When R.E. “Dumas” Milner opened the Sun-n-Sand in downtown Jackson in October 1960 the age of the shiny new “motor hotel” was in full swing. In spite of major renovations at Milner’s King Edward on West Capitol Street, Milner sensed the transition in the popular mind from the formality of grand hotels like the King Edward to places more in keeping with the age of the automobile. Thus, the Sun-n-Sand was born. The name is a curiosity, best explained by the presence of another Sun-n-Sand in Biloxi on the Mississippi Coast. Never mind the absence of sand on Lamar Street, the hotel would be filled with a jaunty Polynesian tiki torch ambiance in keeping with the contemporary rage for all things suggesting the South Pacific.
Milner’s space-age motel came replete with meeting rooms with exotic names like the Polynesian, Bali Hai and the Kon Tiki. Its lobby and public areas were decked out in turquoise, pink and an almost lurid shade of orange. The rooms also featured turquoise draperies and shag carpet in colors ranging from rust brown to lime green. It was nothing if not colorful.
Perhaps best known as a second home to the members of the state legislature, the Sun-n-Sand’s siren call was cheap rooms and its proximity to the new capitol building, only a block away. The members of the House made their homes there while the House was in session. It became something of a club for them, even if more than a few legislators had to get their sustenance from the crackers and bologna thoughtfully placed in a corner of the lobby each night. These were the days before lobbyists had infiltrated politics to the extent that such simple fare would do. Not that the bright little coffee shop with its turquoise vinyl banquettes didn’t do a brisk business. It remained popular until the hotel closed in October 2001.
No “sandbox” for the politicos would be really successful without the presence of libations. The hotel didn’t have a bar until the legislature repealed the liquor laws in 1965. “Ye Olde Sandbox” was ready for them with a river of whiskey and umbrella drinks for all. Not that liquor wasn’t there before in abundance…the proverbial (and literally) smoke filled rooms were well-provided with liquor on the down low all along. The legislators hosted barbecue parties outside by the heated pool and nobody really minded the thin walls or the almost wondrously tacky decor. It was a sort of fraternity house for them and they were reluctant to leave when the place finally closed its doors.
The future of this little landmark of Mid-Century Modern design is much in doubt. There have been no takers for the property since it closed, save for the state itself which covets the property. Unless a clever entrepreneur comes along, the Sun-n-Sand (known these days by some as the Sun-n-Sad) may well be flattened for an office building.
What to do with such an outdated property? In truth, the exterior corridors are an unpopular feature with hotel developers these days, given their lack of safety and security. Still, a page could be taken from Austin where a similar 1960s motel has been renovated in period style and is making money hand over fist. Whether tiki cool will work again in Jackson is questionable, but I think there might be enough of an emerging hipster crowd with money to make such a venture work.