Molitor’s Mississippi: February 3, 1954

Joseph W. Molitor c. 1950(?) Courtesy: Avery Library Columbia University

You may remember about this time last year, how we followed the 1952 footsteps of architectural photographer Joseph Molitor on the 59th anniversary of his first professional trip through Mississippi.

As a reminder, here’s a little background about Molitor from the first MissPres post about him:

Originally trained as an architect, Molitor’s career as a photographer spanned 50 years with the bulk of his work being from 1946 to 1980.  Based just outside of New York City, his career would focus on the eastern seaboard, but he would photograph buildings professionally in at least 40 states and Canada.  He photographed the work of many of the greatest mid-twentieth century architects.  This list includes I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Minoru Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, and Marcel Breuer.  The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University has an extensive collection of Molitor’s work.  According to the library’s inventory of work, he would make four trips through Mississippi during his career.  The first trip being in 1952 and the last being in 1969.

This week we will follow Mr. Molitor’s footsteps through Mississippi on the 58th anniversary of his February 1954 trip. Along the way, we’ll find out what the architectural community of the 1950s thought were the most important new buildings in the state.

This second trip through Mississippi was part of a larger trip through the South.  Like Molitor’s 1952 trip, most of the work was centered in Mississippi.  This may have been due to an upcoming article to be published by Architectural Record entitled “Architectural Practice in Jackson Mississippi” in which Molitor’s photos featured prominently.  The photos in this post credited to Joseph Molitor come from that article.

According to the photograph inventory at Columbia University’s Avery Library, Molitor’s trip south began at the end of January in Montgomery, Alabama.  He photographed four buildings, including the Capitol Motor Company designed in architectural partnership between native Montgomery architect Martin K. Johnson and Mississippi Gulf Coast resident and Architect, William R. Allen Jr.  Are there any MissPres’ers out there familiar with Alabama architect Martin Johnson?  Someone more knowledgeable than myself might be able to shed some light on how the Coast’s own William Allen made it up to Montgomery.

Notre Dame High School, Biloxi, Harrison County. Built 1952 Archt. William R. Allen Jr.

The trips next stop was on Wednesday February 3, 1954  at the Mississippi Gulf Coast to photograph three buildings.  Two of the buildings photographed were the new Notre Dame (High) School and the Powers Residence both designed by William Allen. The third was the Milton B. Hill designed B. Frank Brown Memorial Gymnasium.

Biloxi’s Notre Dame High School had been located in the old Robinson-Maloney House, better known as the Dantzler House right by the Biloxi light house.  In 1954 they had just moved in to their shiny new digs near back bay on Hopkins Boulevard that had been built the previous year.  Sadly both the Danztler House and the Notre Dame High School would become victims of Katrina in 2005.

The Powers Residence built in 1952 was included in the Architectural Record article Molitor was photographing for and was the only building featured in the article that was outside of the immediate Jackson area.  While both Molitor’s records at the Avery Library and the Architectural Record article place the house in Biloxi, Allen himself states in his biography for the AIA’s 1956 American Architects Directory that the building is located Ocean Springs.  The house was referred to by the family as “Windswept” and sat on the corner of Washington Avenue and La Fontaine Street in Ocean Springs, until, I am sad to say,  this residence was also lost to Katrina.

Powers Residence Ocean Springs, Jackson County Photograph by Joseph Molitor Feb 3, 1954. Built 1952 William R. Allen Jr., Architect

Powers Residence Ocean Springs, Jackson County. Photograph by Joseph Molitor Feb 3, 1954. Built 1952 William R. Allen Jr., Architect

That same day in Gulfport, Molitor photographed the B. Frank Brown Memorial Gymnasium for architect Milton B. E. Hill.  The gymnasium was built in 1953, according to the 1961 Sanborn map and was located on 15th street directly behind another modern building, the oft talked about downtown Gulfport library.  The gym had been named for a Gulfport school superintendent that had served for over 30 years.  Described as enormous by high school standards, the structure could fit up to 3,000 spectators if extra seating was brought in.  Molitor may have had a personal affinity for this building because it contained a dark room.   Sadly the Frank Brown Gymnasium, like our other buildings featured today it is no longer extant.  Unlike the others though, the school district got to this building before a hurricane could and it was demolished in 2003 for a never used (even before Katrina) parking deck.

B. Frank Brown Memorial Gymnasium Gulfport, MS. Built 1953-54 Milton B. E. Hill, Architect

Don’t unpack your bags just yet MissPres’ers Joseph Molitor has to go to New Orleans for a bit of work but we are gonna head up to Jackson to catch up with him on his next busy leg of his Mississippi trip. (Feb 8-10 1954 & Feb 11 1954)



Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Hurricane Katrina, Modernism, Ocean Springs, Recent Past

4 replies

  1. I wonder how these trips worked? Did Molitor get hired to photograph these buildings by the architects? Architectural Record? Did he choose the buildings himself or was he handed a list? Did he keep notes about his opinions about each? Too many questions! Would love to see the records themselves at the Avery Library!

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    • That would be cool to see Molitor’s records. The excel spread sheet provided by the Avery Library on their website has the basics but I’m sure the collection must have some files like that.

      I’ll speculate that New York based Molitor was hired by New York based Architectural Record to make these pictures. Mississippi had several professional photographers at the time that would have been qualified. But again this is all speculation. Knowing that the AIA and Architectural Record have such a close relationship, the Mississippi Chapter president may have been in direct contact with an AR writer or editor. The president shared the buildings that the local architectural community found interesting and the editor would have the final cut.

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