Saving the Sun-n-Sand Motel


Lolly Rash, Mary Sanders Ferriss, and Annette Fortman Vise


Mississippi Heritage Trust


Endangered, Newsletter, Threatened, Advocacy, Preservation, Regional Spotlight
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The Mississippi Heritage Trust has been advocating for a preservation solution for the Sun-n-Sand Motel for over 15 years. The following excerpts are from the Spring issue of Elevation, the Journal of the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

"People and places over parking lots." – Greg Mangan, Detroit, MI

"This place matters." – John David Lewis, Jackson, MS

"We as Mississippians need to do more to support and preserve our historic places, and our government must do more to lead the effort." – Dale Riser, Oxford, MS

The Sun-n-Sand is part of who I am. From Sardine Suppers to Sine Die parties and even having Senators and Representatives buy me drinks at lunch on my 21st birthday. This place is special.

Emily McLarty, Jackson, MS

"Once it’s gone, it’s gone." – Vidal Blankenstein, Jackson, MS

"This place is not only one of the coolest examples of mid century modern architecture in downtown Jackson, it also played such an important role in Mississippi’s legislative history. Proponents of the historic Sun-n-Sand deserve more time to explore redevelopment options. A vibrant, modern hotel across the street from the State Capitol will do more to revitalize downtown Jackson than a new parking garage ever will. Let’s give it a chance!" – Thomas Gregory, Greenwood, MS

"Funky landmarks like this are a big draw for other cities/towns in the US, it would be such a shame to lose ours!" – Michelle Russell, Jackson, MS

"The Sun-n-Sand was the center of Mississippi politics for decades. It deserves preservation." – Rickey Cole, Ovett, MS

I grew up in Jackson. My family is 3 generations deep. That place has been there. Why can’t it be a landmark?

Elizabeth Wright, Denver, CO

"The Sun-n-Sand has so much potential for tourism. If save, it WILL be a destination for people from all over! Destroying the Sun-n-Sand would be a huge mistake!" – Mary Lewis, Jackson, MS

Saving the Sun-n-Sand

By Lolly Rash

Located in the heart of Mississippi’s Capital City, the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel exemplifies mid-century modern design with its metal screens, large expanses of glass, clean lines and colorful sign. During its forty years of operation, the Sun-n-Sand was the home away from home for Mississippi legislators. The Sun-n-Sand also has an important connection to Mississippi literary history. John Grisham worked on his first novel A Time To Kill here during his tenure in the Mississippi House of Representatives and the motel is featured in My Cat Spit Magee by Willie Morris and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. In addition to its political and literary history, the Sun-n-Sand was a gathering place for Civil Rights activists as well as advocates for women’s rights during the 1960s.

A vibrant part of Jackson's downtown for forty years, the Sun-n-Sand closed its doors in 2002. Since that time, it has sat vacant and deteriorating. The Mississippi Heritage Trust named the motel to its list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi in 2005. Over the years, the Mississippi Heritage Trust has fielded numerous calls from developers interested in the property, but the owner, who was receiving a reputed $78,000 a year from the State of Mississippi to lease the hotel's parking lot, was unwilling to sell. He was further dis-incentivized to sell or deal with the dilapidated state of the building by the fact that the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill in 2009 authorizing the State of Mississippi to purchase the property if the money could be found.

After canceling the parking lease, the State of Mississippi purchased the Sun-n-Sand in 2019 and stated its intention to demolish the building for a parking lot.  Since then, the Mississippi Heritage Trust has been advocating for the State of Mississippi to consider options for redevelopment. The first step in efforts to save the Sun-n-Sand was to request that the building be listed as a Mississippi Landmark. During the 30-day public comment period, the Mississippi Heritage Trust started an online petition in support of the landmark listing and 2,624 lovers of mod signed on. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History also received 30 letters in support of the landmark listing, including several from developers interested in taking on the redevelopment of the Sun-n-Sand. 

At its January 24 meeting, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to accept the staff recommendation to list the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel as a Mississippi Landmark.  The board then unanimously adopted a resolution giving the State of Mississippi permission to demolish the building after June 1, 2020.  The resolution stated that the board encouraged the State of Mississippi to determine if there are qualified real estate developers who would be willing to redevelop the Sun-n-Sand into a facility that is commercially viable and that would be an asset to the capitol complex.

With the support of a $5,000 Emergency Intervention Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Mississippi Heritage Trust is conducting a Feasibility Study to help the State of Mississippi analyze how the property could be redeveloped while taking into account its need for additional parking through utilizing vacant land adjacent to the building. The study will assess how incentives including state and federal historic tax credits, New Markets tax credits and low income housing tax credits could potentially be put to use to rehabilitate the Sun-n-Sand.  Leaders in the Mississippi Legislature have been working to change the outcome from demolition to redevelopment by championing legislation that would give the state authorization to sell the property or enter into a public-private partnership with a developer. 

Here is an opportunity to recoup the State of Mississippi’s approximately $1 million-dollar investment in purchasing the Sun-n-Sand, save the state the cost of demolition and hazardous materials remediation and put a derelict building back on the tax role, all while repurposing a modernist icon that speaks to Mississippi’s architectural, political, literary and Civil Rights history. Yes, it looks bad, but so have countless other historic buildings before preservation-minded developers got their hands on them and turned them into apartments, offices, restaurants, hotels and concert venues. Finally, call us sentimental, but it is the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s position that every option for saving and repurposing this Mississippi Landmark should be explored for the most important reason of all-the people of Mississippi love it and do not want to see it demo’d for a parking lot. Or, you can call us community-minded, savvy business people who know a great building when they see it. In other words, preservationists.

Not Just A Motel - Jackson’s New Place to Be

By Mary Sanders Ferriss

Being a recovering hotel designer, I tend to seek out trends in hospitality in most cities that I visit. Travel allows me to experience new architectural movements and design trends, and then bring those ideas back with me to my home state of Mississippi. While I love and appreciate all types of properties, the revitalization of motel design pulls on my heart strings from both a design opportunity and preservation perspective.

Once a booming industry, the roadside motels that we see in iconic 50s advertising had fallen out of favor with the average traveler. That is until now. Over the past ten years, developers in cities across the United States have embraced this style of property as affordable adaptive reuse projects that provide guests with a taste of mid-century nostalgia while offering a unique experience that is often overlooked in more limited-service style hotels. 

The motel model isn’t only budget friendly for developers, it also appeals to the millennial generation. With lower operational costs come lower nightly fees that are friendlier to the millennial traveler. This generation of influencers seek out unique experiences, which creates a ripple effect and encourages other to follow in their footsteps.

Guilty of being a millennial myself, I have visited many of these types of renovated motel properties and am intrigued by the idea that this style of hotel could easily exist in Mississippi.  Properties like the Drifter Hotel in New Orleans or the Austin Motel in Austin, Texas share the same bone structure as our own Sun-N-Sand in the heart of Jackson, and stand as examples of how a motel can create buzz.

While it is hard for many people to envision the boarded up structure as much more than a parking lot, I see the possibility for a rebirth of a building that has been a piece of our city’s history. Along with preservation of an icon of mid-century architecture, the project has the potential to breathe fresh life into the neighborhood.  With the ability to draw people in through design, comes the need to support these vacationers with food and beverage and entertainment, thus in turn creating opportunity for surrounding business in downtown Jackson.

Not Just a Motel - Jackson's New Place to Live

by Anette Fortman Vise

Renovating a building into a more current version of its original use is one way to preserve historic places.  But, preservation can also be accomplished by repurposing a building.  Because of the size and shape of guest rooms, hotels and motels lend themselves beautifully to residential uses that range from senior living facilities to luxury apartments.

My vision for the Sun-n-Sand is as a chic downtown address.  Well located to serve a cross section of residential users, the Sun-n-Sand’s downtown location is appealing to the under-thirty set who value urban experience over suburban seclusion.  As in the old days, the Sun-n-Sand’s location near the Mississippi State Capitol translates into an ideal home-away-from-home for lawmakers during the legislative session, while its proximity to the Mississippi College School of Law makes it an ideal “dormitory” address for junior JDs.

There is one more piece of my vision for the Sun-n-Sand.  Its location halfway between the Mississippi State Capitol and Farish Street, Jackson’s historically African-American shopping district, invites integration where there was separation in the most fundamental physical way.  The restored Sun-n-Sand would link two parts of our collective culture, knitting together important elements of our Mississippi identity.  Done well, renovating the Sun-n-Sand would create more than a chic address.  It would bring customers to Farish Street, tax dollars to Jackson and goodwill to Mississippi.

Let YOUR voice be heard

Love mod? Then let your voice be heard. Share your ideas about the future of the Sun-n-Sand at by May 25 and the Mississippi Heritage Trust will pass your comments on to members of the Mississippi Legislature.

About the Contributors

Lolly Rash is the director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, where she help people with passion save the places that matter to her home state. She is intrigued by the quirky, sleek and whimsical details that define modernism and determined to change the current dialogue about the future of these buildings from “mid-century ugly” to “futuristic and fabulous.” 

Mary Sanders Ferriss is the the creator of Ferriss & Company. In this capacity, Sanders brings an array of knowledge in creative consulting to her clients. She has built a reputation for concept-driven spaces that provide guests with unique experiences through many different mediums. Starting her career in interior design, she quickly expanded her interests and expertise in product design, brand management, and business development. Her background in luxury hospitality has given her an edge in understanding customers and guests and how to present a product and a space to them in the best light possible. Making the guest happy ultimately makes her clients happy, which is what she strives to achieve. She finds satisfaction in working with people to help establish a design and brand strategy that resonate in all areas of the product they are offering. Mary Sanders prefers hands-on collaboration with the project team in order to create the best solution for the project for both design and functionality. Her approach to all areas of design produces experiences in which every element of a brand relates to each other, and to the soul of the concept.

Annette Fortman Vise is a civic-minded architect who seeks to address social issues through architecture. Annette has a passion for affordable housing and seeks to make communities stronger through the innovative use of buildings, integration of services, and most importantly, through design based on a deep understanding of what people need at the most fundamental level. She is a graduate of the MSU School of Architecture and Millsaps College Else School of Business. She directs the Jackson office for McCarty Architects and is president-elect of Mississippi Heritage Trust.