RSA Pavilion – Will Hill and the Ship’s Mast

Don Juan Mast

At Left Is a 1905 Photo of the Don Juan Mast Standing in Front of the State Capitol by the Steps on Which the Renowned Tallulah Bankhead and Zelda Fitzgerald, as Preteens,
Put on Skits to Exercise Their Drama Skills.

While we were still agonizing over a suitable theme for our pavilion structure, Dr. Bronner mentioned our struggle to his history-buff buddy, retired General Will Hill Tankersley.  Will Hill declared that the park should feature the 75-foot-tall main mast of the Spanish man-of-war, Don Juan de Austria, salvaged from that ship after it was sunk by American naval forces in the Spanish-American War.  Bronner charged us to investigate that bizarre suggestion.

We at PH&J were devastated.  All our work to date would be discarded.  Not only was the theme inappropriate in our opinion, but the installation of such a mast would decimate our tiny park.  We didn’t even have enough ground to accommodate the guy wires necessary to support it.

I hurried to the State Archives building and beseeched Director Ed Bridges to brief me on the history of the mast.  It seems that the huge mast had been presented to the State in 1901 by the naval hero Richmond Pearson Hobson, a native son of Alabama.  It was shipped to Montgomery from the Brooklyn Naval Yard at great risk via two railroad flatcars welded together.  The state politicians of the day could not withstand the publicity, and the seven-story high ship’s mast was erected on Goat Hill directly in front of the State Capitol, yardarm, spar, rigging and all.  Some years later our lawmakers must have come to their senses and the mast was taken down.  Archives Director Bridges led me into his sub-basement and there pointed out a one-foot length of the mast, all that was left of the Hobson debacle.

Feeling greatly relieved, I reported all this to David Bronner.  Will Hill Tankersley in turn insisted that we replicate the mast, but I was able to convince Bronner that the genuine mast of a Spanish warship would be bad enough, but a fake historic mast would be absolutely absurd.  He concurred and we returned to our wall-of-history theme.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Pavilion Park stories. The rest can be found here.

Facebook Comments

Website Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *