Bienville Square: Mobile, Alabama
Located in the heart of downtown Mobile on the former site of a Spanish hospital and named for the French Governor of Louisiana, Jean Baptiste de Bienville, the square is where the city's history, architecture, and commerce converge. One of a unique handful of federal holdings relinquished by Congress in 1824, the square's history predates that of Alabama. It is surrounded by a diverse array of architectural styles, from late Victorian to Neoclassical. It is where President Theodore Roosevelt spoke during a visit in 1905 and the site of today's most popular holiday celebrations and festivals in the city.
The park is bounded by St. Francis to the north; Dauphin to the south; St. Joseph to the east; and North Conception to the west.
Looking ahead, the Mobile 2020 comprehensive plan articulates a vision for the future including more ground-floor retail stores for surrounding buildings, integrated pedestrian paths, and additional landscaping to ensure the square remains the vibrant hub of downtown Mobile.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Federal government turns over Old Spanish Hospital land to City of Mobile; Congress specifies land must be used as public park space (1824)
- Fire destroys much of Old Mobile, clearing way for new architectural styles (1839); city begins to develop square, adding walkways and landscape (1850)
- President Theodore Roosevelt delivers speech in square about importance of Panama Canal construction for the Port of Mobile Bay (1905)
- Square serves as mass meeting point for shipyard workers during World War II
- Square falls into disuse during 1960s and 1970s; Hurricane Frederic catalyses revival of downtown Mobile, including planting of flowers in Square (1979)
- Lower Dauphin Historic District includes Square; added to National Register of Historic Places (1979); boundaries extended in 1982, 1995, and 1998
- Private consultations (2002) and comprehensive city plan (2009) call for rejuvenation of pedestrian-level shops, new directional signage, tourist kiosk
- Italianate Franklin Fire Engine Company Number Three building (1852), made of stucco over brick, renovated in 1991 with new balcony overlooking square
- Architect Rudolph Benz's Victorian-style Scheuerman Building (1893) and Classical Revival Spira and Pincus Building (1899) also frame square
- Architect Seymour Burrel's Kress Building offers pedestrian-friendly facade; McCrory Building displays linear hard edges typical of Art Deco style (1924)
- Neoclassical Merchants National Bank Building features Deco elements and metal pyramidal roof (1928)
Features and activities
- Central fountain (1890) honors physician and Bienville Water Works president Dr. George Ketchum who brought safe drinking water to Mobile
- St. Andrew's Cross (built 1906) honors Mobile founder and former Governor of French Louisiana Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville
- Plethora of live oaks keep park cool and provide habitat for wildlife; radial walkways through park afford stunning views of downtown skyline
- Donated by Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1941, the bandstand is a central fixture of such annual events as the Bayfest Music Festival, the Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Jazz Festival, and Mardi Gras
- The square's central fountain is annually converted into a decorated, lighted holiday tree