The Buena Vista and a Hyperbolic Parabaloid that should have been

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I was glad to see that the Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District in New Jersey made it through relatively unscathed.   This got me thinking about some of our lost motels on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that were similar to New Jersey’s preserved “Doo-Wop” style motels.  Here on Tom Barnes tale of the Buena Vista Hotel/Motel is one of the more popular posts of all time, specifically the 15th most popular as of this writing.  You might say “What could make this post more popular?”  and I would answer “Why a Hyperbolic Paraboloid!”  Well at least I think a Hyperbolic Paraboloid would complete the building.  Its got everything but a funky shape.  Apparently the Buena Vista Motel’s 1956 design team from the Jackson firm of Biggs, Weir & Chandler would agree with me, because they included one in their original design.  An article in the March-April 1956 edition of Down South Magazine highlighting hotel expansions on the Mississippi Gulf Coast prominently featured these Biggs, Weir & Chandler architectural renderings of the proposed Buena Vista Motel expansion.

Proposed Buena Vista Motel Addition Concept showing the Hyperbolic Paraboloid Refreshment & Relaxation Area. Biloxi, MS. Rendering by Biggs, Weir & Chandler from the March-April 1956 Down South Magazine.

Now you might ask “What does one do in a Hyperbolic Paraboloid?”  From our previous posts we’ve found that Mississippian’s are capable of living, banking, and worshiping in Hyperbolic Paraboloids, but the Buena Vista’s Hyperbolic Paraboloid was designed for, as the Down South Magazine article caption puts it, “Refreshment and Relaxation”.

View looking south-west(?) Proposed Interior Buena Vista Motel Addition Concept showing the Hyperbolic Paraboloid Refreshment & Relaxation Area. Biloxi, MS. Rendering by Biggs, Weir & Chandler from the March-April 1956 Down South Magazine. Mel Macugoski

As Mr. Barnes states in the earlier Buena Vista post:

“An elaborate dining room was to have been built, topped by a concrete dome, making it the epitome of modern design.  The dining room was also to have a stream flowing through it with rock gardens and lush foliage throughout.  The pleasure dome never quite made it off the drawing boards…”

The space looks like it has all of that and more.  After you received your refreshment at the cabana bar you could walk across the little foot bridge to the dining area and gaze up past all the funky light fixtures, the Mondrian and Sputnik inspired mobiles, through the holes in the ceiling, to the Hyperbolic Paraboloid while listening to the piano player at the dance floor.   The motel was a success even without the Hyperbolic Paraboloid over the Refreshment and Relaxation Area.   With the Buena Vista expansion price tag at $600,000.00 dollars in 1956 (almost 5 million dollars in 2012) I can see why an expensive Hyperbolic Paraboloid was axed from the project.  So keep your eyes out for architectural renderings folks, because you never know what might have been.

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Categories: Biloxi, Gulf Coast, Historic Preservation, Hotels

11 replies

  1. Love those hyperbolic paraboloid’s! Still working on my bumper sticker (I brake for ….).


    • With great apology to my mentor Tom Biggs, the rendering does not show a hyperbolic paraboloid structure, but perhaps a spherical or domical section. The H-P structure (as indicated by the name) has a parabolic cross-section, which is lacking here. To visualize the H-P form, think of a square sheet with the opposite corners anchored to the ground and the remaining corners elevated. Despite the parabolic cross-section, this form can be generateed by gradual rotation of straight members. They were useful (and not expensive) structures which spanned exceptional space with amazing thinness. A 100 foot span could be attrained with less than three inch shell thickness.


      • Great explanation of what makes a hyperbolic paraboloid. It sounds like one of those legs would have to be pointing upwards to achieve the twisting effect and become a real hyperbolic paraboloid.

        I think the form was axed from the project when the unfortunate meeting between artist and bottom line account. This type of meeting created the watered-down modernism ( and architecture in general) we run across every day. When the form couldn’t be described as having a structural purpose it was removed from the project even though it wouldn’t cost very much to produce.


    • Haha no rush. I still have to get a car with a longer bumper.


  2. Interesting! I knew this place in the 1990’s but wish I had known it in the earlier days. Too bad the plans didn’t see fulfillment!


    • Do you remember what that “Refreshment & Relaxation” area looked like in the 1990’s?


      • it did not resemble the drawings shown here and there wasn’t a stream or holes in the ceiling. There was a large, comfortable lobby with windows that looked out on the pool. Beyond that there was a coffe shop. It had a lot of natural light and was an enjoyable place to have breakfast or lunch. There were a lot of “regulars” who stopped by every morning. (I have to add that at time the hotel was receiving a much needed renovation but this area of the hotel was still well maintained)


        • Thanks for sharing your memories of the motel! Its too bad that even with lots of “regulars” the structures couldn’t dodge the wrecking ball. From what I understand the ceiling holes were to allow a view of the dome and probably were canceled when the dome was axed.


  3. I was only nine years old in 1969, but I think it was the Buena Vista hotel we stayed at after Camille dumped an inch of mud in our house on the back bay. Was it the only hotel on the south/beach side of highway 90? that’s my memory anyway.


  4. Amazing plans that never saw fruition for this motel. I tried going to the “Paved Not Saved” article also, but it goes instead to the Edgewater Gulf article.


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