If one hotel alone were to capture the spirit and grandeur of the faded elegance of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Edgewater Gulf would likely be the candidate for the honor. On February 26, 1926, ground was broken for the 400 bedroom hotel, quite the largest on the Coast. Designed by the Chicago architectural firm Marshall and Fox, the hotel’s clean and almost modernist appearance was broken only by its Moorish central tower. Set in verdant gardens, the hotel was designed to appeal to wintering midwesterners and others who would likely take the Illinois Central down from Chicago. Chicago’s famed Edgewater Beach Hotel (1917) was the parent of this precocious child.
The hotel flourished immediately and featured long hallways of gleaming marble and brass. Of particular note was the lounge with a conical fireplace open on all sides. Guests dined in the Marine Room with fine china and heavy linen. The sun terrace was adjacent to the dining room and also featured a wall of glass overlooking the sweeping lawn and the sparkling Gulf of Mexico beyond. A friend of mine from Woodville once told me about how she and a friend were in the dining room one summer’s day for lunch. They were freezing in the air conditioning wearing only sun dresses. An observant waiter rushed to their table with tablecloths fresh from the laundry in which they wrapped themselves before continuing their repast. Such service was not unusual at the Edgewater.
The hotel had an excellent golf course, a huge outdoor pool which could even be enclosed in the winter months and tennis courts as well. As if this weren’t enough, passengers from up north could take the train right to the station on the hotel grounds at Edgewater Park. The hotel was popular as a meeting place as well. My grandparents even visited the hotel from Syracuse, New York for an insurance conference in the 1930s.
In later years, the hotel didn’t lose any luster. While I may not particularly care for the style of the modern renovations completed in the 1960s, it could be argued that they were necessary.
The Edgewater Plaza Shopping City, built next door to the hotel in the early 1960s would prove to be the doom of the hotel. In early 1970, the owners of the hotel, the Wakulla Edgewater Co. of Florida decided to close the fabled hotel. In 1971, it was destroyed in an implosion performed by Controlled Demolition of Baltimore. Performed may not be the right word here as the demolition didn’t go quite as planned. The central tower toppled forward, but several additional blasts were needed to bring the Edgewater to its final end. An expansion of the mall with a new Sears store followed.