Frascati's Summer Theatre
SE corner of Royal and Francis Streets, Mobile, AL
Opened: November 13, 1852 (James Battle)
Destroyed (fire): 1905
Replaced: 1908 by a second Battle House Hotel, now The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel, extant
Henry Nabring, who owned the famed Battle House hotel in Mobile, started the park in 1867. Martin Horst (1830-1878), my great-great-great-grandfather, purchased the park from him and it was Horst who eveloped it into a major entertainment park.
The park was situated at the end of the Old Shell Road.d
The day after his visit with Davis, Wilde arrived in Mobile and checked into the Battle House Hotel. More than 300 tickets to his lecture had already been sold at 75 cents each. Getting into the spirit of the occasion, the Register reported that interest “seems to be utterly intense.” At the corner of Church and St. Emanuel streets, things were utterly too too intense as Mrs. Fanny Williams Tompkins prepared her house for a reception in honor of Wilde. Mrs. Tompkins was a patron of the local theater and a leading member of the Mobile Reading Club. Her husband, John, was an attorney and state solicitor. Before his evening lecture, Wilde stood on their polished floors, surrounded by admirers. Prominently absent was Mobile’s own most famous writer, Augusta Evans Wilson. She haughtily trashed her personal invitation, grumbling that Wilde’s “life defames his art.”
Frascati Park was the perfect site for Wilde’s appearance. Developed in the late 1860s where Brookley Field is today, and named for an ancient Roman resort, the park overlooked Mobile Bay and featured a sandy beach, swing sets and an open-air pavilion where Wilde was to speak. A reporter called the June 28, 1882, gathering “larger and more brilliant than any ever yet seen at our summer theatre.” Extra streetcars were pressed into service, pulled by “aesthetic mules” wearing sunflowers in their straw hats. Wilde later remembered “an enterprising boy at Mobile who made twenty-five dollars selling sunflowers to the people who came to my lecture. That boy will be a congressman yet — who knows.” At 8:30 p.m. Wilde delivered a prepared lecture on the decorative arts. “We confess to have gone to Frascati with decided prejudice against Mr. Wilde,” admitted one reviewer, “but candor compels us to admit that such prejudice was unfounded. We expected to hear an extravaganza pronounced by a buffoon, but instead we heard a very chaste and finished lecture from quite a cultivated gentleman. He preaches the doctrine that the good, the substantial and truly elegant should enter into the fabric of our social life.”
The next day, Wilde took the train to Montgomery for an appearance there. He had come and conquered with his charm and sincerity, and he left his Mobile audience just a little more sophisticated than when he had come.