Designed by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan in a Neoclassical style, the hotel underwent a name change and an interior update in the 1950s. This is when the “King Edward Hotel” sign first graced the Jackson skyline; an escalator was added to the lobby, the grand ballroom was made less grand, and an elevated pool was added to the rear of the building. Within only a few years after these updates, in 1967, the hotel closed, a victim of the decline of downtown hotels, and according to some, of racial integration .
The hotel sat, and sat, and sat, vacant and deteriorating. Homeless people, drug users, and plain old vandals knocked down interior walls, tore out all the plumbing and electrical wiring and generally messed up the place. The pigeons also found a home. Through the decades, many ideas came and went about what to do with this massive and solid building. The building was listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places in1976 and later included in the West Capitol Street Historic District in 1980. Of course, neither of those listings protected the building in any meaningful way, but they did offer the option of historic preservation tax credits. In 1990, it achieved a measure of protection when it was designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History–this meant that it could not be demolished (or rehabilitated) without review by the state.
Still the building sat as the western end of downtown’s Capitol Street continued to decline. The Mississippi Heritage Trust brought renewed attention to the landmark when it listed it on its 10 Most Endangered List in 1999. By this time, many Jacksonians had begun to think the cause was lost and that the King Edward would have to be torn down. Frank Melton, during his campaign for mayor in 2005 made repeated references to his intention to demolish the building.
At the same time, however, a real deal was coming to fruition in the form of a proposal by New Orleans-based HRI, football player Deuce McAlister, and local developer David Watkins to renovate the building and put it back into use as a hotel and apartments. Work began to clean out the building in 2006 and construction is now well underway, with an expected opening in Fall 2009.
This is a major victory for Jackson and for preservationists around the state who have been working behind the scenes for decades in hopes of holding onto the building until the money and the developer would emerge to bring back the King Edward. The lesson I’ve learned from hearing the stories and reading the newspaper articles going back decades is that some buildings are worth taking the long view and being patient. When many questioned whether the King Ed could be preserved and even whether it was worth it, preservationists had to hold the line. I think the results will be worth all the work, and not only will the new hotel save this great building, but it will also reinvigorate the western end of Capitol Street and downtown in general.
Dec. 18, 2009: King Edward Hotel Open Again
Dec. 14, 2009: Get ready for King Ed!
Sept. 15, 2009: King Edward Update
April 27, 2009: Experience Mississippi! Report
Further Research (sorry most of these are Jackson Free Press, but they’ve had very consistent coverage of the issue in recent years, and the Clarion-Ledger won’t let me link to their archives):
Jackson Free Press, “Interview with Deuce McAlister,” February 2, 2005.
Jackson Free Press forum “King Edward–What’s going on?”
Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Grand Hotel: Does the King Edward Have a Glorious Future?”, August 3, 2005.
Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Who Gets to Crown the King?”, April 16, 2006.
Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press, “Long Live the King,” August 23, 2006.
Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archives, William T. Nolan Office Records
Tom Barnes, Epinions.com, “The Case for the Preservation of the King Edward Hotel, Jackson, Mississippi”