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The Bellingrath Home after Hurricane Frederic

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

George B. Rogers, the architect of the Bellingrath Home, arrived in Mobile in 1902. By the time he was hired by Walter Bellingrath to design the Home in 1935, he had witnessed the devastating (and then un-named) hurricanes of 1906, 1916 and 1926.  He no doubt made notes as to which buildings made it and which did not.

The upstairs sleeping porch roof fell to the East Terrace during the storm.

There are key design elements to the original structure of the Bellingrath Home. The windows are multi-pane, avoiding large panes of glass. This makes them stronger and better able to withstand high winds. French doors open out from the rooms. When they are shut, the frames offer further stability than if they opened into the rooms.

In addition, Rogers designed the Home with thick interior and exterior walls. This house was built to stand up to a storm.

The damage caused by Hurricane Frederic on September 12, 1979, can be directly linked to changes that occurred decades after the completion of the Home. Former screened porches upstairs and down had been in filled with glass jalousie windows – with horrific results.

The upstairs sleeping porch apparently imploded, shattering the glass and sending the flat roof down onto the East Terrace. As it leaned against the front of the house, it actually protected the Living Porch below. None of the furniture and porcelain had been removed from this highly vulnerable room, and few items survived.

A wooden storm panel on the east side of the Dining Porch fell during the night and the jalousie windows came crashing into the room, damaging one of the chairs. In retrospect, it could have been far worse.

Following the devastation of Frederic, the Bellingrath Home was fitted with better wooden storm panels. Most recently, the upper windows have been covered with clear thermoplastic sheets of lexan. Whenever a storm threatens, the porches are largely cleared of their most vulnerable contents, and rugs are rolled away from windows in the event of rain seepage.

Overall, however, we are fortunate that architect George B. Rogers did his best to construct a hurricane-resistant structure.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. I wonder how long the restoration took after the Hurricane.

    Could you provide the date of the hurricane in relation to the end date of the restoration or perhaps some sort of restoration timeline?

    I have family in Puerto Rico and I have heard nothing from them online since Maria hit. I believe they are safe and I look forward to hearing from them soon. The last time I visited them we strolled through Old San Juan. My cousin, Mayra, told me she enjoys that part of the city. I remember visiting Old San Juan in the 70’s and the rest of Puerto Rico.

    My family immigrated from Cuba. I believe that much of the destruction we see in architecture in Cuba is due to age and weather damage that has gone into a state of disrepair due to lack of materials and labor.

    I studied language, art, art history, culture in undergraduate school. My interest in these discipline remains with me. I traveled to Spain and France during those years and toured architectural sites of interest in relation to my studies. I still used my knowledge when visiting our lovely old cities and structures.

    Thank you!

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