Magnet-ic Images of Fairhope’s Theater

I had a fantastic meeting with the grandson of Judge Edward P. Totten, the man who brought the moving pictures to Fairhope. Parker Gray has an incredible collection of the Magnet Theater. Here are the original “blueprints” for the building, some photos during construction, and a handbill to promote the showing of the 1920 silent movie, So Long Letty. Unless credited otherwise, all images courtesy of Parker Gray.

Magnet Theater, circa 2007. At the time it was home to Papa’s Pizza and Fairhope Trophy. Photograph by Alan Samry
Floor plans for the “Hollow Tile Moving Picture Theater to be Built at Fairhope, ALA for Mr. Edward Totten. J. Platt Roberts ARCHT Mobile, ALA, 6.6.24. Job # 115.”
Sheet 2 includes the elevations. The upper drawing shows the South Church Street (west) elevation and the bottom shows the Fairhope Avenue (north) elevation.
What a fantastic snapshot of the theater under construction! Man in the foreground is the mixer and the tile layers are in the background. Any ideas whose house that is in the background? It’s the northeast corner of De La Mare and South Church Street. Legend says it might be the Berglin house, which was relocated for the construction of the theater.
It looks like “the walls are leaning” reads the handwritten note on the back of the photograph. A roof truss is leaning on the back wall.
Tile layed, the building awaits windows and doors. Notice the extra Clay City Tile stacked up by the power pole left of center.
The Magnet Theater shortly after its’ completion. Teeth, a silent 1924 American western film, is showing. Photograph courtesy of Fairhope Museum of History.
Teeth movie still in the Public Domain. By Fox Film Corporation – Moving Picture World (Nov. – Dec. 1924), on the Internet Archive.
Magnet Theater schedule from the 1920s featuring So Long Letty, a 1920 silent picture.

All the films on the schedule are silent pictures. Youthful Folly (1920), The Silver Horde, (1920), The Miracle Man, (1919), It pays to Advertise (1919), The Market of Souls (1919), The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1920), Life’s Twist (1920), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917).

Fairhope Living Article

Click this Clay City Tile link to read my article.

The Peoples Cooperative Store is a Clay City Tile building. Built in 1922, it’s currently for sale for more that $1 million. Rumors of its demolition are circulating. The west wall (FEEF Mural) is buckling and I hear on the street the building can’t be saved. I’m no engineer, but someone who should take a look at it. Hopefully, they will discover that the stucco is just a false front. The stucco was added later using wood strapping and wire. Water may have gotten behind the stucco, but the load-bearing made of Clay City Tile wall behind it may be fine. Of course, I’m not the property owner. I’m just a historian who wants the building preserved.

After Years of Study, I’m Still a Student

When someone invites you to check out their Clay City Tile barn, you do! Amy Smith proprietor of Bohemian Farms, an outdoor venue for photographers, invited me over to see the barn and several other Clay City Tile outbuildings.

First off, from a map you can see why Clay City Tile would be here. It’s just a short trip up Polecat creek to the Fish River where Clay City Products began back in 1916.  

Amy was a wonderful host and keen on learning everything about the tile. So naturally, I gave her a book, in exchange for a personal tour and letting me look around her barn and several other farm buildings made of Clay City Tile.

While we had a fantastic fall day, the buildings were new to me. Not the tile, but the fact that all the clay walls were built on sandstone form or footings. Typically, and this is of course just the type of construction I have seen, but the footings in the ground and above the ground are typically built entirely of Clay City tile, so it was very unusual for me and therefore difficult to date. Also, none of the buildings had a concrete slab. Oftentimes the building would have Clay City Tile floor covered by a layer of concrete. These were dirt floors, or they had just a thin layer of concrete poured over the dirt, the chicken house being one example. If I had a guess, much of it was built or rebuilt, after World War II, and Amy agreed, though based on the stories she’d heard of the original family living in the barn, she’d thought the barn was older. We didn’t solve any mysteries and Amy’sstill investigating the rich history of her home. She’s interested in the tile, so no doubt she’s pointing out to her friends and family when she’s driving down the road.

She wanted to know if there were any other barns in Baldwin County made of Clay City Tile. I think we were in the barn when I said, Whoa! Do you know Baldwin County’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island?” Sometimes my interest gets the better of me, but not this time. That is a monumental task. However, that’s why I’m posting it here. Anyone have a barn, or a farm that with Clay City Tile structures? I know someone who’d like to talk, so please contact me.

Another Home Demolished

Oswalt

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This is 252 Oswalt Street, just south of the Methodist church parking area. I documented it back in 2007, though I believe I had incorrectly had 262 Oswalt. Sad to see another Clay City Tile building go down, but it may have had damage from Hurricane Sally, a strong indicator being the large topped trunk above and right.

Clay City Tile Guy

That’s what a few people have called me over the years. I started my research in 2007. Once completed, and placed in a few public library collections, I gave a few presentations. I gave talks at Fairhope and Daphne Public Library. I even gave a presentation as part of the Fairhope Single Tax Lecture Series in 2006. It’s available on the Fairhope Single Tax Online Archives’ YouTube channel.

Book Launch in July

Clay City Tile: Frank Brown and the Company that Built Fairhope will be published in July. The Book Launch Party has been cancelled.

More About Clay City…from the back cover!

Upon moving to Fairhope in 2005 Alan Samry became curious about the unique orange building block found all over Baldwin County. Coming from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where construction is mostly wood, he was curious about this unique construction material. It was especially evident in Fairhope, including many homes where the block was exposed, and an innumerable amount of that were covered by brick or stucco. Alan was surprised that no one had done research on what to him was such a fascinating and unique part of Fairhope’s and the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation’s history. It turns out this building block was first made by Frank Brown around 1915 and had its final run in the 1990s. This study was completed in 2007, under the direction of Dr. Philippe Oszuscik, as associate professor at the University of South Alabama.  It has been updated and includes the history of Clay Products Inc., its founder Frank Brown and his descendants who ran the company, a construction history, and images of numerous structures of local significance. To say the tile was used in all kinds of construction is an understatement, so Alan has provided a general structural analysis of many building types. From brooding houses to large farming building and commercial structures to farm working houses and Craftsman cottages, Fairhope is made from Clay Products.