Paved, Not Saved…Biloxi’s Buena Vista Hotel

The Buena Vista threw open its doors on July 4th, 1924 to an admiring crowd of eager spectators.   Built on a larger scale than the Tivoli, yet not matching the sweeping grandeur of the Edgewater Gulf, the Buena Vista would generally occupy a middle ground among hotels on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

An early post card view of the courtyard

Chicago-born architect turned local building impresario Carl E. Matthes designed the Buena Vista in a style described as “California Mission” with beige stucco walls, soaring arches and a tile roof.  The hotel was built in a U shape with a grassy lawn and gardens facing the Gulf of Mexico just across the Old Spanish Trail which would later become Highway 90.  Matthes also designed the Tivoli and Biloxi Hotels among other local landmarks.  The building was finished on time and within the budget of $400,000.  The gracious lobby was expansive without being stuffy and the place soon filled with eager tourists and local people.  Business was so good that the hotel was expanded in 1927, the same year that the Edgewater, Tivoli and Biloxi Hotels opened.

The heady days of the Roaring Twenties would end with a resounding thud on Black Tuesday in 1929.  Along with the excitement and abandon of the era went most of the Coast’s visitors, who sought good times closer at hand.  The Buena Vista would live on, but a succession of troubles led to its purchase by local lawyer James S. Love Jr. in 1938.  Love’s “radical” notion of filling the hotel’s rooms with convention guests during the slow season would pay off in spades.  The famed “Hurricane Room” was built with a capacity of 1500 and even included huge loading bays at the rear to accommodate the meeting trade.   The Miss Hospitality Pageant was held here for years, as were many other meetings and conferences.  The hotel’s Marine Room was a popular cocktail and dancing venue and the dining room bustled with patrons.  Celebrity visitors from Bob Hope to Tom Mix registered at the Buena Vista.  Even Frank Lloyd Wright stayed there once.  His thoughts about the hotel went unrecorded, though this may be a blessing, as Wrights acerbity was legendary.

Hurricane Room- ca. 1950s- Mississippi State University Digital Archive CHARM collection

Business was so good that Love turned his thoughts to expansion in the late 1950’s, just as the automobile was changing the way the world traveled. Love brought in the Jackson architectural firm of Biggs, Weir and Chandler to design a daring new addition on the beachfront.  The original addition was two stories and had 160 new motel rooms.  The 6000 square foot swimming pool with three diving boards was a marvel for its day, but the plans for the place were even bigger.   An elaborate dining room was to have been built, topped by a concrete dome, making it the epitome of modern design.  The dining room was also to have a stream flowing through it with rock gardens and lush foliage throughout.  The pleasure dome never quite made it off the drawing boards, but the new addition was such a great success that additional rooms were built on top of one of the new wings, bringing into being the Buena Vista that many residents remember today. WLOX, owned by the Love family, operated its television and radio stations from just off the Buena Vista’s expansive lobby.

The Marine Room- post card MDAH Cooper Post Card Collection

James Love and his family continued to operate the Buena Vista until Hurricane Camille devastated the area in August, 1969.  While the hotel survived the storm, it was soon sold off to a number of owners, the most famous of whom was New Orleans bandleader and musician Pete Fountain, himself a resident of nearby Bay St. Louis.   Alas, even Fountain’s charisma couldn’t keep the doors open and the hotel was sold and resold like a plaything.   The imminent construction of a loop for Interstate 10 dimmed many prospects for the property as owners considered different uses for the hotel.  The old hotel continued in use until the early 1980s, mostly as overflow space from the motel wing.  Its wide hallways were strewn with debris and the once gracious lobby sagged into oblivion.

Aerial view of the Buena Vista with 1958 additions- MDAH collection

When gambling was legalized on the Coast in 1992, one of the first licenses was acquired by the owners of the Biloxi Belle Casino.  The Buena Vista’s final incarnation saw it morph into a casino most charitably described as being for the low-rolling crowd.  Not that the new owners had such plans for the main building, now shuttered and completely marginalized by and subordinate to the riverboat casino at the water’s edge.   In early June, 1991, a fire of mysterious origin ravaged the main building and there it sat as a semi-ruin until its eventual demolition in November, 1993.  The new casino and hotel planned for the site never rose from the vapors and the property was eventually sold to Steve Wynn who pulled down the tatty remnants of the Biloxi Belle and built his Beau Rivage there.   The site of the old Buena Vista is a parking lot today.

Linen post card view of the Buena Vista- 1940s



Categories: Biloxi, Demolition/Abandonment, Gulf Coast, Historic Preservation, Hotels, Lost Mississippi

13 replies

  1. I was in the Ms Hospitality Pageant there in 1977 representing Itta Bena, MS. It was spectacular. I feel blessed to have been a part of the history of The Buena Vista!

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  2. In the early 1950s I was living in Jackson Mississippi, I had just been discharged from the Air Force, me and my lady friend would work very hard for week or two saving our money up so that we could go to Biloxi for weekend and of course there was only one place that we love to stay at, and of course that was the old Buena Vista hotel, back in those days as the old-timers will remember liquor and gambling were illegal you couldn’t do that they put you in jail, of course, everybody was gambling, drinking, partying had a wonderful time in what was called back then the Marine room, and other place that we love to go to back at that time was the friendship House, great food, great entertainment, those were happy fun days.

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  3. As a kid we lived here my mother and father ran the restaurant, i was 4maybe 5. Lots of small memories from here. The shag carpet was diffrent colors on every floor in1979 and there was small window on elevator that you could see on to each floor as you passed and that was only way i could remember what floor we lived on.

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  4. I want those chairs from the Hurricane Room!

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  5. I worked at the Buena Vista for several months in 1968, as a desk clerk and night auditor at both the old hotel and the motel across the street. The hotel was in decline, but still a grand old place wth loyal guests.

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    • HI Mr. White- My mother, Phyllis Adams (English Lady) was a desk clerk/switchboard operator and Night Auditor as well there and was one of the last employees to work the night they closed the hotel for good. I loved that hotel !

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  6. Thanks to all for the interesting stories! These places really did touch a lot of lives in different ways. I suppose that may be part of why I find the histories of hotels so endlessly fascinating. A hotel should be a good window through which one sees a place and a time- not just a box in which to lay one’s head.

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  7. From the first time I can remember my family stayed at the Buena Vista until I was 17 in 1968. My Dad owned the newspaper in Baldwyn and then in Booneville, and we went to coast for the Mississippi Press Convention every year. I LOVED the old hotel (not to mention the fact I could get the bars and buy beer by the time I was about 12).

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  8. Does anyone remember Danny Holly who was an entertainer at the Old hotel?

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  9. I haven’t heard of him. Can you tell us anything about him and his show?

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  10. I worked at WLOX AM and TV in 1968, I loved Biloxi. The vapors Gus Stevens and all the great clubs along the beach. Miss it often. Was stationed at Keesler AFB and worked part time at LOX. I think I’ll visit 45 years later!
    I probably won’t recognize the town. Camille hit in 69 when I was in Vietnam

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  11. I spent my first honeymoon here in June of 1964. Lots of drunken guests and shrimp shells strewn all over floor are my primary memories. Luckily second honeymoon was much happier!

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  1. The Buena Vista and a Hyperbolic Parabalod that should have been. « Preservation in Mississippi

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