Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s article by Mark Davis of the Pearl River County Historical Society about Bay St. Louis architect Fred Wagner. Read Part I.
Virginia Seal Wagner’s family had strong ties to Hancock County where some branches of it had lived for more than two hundred years. In the late sixties Wagner and Oubré dissolved their partnership. James Oubré continued in New Orleans while Fred Wagner went on to Bay St Louis opening his office there on Main Street. He chose to restore a classic creole cottage for that purpose, a decision quite characteristic of his respect for the models of our regional architecture.
In Bay St Louis, more commissions flowed in including those for C. B. Murphy and Gulfview Schools (Hancock County 1966) and for the offices of Coast Federal Savings and Loan (Gulfport 1969) and for many private homes. Hurricane Katrina, so harsh on the coastal counties, destroyed Wagner’s Thompson House on the Jordan River but created a new use for his Coast Electric Building (Bay St Louis 1968) which is now the town’s city hall.
In addition to these, Wagner’s reputation earned him the responsibility of two very important and culturally sensitive restorations: the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad Headquarters of the Harbour Square Historic District in Gulfport, MS and the MDAH-sponsored restoration of buildings at Jefferson College (later known as Jefferson Military College) in Washington, MS near Natchez, done as part of Mississippi’s participation in a nationwide restoration effort celebrating the Bicentennial of the American Revolution.
The Gulf & Ship Island Railroad Building at 2605 13th Street required restorative measures but also transformative ones as the turn-of-the-century building was reworked into the headquarters of Mississippi Power. Wagner resolved this problem with innovative color and space management completing the project without compromising the integrity of the building’s original design.
Jefferson College was the first institution of higher learning in the state and was created by an act of the first General Assembly of the Mississippi Territory on May 13, 1802 and opened on January 7, 1811. W. C. C. Claiborne served as president of its board of trustees and prestigious Natchez architect Levi Weeks produced buildings for it. Even so, its buildings had been allowed to deteriorate for decades before the MDAH secured
Wagner’s services in a restoration project lasting years and completed in phases between 1977 and 1984. Although Wagner’s firm succeeded superbly in accomplishing the task assigned at the state’s restrictive budget, the state chose to restore only part of the campus and there are still buildings at Jefferson College that need restoration.
Before retiring Wagner completed several more commissions in Pearl River County including two instructional facilities at Pearl River Community College and the President’s House there.
In retirement Fred Wagner still acts as a consultant now and again. Most recently when Dot Phillips 1840 home at 222 North Beach Boulevard in Bay St Louis was restored with help from the World Monuments Fund and a team of designers from Manhattan’s School of the Visual Arts, she still turned to Wagner for the color scheme allowing him to choose all the colors. “Who would know better the colors of our culture?”
His work shows a light touch and is plainly in the tradition of the best of Louisiana architecture combining a languorous sensuality with an almost Shaker simplicity. His are happy buildings that can be seen as a respite from the driven pace of modern society.
Back to post 5. Dot Phillips Interview of June 17, 2010.
Thanks to the Pearl River County Historical Society for allowing this reprint of an article that first appeared in the September 2010 edition of their newsletter, The Historical Reporter. All photos are by the author unless otherwise noted.