Jackson’s King Edward Hotel

King Edward postcard, c.1960, uploaded by tombarnes20008

King Edward postcard, c.1960, uploaded by tombarnes20008

The King Edward Hotel (originally called the Edwards Hotel) has dominated the western edge of Jackson’s downtown since it was built in 1923. Even before that, the hotel’s history went back to the 19th century, welcoming visitors to the capitol city as they got off the train at the railroad depot across the street.  Legislators made the hotel their home when they were in town for their session; businessmen, and visitors from small-town Mississippi also stayed here, held dances, weddings, and other celebrations and community events here.

Designed by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan in a  Neoclassical style, the hotel underwent a name change and an interior update in the 1950s.  This is when the “King Edward Hotel” sign first graced the Jackson skyline; an escalator was added to the lobby, the grand ballroom was made less grand, and an elevated pool was added to the rear of the building.  Within only a few years after these updates, in 1967, the hotel closed, a victim of the decline of downtown hotels, and according to some, of racial integration .

The hotel sat, and sat, and sat, vacant and deteriorating.  Homeless people, drug users, and plain old vandals knocked down interior walls, tore out all the plumbing and electrical wiring and generally messed up the place. The pigeons also found a home. Through the decades, many ideas came and went about what to do with this massive and solid building. The building was listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places in1976 and later included in the West Capitol Street Historic District in 1980. Of course, neither of those listings protected the building in any meaningful way, but they did offer the option of historic preservation tax credits. In 1990, it achieved a measure of protection when it was designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History–this meant that it could not be demolished (or rehabilitated) without review by the state. 

Still the building sat as the western end of downtown’s Capitol Street continued to decline.  The Mississippi Heritage Trust brought renewed attention to the landmark when it listed it on its 10 Most Endangered List in 1999. By this time, many Jacksonians had begun to think the cause was lost and that the King Edward would have to be torn down. Frank Melton, during his campaign for mayor in 2005 made repeated references to his intention to demolish the building.

At the same time, however, a real deal was coming to fruition in the form of a proposal by New Orleans-based HRI, football player Deuce McAlister, and local developer David Watkins to renovate the building and put it back into use as a hotel and apartments.  Work began to clean out the building in 2006 and construction is now well underway, with an expected opening in Fall 2009.

This is a major victory for Jackson and for preservationists around the state who have been working behind the scenes for decades in hopes of holding onto the building until the money and the developer would emerge to bring back the King Edward. The lesson I’ve learned from hearing the stories and reading the newspaper articles going back decades is that some buildings are worth taking the long view and being patient.  When many questioned whether the King Ed could be preserved and even whether it was worth it, preservationists had to hold the line.  I think the results will be worth all the work, and not only will the new hotel save this great building, but it will also reinvigorate the western end of Capitol Street and downtown in general.

Related Posts:

Further Research (sorry most of these are Jackson Free Press, but they’ve had very consistent coverage of the issue in recent years, and the Clarion-Ledger won’t let me link to their archives):

Jackson Free Press, “Interview with Deuce McAlister,” February 2, 2005.

Jackson Free Press forum “King Edward–What’s going on?”

Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Grand Hotel: Does the King Edward Have a Glorious Future?”, August 3, 2005.

Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Who Gets to Crown the King?”, April 16, 2006.

Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Long Live the King,” August 23, 2006. 

Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archives, William T. Nolan Office Records

Tom Barnes, Epinions.com, “The Case for the Preservation of the King Edward Hotel, Jackson, Mississippi

King Edward Hotel, Dec 2005, by statlerhotel

King Edward Hotel, Dec 2005, by statlerhotel

King Edward ballroom, Dec 2005, by statlerhotel

King Edward ballroom, Dec 2005, by statlerhotel

33 replies

  1. I’d be interested to hear thoughts about the restoration of the first two floors of the King Edward. I haven’t seen pictures of the details close enough just yet. Has anyone been inside lately?

    • I haven’t been in it recently. I’ve seen pictures like the one in the Clarion-Ledger Sunday and I saw the plans maybe a year ago when there was some wrangling about how much of the decorative detail would be replaced. I wish they hadn’t had to gut all the plaster. I admit I have a huge bias against sheetrock in ornate public places–fine for my house, even for offices, but a hotel lobby on the scale of the King Ed? My experience is it always ends up looking cheap and insubstantial, doesn’t hold up to a few years of wear. I know the Park Service says its a substitute, but I wish that wasn’t a compromise that had to be made on the first two floors.

      Right now, I’m trying to stay positive–we’ve got the building, the exterior looks great, the interior–remains to be seen. Just my two cents. I’m sure others have better formed opinions or maybe even a better perspective on the interior. The 10 Most event on Sept. 10 will have tours of the interior, so I’ll have a better idea then whether I really hate it or love it or something in between.

      I’m really ticked about HRI trying to tear down those other buildings on W. Capitol though. Not at all positive about that.

      • I agree with you about plaster v. sheetrock.

        The photos I saw a couple months back of the new apartments were very disappointing. I guess there are nice amenities, but it looked like it could be an apartment anywhere. The only way one would know they were in a cool historic building was from the view (which I’m sure is incredible). There was/is no ambience whatsoever. The lobby is looking that way, too.

  2. I was under the impression that care was being taken to replicate the historic details as much as possible on the first two floors. The plaster vs. sheetrock issue may have a certain impact here. I know David Watkins and believe that he is trying his best to make this a viable project. I’m still puzzled about the ceiling, as I’d thought there had been a skylight above the rotunda.

  3. I don’t know how much design decisions are in Watkins’ hands though. This is 100% hearsay, but a friend from New Orleans, when she found out HRI was involved in King Edward, had some very bad things to say about their work on historic buildings in N.O.–said they didn’t really give a flip about the buildings, just about getting as much out of the preservation tax credits as they could w/o giving much in return (i.e, cut corners at every opportunity).

    So, since HRI is the major partner here (as I understand) I believe they’re probably making the decisions about specifics. Their true colors came out with the attempt (that I hear has been thwarted) to demolish those buildings on W. Capitol, imho.

    I thought there was a skylight too–NPS doesn’t require you to reconstruct something that wasn’t there when you started the project though, and hadn’t the skylight area collapsed? Seems like it will be a dark space without it, but I can see that it would have been very expensive to reconstruct.

  4. I’m pretty sure that the skylight disappeared during Dumas Milner’s renovation of the hotel in 1955.

  5. Oh really, I just assumed he had covered it over with that lower ceiling–learn something new every day!

  6. Maybe a review of the construction/abandonment pictures is in order for me. I wish there were more archival photos of the lobby. Have you run across much?

  7. I just found this group of pictures of the lobby renovation….

    http://hiltongardeninnjacksondowntown.shutterfly.com/67

  8. A few more relatively recent photos can be found here….

    http://www.msmec.com/mx/hm.asp?id=0812kinged

  9. Very cool pictures, Tom–thanks for your sleuthing! I think the ballroom ceiling looks great, at least in the photos. I was worried about how that would turn out.

  10. The lobby railing looks as though they have taken care with its ceconstruction. The height is probably higher than the original, but I would imagine that a lower railing would not be allowed today. Building inspectors have a way of disallowing such exceptions.

  11. Ugh! One of my (many) pet peeves–codes that require such incredibly high railings. They really change the perspective of everything around them.

  12. What did you think after the grand tour this evening? Inquiring minds want to know…

  13. Well . . .

    Hmm. . .

    I specifically tried to keep an open mind. I didn’t make any observations to anyone around me. I was very good–the perfect model of interested reticence. Out of the blue, someone who’s opinion on such things I trust alot and who’s seen many historic buildings, turned to me and said, “It’s nice, but . . . it looks a little plastic, doesn’t it?”

    I really don’t want to be a downer–it really is beautiful in many ways, and 99.9% of the population will find it awe-inspiring. I guess I’ve just been in too many plastered buildings to not experience a letdown in sheetrocked replacements.

    Is that really a downer? It’s difficult to convey how genuinely excited I am about this project, but also to express some disappointment in the interior renovations.

    I’ll post some pictures when I get a chance–they’re not much different than the ones you pointed out on shutterfly above.

    Also, btw, it was not as grand a tour as I think had been planned when they thought the building would be almost finished by this date on the calendar. The groups were allowed in the 1st floor lobby and no further due to on-going construction work and contractor’s completely valid concerns about liability.

  14. Hmmmm…too bad. I’m also genuinely excited about the renovation and hope for the best. I sometimes wonder if out and out modernism within an historic shell is sometimes better than a restoration which doesn’t go all the way.

    • You know I think you may be right about the modernist route being the better way when there’s too little of the historic interior to be saved. I was about to object, but then I thought about the Electric Building, which had been gutted already I think in the 1960s or so, so when they did the renovation there wasn’t anything to try to recreate. They went over-the-top modern and I really love it. The lobby is completely crazy with all that tile, and the one apartment I’ve seen made me fall in love–not nearly as modern as the lobby, but still contemporary and cool.

      In the case of King Ed, my ideal interior renovation would have been a compromise: ultra modern and funky on the upper floors, but real-deal historic on the first two floors, esp. in the public spaces, real plaster, no unnecessary demolition of existing finishes, etc.

      Well, as often happens, reality doesn’t meet my ideal. BUT the building will be a newly vibrant place and it has a future, which is way more than could have been said 5 years ago, or even maybe 3 years ago when Frank Melton kept saying he was going to blow it up. Made me want to pop him in the mouth, if I may say so.

  15. I just found Brad Franklin’s pictures on Facebook…

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=304024&id=708810345#

  16. I’m not sure that will work w/out a Facebook account. Let me know if there are issues…

  17. So when will the hotel be open? I’m visiting Jackson for the holidays and would like to check it out. I grew up in Jackson and work in the urban planning field so I am curious to see the finished product!

  18. I spoke with the reservations people today and they told me that the hotel will open on the 15th of December. Supposedly, they will begin accepting reservations about two weeks before the final opening date. Stay tuned…..

  19. For those who might not have seen this, a new story from WAPT. There’s also an interesting slide show on the lower right on the page with pictures from the 20s onward. The 50s rooms are very interesting.

    http://www.wapt.com/news/21515911/detail.html

  20. Thanks for the link and especially for pointing out the slideshow–I would have missed it otherwise. Also love that poolside scene with the arcade–cool!

  21. As though we needed more pictures of the King Edward…..Here are a few from this morning’s article in the Clarion Ledger. There is also a video. The restored paneling in the Club Room looks great, though the raised panels above should be painted out with the wall. Video as well.

    http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20091110/BIZ/911100346/1005/King+Edward+reigns+again+++90M+renovation+close+to+finish

  22. I have a stack of old King Edward stationary from my deceased grandfather’s business travel days. It is very nice even after all these years. I remember sneaking in there with respirator masks nearly 30 years ago when there was still some furniture in the rooms we went in…fascinating!

Trackbacks

  1. Mayflower Cafe: A Real Place « Preservation in Mississippi
  2. King Edward Update « Preservation in Mississippi
  3. Get Ready for King Ed! « Preservation in Mississippi

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