Surprising Local History

As the end of the 19th century, America experienced a nationwide proliferation of social, mystic and brotherhood organizations devoted to community development, self-help and fellowship. Looming large in this movement were the various Masonic orders growing rapidly throughout the English speaking world, and Temple Lodge was the home of one such order serving the growing African American middle class population of Mobile.

“That’s the way I’d play it for the girls, who’d do the high kicks. Said, “My, my, play that thing, boy.” And I’d say, “We’ll, certainly do it, little old girl.” That’s just the way they used to act down in Mobile in those days, around St. Louis and Warren, part of the Famous Corner.”    – Jelly Roll Morton

The Temple Lodge neighborhood had become known as a lively, musical and entertaining area known throughout the Southeast. In those days if you wanted a drink, good music and companionship you went to a “sporting establishment.” Surrounding the Temple Lodge, were many such establishments and a performing regular on this “Creole Circuit” was the soon to be nationally known, Jelly Roll Morton. Morton was a transformative force in American Musical History being the Rag Time virtuoso who steered popular music towards the more extemporaneous Jazz. He penned the famous melody King Porter’s Rag, named for a neighborhood musician and notorious character named Porter King. The seminal jazz musician Benny Goodman later adopted King Porter’s Stomp as his theme song and through the power of 1930’s radio it became familiar to most Americans. The Temple Lodge is he only building still standing from that colorful and optimistic era.

A Thumbnail of Recent History of Downtown Mobile

When the Lodge was built, there was no Houston or Birmingham and Mobile was competing with New Orleans and Tampa to be the up and coming Gulf Coast Port and City. With major rail and shipping headquarters, the Port of Mobile’s future was very bright and both the white and black cultures in the city reflected this.

Time, iron ore, dredging technology and the Depression changed the outlook. Soon Birmingham boomed then Houston mushroomed and the future of Mobile’s place on the Gulf Coast began to dim as the steroid like growth of Birmingham and Houston became chapters of 20th Century urban history.

The Second World War brought a respite from the downward spiral with Liberty Ships being launched daily and federal war expenditures pouring into the port and Brookley Field. But Downtown in the 50’s returned to getting by on old habits and the Baby Boom and super highways were on their way.

Eventually the downtown area, like so many in America, was devastated by suburban daydreams, urban nightmares and the interstate highway system. Mobile moved west and the city turned out the lights when the lawyers and bankers went home. In the last 30 years our Downtown has experienced a significant and encouraging revival fueled by sincere believers but has recently experienced a tipping point like spurt of development that warms the chamber of commerce heart in even the most skeptical. The Temple Lodge is an opportunity to become a part of all that is the future for you and your hometown.