Broad Street defines the eastern-most border for the Greater Midtown area. This corridor runs north-south and as you read on you will find that it has been one of the most significant corridors in the City. Today, it connects Brookley Aeroplex to the south. In the latter half of the 20th century, the effects of urban renewal laid ruin to the corridor. Thankfully, with the help of Mayor Sandy Stimpson and the Bring Back Broad initiative, the City of Mobile was awarded $14.5 million Federal TIGER Grant to rebuild the corridor into one of the most impressive "complete streets" in the Country.
Broad Street first appears on the 1824 Goodwin and Haire map of Mobile as the western and furthermost boundary of the City. Broad, like many streets of that era, represented a clear shift from Mobile’s European colonial roots. As one of the first thoroughfares platted and planned under the U.S. flag, Broad demarcates the transition from the densely packed urban grid of colonial Mobile to the more spacious, albeit similarly gridded, fabric of the Americanized portion of the City.
A historic artery, Broad Street borders four National Register Historic Districts (Oakleigh, Church Street, Lower Dauphin Street and Old Dauphin Way) and one potential National Register Historic District, Oakdale. Similarly historic Beauregard borders the De Tonti National Register Historic District. Broad intersected the nineteenth century urban grid of these neighborhoods and provided a key north south route through the heart of early 19th and 20th century Mobile.
In the late nineteenth century, at its apex, Broad Street was the longest north south thoroughfare in the City. An original example of a “Complete Street,” trolley lines ran alongside the carts and wagons, the pedestrians shuffled from home to store, and fisherman fished the canal that once ran down the middle of Broad Street, north to Three Mile Creek. Broad served to connect the three driving commercial sectors of the City’s economy: the truck farms and shipping concerns to the south, the downtown commercial center, and the lumber mills and rail yards to the north.
In 1903, as the City expanded southward, occupying what had previously been farm land, the Mobile Register described Broad Street as a “splendid avenue at right angles to the principle thoroughfare, Government Street.” The early twentieth century houses that line Broad, south from Virginia, are indicative of the construction boom that occurred during this period.
In 1938, the Federal government established the Brookley Army Air Field at the City’s Bates Field, which was located on municipal property at the southern terminus of Broad Street. Over the next 30 years, Broad Street served to connect the neighborhoods to the former Brookley Army Air Field and later the Brookley Air Force base. Residents of the Oakdale neighborhood, a predominantly middle class neighborhood bisected by the southern stretches of Broad Street, sought their employment at the Brookley Air Field and the nearby docks.
With the closure of the Brookley Air Force Base in 1969, Broad Street, and the structures that line it, entered an age of urban decay and economic decline. In addition, Broad Street experienced a drastic change in the early 1960s under the heavy hand of Urban Renewal. Planners, recognizing the potential for Broad Street to contribute to the modern ideas of traffic flow, removed the trolley lines and the median and imposed a six lane federal highway on the city street. Even though Broad and Beauregard Streets are “gateways” into downtown Mobile, under Urban Renewal, this vital crossroads became an unattractive expanse of uninterrupted pavement, forbidding to pedestrians and eventually abandoned by residents and businesses alike. Though present day I-10 has alleviated the vehicular pressure Broad Street was altered to accommodate during Urban Renewal, this now under utilized Federal highway has proven disruptive to the commercial needs of downtown Mobile and the livability of the surrounding neighborhoods as it lacks aesthetic appeal, walkability, and functionality. The new Broad Street redevelopment will transform the mistakes of the past to create a more livable and connected city.