partial removal of the train shed by this time. The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad vacated the building in 1986 and for fifteen years it suffered from demolition-by-neglect. The Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation named it as one of their "Places in Peril" in 1996. In 2001 the City of Mobile and a private company invested more than $18 million to restore the local landmark with the developer taking advantage of the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program. Today the building houses private offices and the city's Metro Transit Authority.

RSA Battle House Tower

The RSA Battle House Tower is located in Mobile, Alabama and is Alabama's tallest building. The building is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). It is the tallest on the Gulf Coast of the United States outside of Houston, Texas. It replaces the Wachovia Tower in Birmingham as the tallest building in Alabama and the GM Building as the tallest in Mobile. The building is named for the neighboring Battle House Hotel, which is now part of the tower complex. The Battle House Hotel was restored and renovated as part of the tower project.

Bienville Square

Bienville Square had its beginnings as a public park in 1824 when the United States Congress passed an act that transferred a large plot of land to the city of Mobile and specified that the property be forever used as a city park. This plot was the site of the old Spanish Hospital on the southwestern corner of the block, at the corner of Dauphin Street and North Conception Street. The city began buying the other lots in the block in 1834 and by 1849 held title to the entire block. The square was a primary gathering place for residents of the city from the 1850s to the 1940s. The late 1960s saw Bienville Square in its most run-down condition as people moved away from downtown to the suburbs. The revival of downtown starting in the 1980s saw the popularity of the park increase and its upkeep resumed.

Parking in Downtown Mobile

Parking in downtown Mobile is convenient and generally affordable. On-street parking is available for many of downtown’s businesses and attractions. On certain streets, parking is free, with a two hour limit. The remaining metered parking is $1.00/hour. Additionally the city is served by several public parking decks and numerous privately operated surface lots. Rates vary. If you’re a frequent visitor to downtown you may want the convenience of a Cash Key, a pre-paid refillable key that inserts directly into the parking meters. The Cash Keys are available for $10 from Central Parking at 300 Dauphin Street.

The City of Mobile is in the process of redirecting the traffic flow in portions of downtown. The multi-phase project will convert one-way streets to two-way, initially in the blocks surrounding the new RSA Tower (Royal, St. Francis and Dauphin Streets). The conversions are designed to improve vehicular access to and from downtown destinations, enhance the pedestrian environment and slow through-traffic.

Dauphin Street

The Saenger Theatre was dedicated in January 1927 and has witnessed thousands of performers, acts, ballets and musicals throughout its history. The Saenger Theatre is a Mobile landmark, known for its architecture and ties to local cultural history. The theater has been completely renovated in recent years and now boasts an upgraded electrical system, VIP facilities, new stage rigging and a state of the art sound system.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception: Mobile’s Cathedral Parish was established on July 20, 1703, by Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec. Bishop de Saint-Vallier named Father Roulleaux de La Vente, first pastor of the parish church, which was located at the French settlement of Mobile at the citadel of Fort Louis de la Louisiane. The parish is the first established on the Gulf Coast.

When the Mobile settlement was relocated to its present site in 1711, a new parish church was built and was known as Notre Dame de la Mobile (Our Lady of Mobile). In 1781, during the Spanish occupation of Mobile, the parish took its current name, Immaculate Conception.

Mobile was elevated to a diocese in 1829, and Frenchman, Michael Portier, was named its first bishop. Bishop Portier’s first “cathedral” was a small wooden structure located in the Old Spanish Burying Ground, site of the present cathedral. Portier soon set out to construct a "real" cathedral.

The cathedral, designed in 1833, by Claude Beroujon, a former seminarian turned architect, is laid out in a Roman basilica design. Construction began in 1835, but the Panic of 1837, caused a shortage of funds and delayed progress. The cathedral was consecrated for public worship in 1850, by Bishop Portier, though Beroujon’s design was not yet fully realized. The portico and towers were to come later.

The classical portico, with eight massive columns of the Roman Doric order, was added in the 1870s, under the direction of Bishop John Quinlan. The two towers were completed in 1884, during the watch of Bishop Jeremiah O'Sullivan.

At one time what is now Cathedral Square was part of Mobile's 18th century Catholic cemetery, the Campo Santo. The Campo Santo was roughly 400 feet long by 300 feet wide and filled portions of what are now several city blocks between Joachim, Dauphin, Franklin, and Conti Streets. Most of the burials were moved to the new Church Street Graveyard in 1819 as Mobile's city boundary expanded. A few graves continued to be accidentally unearthed along Conti Street as late as the 1890s, however.

The area that is now Cathedral Square quickly became a commercial block filled with buildings after the relocation of the cemetery. The buildings were then demolished in 1979 to create a public park facing the Cathedral. The current park layout was implemented in 1996.

Unique Mobile

- Mobile was a part of Florida from 1763 until 1813.

- In 1840, Mobile was second only to New Orleans in cotton exports in the nation.

- The first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, the H.L. Hunley, was built in Mobile.

- Mobile is home to an array of cultural influences with its mixed French, Spanish, Creole and Catholic heritage, in addition to British and African, distinguishing it from all other cities in the state of Alabama.

- Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States.

- Two tunnels, the Bankhead and George Wallace, connect downtown Mobile with eastbank of the Mobile River.

- Mobile's Brookley Complex is the largest industrial center in the region with over 1,000 companies and 4,000 employees on 1,700 acres.  Brookley is also used as a cargo and maintenance facility for FedEx Express, US Airways, UPS Airlines, ABX Air and United Airlines.  The complex replaced the former Brookley Air Force Base which was shut down in 1969.

Article by Ennis Davis