Morris Lapidus in Mississippi?

Recently I acquired Morris Lapidus: The Architecture of Joy, a beautiful book with lots of pictures, interesting introductory text, and high-quality heavy paper. I got it because it was on Hamilton’s Books at a ridiculous cut-rate sale price and I couldn’t pass it up. I had no inkling of any Mississippi connection with Lapidus, best known for his over-the-top curvy Modern seaside hotels in places like Miami. But then I flipped to the back and found a comprehensive index of his projects, arranged by year and taken from his intact collection. As my eyes scanned the pages, the name “Alex Loeb, Meridian, MI” under the year 1946 popped out at me. “Meridian, Michigan?” I thought. That’s a weird coincidence, and I googled it and found that in fact there is a Meridian, Michigan. But did they also have an Alex Loeb store? Hmmm . . .

I continued scanning. Under 1949, I saw “Holly Dept. Store, Hattiesburg, MS”–Wow, there’s a for-sure thing! Then a few entries down, “Holly Dept. Store, Greenwood, MI”–Hmm, did whoever entered these city names think that Mississippi’s postal designation is “MI” rather than “MS”? It’s a common mistake. There is a Greenwood, Michigan, but it’s an unincorporated community, so I think this should be Greenwood, MS.

More scanning . . . 1950 . . . “Holly Dept. Store, Natchez, MI”–well, I know that’s our one-of-a-kind Natchez. Further down in 1950, “Schwobilt Dept. Store, Gulfport, MI”–also clearly a typo.

My next step was to do a little city directory research to see if I could find these stores. Here’s what I found:

  • Alex Loeb, Meridian, MS–2111-2115 5th Street (now located in the Meridian Downtown Historic District)
  • Holly Dept. Store, Hattiesburg, MS–600 Main
  • Holly Dept. Store, Greenwood, MS–can’t find
  • Holly Dept. Store, Natchez, MS–600 Franklin (in the Natchez-On-Top-of-the-Hill district)
  • Schwobilt Dept. Store, Gulfport, MS–2509 13th Street (this address is now a vacant lot)

What did Lapidus do for these stores? Were these projects interior remodels only or did they also involve new storefronts? Do we even know that they were all built?

Here’s a Holly Little Miss Store in Albany, NY:

HollyLittle Miss Shop

The Holly Little Miss Shop at 35 North Pearl Street in Albany, New York, photographed by Morris Lapidus (1946) “By the 1940s, the influence of modernism was being felt outside of large metropolitan areas.” Image and text from the book “Shop America: Midcentury Storefront Design”, edited by Jim Heimann and with an essay by Steven Heller. via Pinterest

Searching my own photo collection I have no images for any of these addresses. The MDAH HRI database has this intriguing image for 600 Main in Hattiesburg, a storefront that could be 1949–is it a remnant of the Holly Dept. Store? It seems a little small for a department store, but not if it’s really a “Little Miss Shop” like the narrow store above:

600 Main Hattiesburg

600 Main Street, Hattiesburg (photo taken 10-12-2012 by Russell Archer, consultant, downloaded from MDAH Historic Resources Database)

Do any of Lapidus’ store designs still exist? Those of you who live in these cities need to go find out!



Categories: Architectural Research, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Modernism, Natchez

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15 replies

  1. I’m sending this along to several folks here in Greenwood who might remember a Holly Store. It doesn’t ring a bell with me. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. Re: Hattiesburg Storefront. I’m guessing the facade is earlier than 1949. It looks like structural glass which was out of production in the US by 1947. Structural glass would still been available as NOS or a foreign import, but would a hip guy like Mr. Lapidus pick an old material from the 20’s & 30’s like that? :-) Maybe that store was just an interior remodel?

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    • Are you convinced that’s structural glass? Could it be that masonite-type material with the baked enamel finish that has fooled me on several occasions?

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      • Its possible. Two tips that lead me to believe the store front is structural glass. The highly reflective nature of the surface is one. The material is a reflective as window glass since you can see the mail van equally as clear on both surfaces. The second tip is that under the outside corner of the display window there is no trim piece covering that joint. The Masonite material isn’t structural enough to be the corner piece on its own and would require a corner trim piece. Looking at the building as a whole the remodeled facade definitely looks like a 1940’s piece. Maybe Mr. Lapidus had his influence on a larger part of the building?

        I propose a field trip to investigate! :-)

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        • I agree with Thomas Rosell that it looks to be Vitrolite (structural glass) but do not think that it is out of place for a late-1940s building to have a Vitrolite facade. I have seen numerous buildings with Vitrolte, most of which got their Vitrolite facades after World War II, in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Also, even though Libbey-Owens-Ford may have quit producing it in 1947, there was a nationwide network of dozens of major distributors, in every part of the country, with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of contractors experienced in installing Vitrolite. Vitrolite was ubiquitous, fairly inexpensive, and with enough variation to satisfy both Lapidus’s creative aims and the client’s demands. It was a nearly perfect material, and it is a shame that it has not been produced or appreciated for decades.

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  3. With thanks to Donny Whitehead and Patricia Evans: The Holly Store in Greenwood was in the old Greenwood Furniture Building at 228 Howard Street, which later housed The Leader and Evelyn’s. It burned in the 1990s. Patricia remembers the store in the 1950s or early 1960s. I assume that Lapidus did some remodeling work on this early-1900s storefront to make it a “Holly Store.”

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    • Could this be 222 Howard as described in the Central Commercial Raiload Historic District nomination? https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/dist/9.pdf

      Element #47 describes a large Romanesque building but with a “first-story severely altered by glass storefront with deeply recessed entry.”

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      • oooh that nomination has some good photos too! In photo 30 (taken in 1985) you can see the #222 and and empty lot at #228. In photo 31 (taken in 1982) you can see #228 still standing on the corner

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      • No, 222 Howard Street is the old WGRM radio station (B.B.King’s first on-air broadcast) and most recently housed the Blue Parrot restaurant and Steve LaVere’s Blues museum. It’s now being renovated for Alt-J Bistro Pub and Fred Carl’s offices. 228 Howard burned (?suspiciously) in the late 1980s or early 1990s, leaving us with yet another unattractive parking lot, owned by Staplcotn.

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  4. The Gulfport store might have been a interior and exterior Lapidus design because that would have been a completely new infill building on the grounds of the great southern hotel.

    https://www.cardcow.com/33086/thirteenth-street-gulfport-mississippi/

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  5. The finding aid for the Morris Lapidus Papers at Syracuse University (http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/l/lapidus_m.htm) contains the following entry:
    Box 12 Meridian office building 1960 – black and white photograph

    The Avery Library at Columbia has a Lapidus Photograph Collection which seems to be mainly Florida projects but they may also have some drawings.

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  6. There is a photograph (number 34) in the Natchez NR listing for Holly Dept. Store. The building still exists but no trace of Lapidus’s work exists today, as the building is now a stuccoed, New Orleans-influenced building.

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