Those passing Gloster Square at 619 North Gloster Street in Tupelo might easily miss the significance of the place. The low-slung buildings hardly suggest the sleek modern look that once heralded a new age of travel in Mississippi. Builder Cy Burnett was a hotelman from Tallahatchie County with experience at the famed Peabody Hotel in Memphis who wanted to bring a different sort of experience to Tupelo. He and a friend, Nell Reed, carefully planned the Rex Plaza (named for Reed’s father Rex) to offer hotel services with at-door parking convenience and the informality of an auto court. The result was a six room complex of one and two story buildings with a restaurant, cocktail lounge and a meeting room. The addition of telephones, air conditioning, parking and an all-night desk clerk gave the place a certain up-to-the-minute quality lacking in nearby establishments.
Cy Burnett would expand the hotel to over 100 rooms as its popularity grew. Duncan Hines, the traveler and pioneering restaurant critic, included the Rex Plaza and its Rez Cafe in early editions of his guide book. Burnett was an enthusiastic participant in the Mississippi Hotel Association, serving as its president, among other offices. His enthusiasm wasn’t wasted at the Rex Plaza. He would give the place a major makeover in the early 1960s, adding the Sheraton name to the hotel, one of only two early Sheraton hotels in the state (the other was the Sheraton-Caravan on I-55 North in Jackson, still partially extant). The design of the place was fairly straightforward and without unneeded frills, though the Lion’s Den and the Terrace Room restaurant were fitted out with the very latest in equipment and fixtures. Rooms were spacious and airy, with carports and other modern touches. A persistent rumor suggests that Kemmons Wilson used the Rex Plaza as a model for his Holiday Inn chain in the early 1950s. While this is an appealing story, there are no facts to support the idea.
One visitor was none other than Elvis Presley who visited in 1956, lodging for the night in Suite 325, the largest suite except for Burnett’s own suite of 3000 square feet. Burnett lived here with his wife until he died.
By the late 1980s, the place was sagging and droopy and it closed its doors in 1988. Many thought the closure would be permanent, but a savior arrived with T. Lyn Davis, a local businessman who didn’t want to see the place die. He set about renovating it into a more modern hotel of 85 rooms, including 24 suites.
Today, the Rex Plaza has been given another makeover, with most of the main building occupied by Woody’s, a popular steak house. The former hotel rooms are mostly residential units. I have noticed that the property has been listed for sale. We can only hope that the future of the Rex Plaza will be as bright as its past.