Of all the jarring and tragic images which poured forth in a torrent in the aftermath of Katrina, among the most poignant were those of the ruins of the Tivoli Hotel. The gaping holes in the building immediately told a tale of loss without redemption. By May, 2006, the tattered remnants met their date with the wrecking ball and all that remains is a weedy lot staring blankly out at the sea. It might not have ended this way, but the stage had been set for change, one way or the other, before Katrina settled its fate.
Built in 1927 and designed by local architect Carl E. Matthes, the Tivoli’s restrained classicism was a good fit for the Coast. Not nearly as large or flashy as the Edgewater Gulf or even the Buena Vista, the Tivoli settled into a modest existence throughout most of its life. Its graceful arcades and verdant gardens rose above a greensward sweeping down to the glassy Gulf below, promising the visitor a quiet respite from the world. The dining room was especially handsome, with Georgian detailing and an elegant mirrored marble overmantel. The lobby was small, but had a stunning barrel-vaulted ceiling. The ballroom also featured carefully executed plaster medallions and wrought iron railings.
In the late 1950s, the hotel was remodeled and renamed the Tradewinds. The new moniker came with a low-rise addition of modern motel rooms . Early pictures of the addition suggested something more dramatic than the dismal box which supplanted the addition after Hurricane Camille blasted through Biloxi in 1969. Local people might recall that Robert Mahoney was the General Manager of the hotel from the early 1950s until he and his wife Mary opened the eponymous restaurant we know today as Mary Mahoney’s in 1964.
The 1970s were unkind to the Tivoli and the hotel slumped into senescence as an apartment hotel for transient guests. I went in there once or twice in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s. Its graceful paneling had been draped in the crimson and gold of a bordello and the reputation of the hotel had been all but sundered. A final visit in 1998 revealed a tattiness which went well beyond what I’d witnessed before. The owner, Jerry Kelly, had made attempts to sell the property, but little came of his desire to sell the property to a casino developer willing to retain the building. The last occupants of the Tivoli lived in the shabby little motel building as the stately main building was closed to the public at some time during the early 1990s. Whatever Mr. Kelly’s intentions may have been, the Tivoli suffered under a regime of minimal maintenance and supervision.
A possible savior might have arisen in Mike Boudreaux of Gulf Coast Investment Developers, an aggressive developer of condominium projects on the Coast. In my conversations with Mr. Boudreaux, I understood that plans were laid in late 2004 to retain the Tivoli as the centerpiece in a larger complex of four high-rise residential towers. While not ideal, the plan might have worked.
After Katrina, it is questionable if there was really any hope that the building could have been saved. Any real hope for its salvation was likely obliterated when the land was re-zoned for waterfront gaming. While not the determining factor in the fate of the Tivoli, the presence of a ruin on such valuable land may have been seen as an impediment to the redevelopment of the property. The Tivoli was demolished with almost no public discussion about the possibility of saving what remained. The availability of tax credits for historic preservation went unnoticed as well. The fact that it vanished without a trace must serve as a lesson of what can easily slip through the cracks of a great disaster. Unless there is an active willingness to save a landmark, it can easily slip away with the tides.