Buildings of Mississippi: Modern Travel & Leisure


Jennifer V.O. Baughn


Travel & Leisure, Mississippi
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Crafted specifically for the Docomomo US audience, the following excerpt from Jennifer Baughn's new book, Buildings of Mississippi, highlights the state's modern travel and leisure resources of the midcentury and recent past.

Buildings of Mississippi

by Jennifer Baughn

As Eudora Welty observed, “One place understood helps us know all places better.” Nowhere is this more apropos than in her home state of Mississippi. Although accounts of its architecture have long conjured visions of white-columned antebellum mansions, its towns, buildings, and landscapes are ultimately far more complex, engaging, and challenging. This guidebook surveys a range of such locations, from Native American mounds and villages to plantation outbuildings that bear witness to the lives of enslaved African Americans, from twentieth-century enclaves built for sawmill workers and oil tycoons to neighborhoods that bolstered black Mississippians during segregation, and from the vernacular streetscapes of small towns to modern architecture in Greenville, Meridian, Jackson, and Biloxi. In the pages of this latest volume in the celebrated Buildings of the United States series, newly redesigned in a more user-friendly format, readers will come to know the history of close to 600 sites, illustrated by 250 photographs (most in full color) and 29 maps, including such wide-ranging places as Longwood and the Museum of African American History and Culture in Natchez, Vicksburg National Military Park, Winterville Mounds, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, the Neshoba County Jail and Courthouse, the University of Mississippi and William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford, and the homes of Medgar and Myrlie Evers and Eudora Welty in Jackson.

Old Union Bus Terminal

c. 1936, W. A. Arrasmith; 1999 renovated, Dickson, Tyson and Associates. 300 Issaquena Ave.

Dominated by the Greyhound company’s emblematic neon-lit vertical blade sign with the running dog image above a triangular marquee, this station’s curved entrance, blue ribbed porcelain-enamel metal panels, and narrow red brick courses accenting the yellow brick walls, imparts the sense of speed and modernity favored by Greyhound’s corporate architect, Arrasmith. The building served several carriers besides Greyhound. In December 1961, Vera Pigee and her daughter Mary Jane, members of the Clarksdale NAACP chapter, made this the first integrated bus station in the state by using the waiting room reserved for whites.

Riverside Hotel (Clarksdale Colored Hospital)

c. 1915. 615 Sunflower Ave, Clarksdale, MS

The front section of this wooden building opened as the eight-room Clarksdale Colored Hospital and became the Ancient Order of Watchmen Hospital in 1929, before physician G. T. Thomas took over in the early 1930s and renamed it the G. T. Thomas Afro American Hospital. Vocalist Bessie Smith died here in 1937 following a car accident on U.S. 61. The building became entrenched in blues mythology after 1944 when Mrs. Z. L. Ratliff converted it to the Riverside Hotel, bricking the original front section and expanding to the rear for twenty-one guest rooms. Ratliff only rented to males, and among her many guests were Sonny Boy Williamson, Duke Ellington, Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk, and Jackie Brenston. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the hotel appeared in The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, a travel guide listing places where African Americans could stay. The rear 1944 wing drops steeply to two stories into the bank of Sunflower Bayou and is now covered with Masonite clapboards. The interior remains mostly intact, its small lobby leading to an axial hallway with rooms on either side.

E. F. Young Hotel

1946. 500 25th Ave, Meridian, MS

In the era of Jim Crow laws and segregated facilities, this hotel for black visitors was built at the heart of the African American business district and was part of a complex that included restaurants, a movie theater, and other commercial enterprises. It is distinctive for its organizing grid of cast stone, roughcast stucco panels, and sawtooth cornice. The two-story Fielder and Brooks Drug Store building, occupied as a Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) office by civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman before their fatal trip to Neshoba County in 1964, stood diagonally across the intersection until it was demolished in 2014.

Docomomo US note: Unfortunately the hotel may not be around much longer. It has been in disrepair for many years and the city of Meridian issued a “collapse zone” warning this September. 

Budget Inn (El Patio Motor Court)

1946. 1108 Ellisville Blvd, Laurel, MS

A rare intact motor court in the state, El Patio adopted a Mission style with shaped parapets similar to the Alamo Plaza chain of tourist courts, which had a design based on the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. The U-shaped court, with its detached office at the center, faces U.S. 11 and offered accommodations that were cheaper and more convenient for automobile travelers than railroad-oriented downtown hotels. Guests park their cars in front of their rooms, which face the court. An expansion to the south, probably from the 1950s, maintained the Mission style.

Alamo Theater

1949, Jones and Haas. 335 N. Farish St, Jackson, MS

In this dual-purpose cinema and performing arts theater, one of the last of its kind to open in the nation, black patrons were not confined to the balcony as in segregated theaters. Businessman Arthur Lehman moved the Alamo from Amite Street to this larger corner building that also accommodated a drug store, an ice cream parlor, and a shoe shop. The Alamo’s geometric massing and interplay of brick, stucco, vertical ribbed blue metal siding, undulating cornice, curved marquee, and vertical sign give the building a Moderne playfulness. Such prominent vocalists as Nat King Cole performed here, and Dorothy Moore, a Jackson native, got her start at Saturday talent shows.

Pearl River Resort

2002, Golden Moon Casino, Arquitectonica; 2015 renovated, Marnell Companies. 13550 MS 16, Philadelphia, MS

Once advertised as “Vegas with Sweet Tea,” the Pearl River Resort includes two casinos with hotels owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The Silver Star includes a bland hotel building and gable-front casino. The more dramatic constructions are the enclosed pedestrian bridge over MS 16 and the Postmodern Golden Moon Casino, with its colorful, spiraling twenty-eight-story slab of hotel rooms rising to a geodesic sphere holding the “Luna Lounge.” At its south end, the bridge begins at a tilted cylinder sheathed in corrugated metal and, above concrete supports, its steel-truss structure is enclosed in bands of metal panels interrupted by continuous strip windows and cut-out signage. Another sloping cylinder receives the bridge on the north side of the highway, and beyond it the hotel’s many-windowed blue and orange concrete panels rise above a glazed, metal-panel base similar to the facing of the bridge.