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.
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.
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.
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.
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.