In early 2014 the Semmes family became aware that the Alabama Grand Bay welcome station was being demolished and no plans had been made for preserving a beautiful ceramic mural of Raphael Semmes and the C.S.S. ALABAMA. Ed Semmes; great great great grandson of Raphael Semmes, Lee Sentell and Jo Jo Terry all the latter representing the Alabama Department of Tourism and commenced discussing alternatives for saving the mural.
Simply moving the mural without destroying it was a daunting technical challenge. The mural consisted of a color image of the scene fired on ceramic tiles. These tiles were then mortared to an eight inch thick concrete block wall. Michael Rogers was not feasible and it is likely impossible to remove the tiles from the wall without breaking them.
Michael Rogers is the first cousin of Ed Semmes on his grandmother’s side was contacted and agreed to look at the project. Michael contacted Ben Radcliff, contractor for the new center, and Virginia Wrecking, contractor for demolition of the existing building. All in all, typical Mobile style to cooperate in safely moves the mural (Mobile has an extraordinary culture of “differences without division” that has certainly spurned its economic and social well being).
Michael estimated the cost of removing the mural in sections would be $32,000. The Alabama Department of Tourism could provide $2,500 and they were far from a solution.
Ed Semmes and Paul Semmes, both engineers worked up numbers on weight issues related to the transportation of the mural section.
Michael then informed that his firm, Rogers & Willard, would provide a home for displaying the mural in the Buick Building, a historically significant building that the firm had purchased and was remodeling. Rogers &Willard had purchased a block lying within a downtown Mobile, Alabama restoration area. This generous offer was no surprise given the fine support given to the arts and other acts of stewardship by Michael and his partner.
Richard Semmes and Michael Rogers with packaged murals in the Buick Building.
The mural will be displayed in one of the public areas of the remodeled Buick Building. The historic significance of the Buick Building is that it was one of a unique design used by Buick dealers during early days of the firm. It is fitting that all this take place in the context of community to further brighten downtown Mobile, Alabama.