The Mexican Gulf Hotel
A Grand Winter Hotel on Davis Avenue
The Mexican Gulf Hotel Company of Pass Christian was organized in 1882 with an authorized capital of $35,000. The president was Gen. George Sherman with George P. Brandt as secretary. Work began on October 2, 1882. Before the building was half-finished it was found that the cost would be far in excess of the subscribed capital stock. The final cost was about $105,000. Doors were opened to guests on June 16th, 1883, with Matthew J. Crawford as manager.
It was the first hotel on the Gulf Coast that was specifically designed to attract winter guests from northern states. The original structure was built in Colonial style with covered verandas and observatories overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The 3-story building faced Davis Avenue having been designed without inside rooms, with the result that every room shared direct sunshine.
A private pier extended out from the hotel property into the Gulf. It was a spacious-covered structure, provided seating where hotel guests could enjoy taking breaths of the salt air while watching the many and varied boats in the Sound.
Through its beginning years, the outstanding indebtedness quickly began to cause trouble to its owners who almost from the start, had defaulted on the bond interest. They were brought to court and eventually foreclosed upon and taken over by Frank Howard as agent. The Stockholders then leased the hotel to the hotel manager, M.J. Crawford, who also struggled along until he spent all of his money. He too was finally forced out by his creditors in 1887. At that time the only heat in the building was five base burner stoves and grates in the bed rooms. The water supply was from a well on the beach lot from which the water was pumped into cisterns at the rear of the buildings.
Comments by Crawford were stated as, “When the hotel was completed, instead of facing the Gulf, it offered a small front that was only two rooms deep overlooking the water. Naturally, everyone stopping at the hotel wanted a front room – but there were only four front rooms having a view of the Gulf.
“Another problem was epidemics of whooping cough followed by the many rumors of Yellow Fever which would cause everybody to scamper to their homes to escape being quarantined. It was no joking matter to be left inside the quarantine lines. Every little hamlet established what they were pleased to call a "gunshot quarantine," and if one approached the lines with the intention to cross them, he was promptly ordered to return, or else he would be shot "full of holes."
“I struggled through six years and was then forced against my will by the sheriff to return to New York. My exit was hastened by this official having had a judgement placed in his hands against me, and some of my friends having told me of this man's ways of collecting bad debts, I kissed my hand to Pass Christian and left it to its fate."
Following Crawford was with a gentleman named Blake who was fortunate with a good season and actually made money.
Charles Dyer, author of Along the Gulf, stated in 1895, that, "The Mexican Gulf Hotel is by long odds, the finest hotel architecturally on the entire coast, and its interior decorations and furnishings are beautiful in the extreme.”
In 1902, Magin and Day of Chicago, bought the property and sold an interest to S.F. Heaslip who afterward bought out Magin and Day. Samuel Heaslip served several terms as mayor of Pass Christian and is remembered for having reorganized and spearheaded the formation of the current Pass Christian Yacht Club.
Heaslip renovated the hotel extensively and provided lighting and heating to the 250 guest rooms and chambers. The beautiful dining room was one of its greatest features, which was lighted on three sides by long French windows that reached from the floor almost to the ceiling. He too, was unsuccessful and tired of the business sold to Dickerson of Chicago, who remodeled the house and built an addition to the east wing.
Dickerson then leased to Gage Clark, who soon retired and leased to a former administrative employee of the hotel, Bernard Chotard, who also unsuccessfully leased the hotel.
Albert Aschaffenburg was the last hotelier to invest in the hotel. He brought together a group of investors from New Orleans. They bought and remodeled the Mexican Gulf Hotel in 1916, only for it to burn down on January 8, 1917.
At that time, there still was no firefighting equipment in Pass Christian. The Gulfport fire engine was called and reached the scene in about 40 minutes, but due to low water pressure, it was unable to perform. An engine from Biloxi also responded to the call, but before its arrival the walls of the massive building fell down. A large number of firemen from Bay St. Louis walked across the three-mile railroad trestle since there was no automobile bridge at that time. Meanwhile, from Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, DeLisle, and Cuevas, large numbers of people were attracted by the flames that lit up the heavens.
Needless to say, in the following year fire-fighting equipment was added to the volunteer "Bucket Brigade".
Times-Picayune - Jan 9, 1917
Mystery in Fire destroying Hotel famous on Coast
Landmark of Southern Riviera in Ashes
Flames originate on the Third Floor of Mexican Gulf at Pass Christian
Pass Christian, Miss., Jan. 8. 1917
The Mexican Gulf Hotel was destroyed by fire this afternoon at 8 0'clock, causing the loss of about $100,000. When discovered, the flames had detained such arrest efforts to check them were unavailing.
The origin of the fire is a mystery which has not been solve.
The flames started in the north end on the third floor and ate their way through until the front was reached. Persons who attempted to reach the portion of the hotel where the flames started were unable to do so owing to the smoke that filled the entire third and second floors. The fire must have burned for some time before discovered, it is thought. At the time, there were thirty or more workmen in the structure and a half dozen women, all of whom were engaged on the ground floor.
The structure was insured for $75,000. It was built thirty-three years ago (1883) at a cost of $85,000. Seven years ago (1910), $38,000 more was spent in the construction of a large addition — and within the past three months, $28,000 was spent on interior improvements preparatory to opening the house within the next two weeks.
The Mexican Gulf was owned by a recently organized stock company chartered under the laws of Louisiana. The L.L. Dickason estate of Chicago was the largest stockholder, owning about $75,000 of the stock. The remainder was held by New Orleans people among whom are Arthur B. LaCour, president of the company and A. Aschaffenburg, general manager.
None of the stockholders are here, but Frank Taylor, late assistant manager of the St. Charles Hotel of New Orleans, and who had just been appointed manager of the Mexican Gulf, was present when the fire occurred. He said he was unable to give any theory of the fire’s origin.
At one time, all the buildings on the west side of Davis Avenue (across the street) were in danger, but only the hard work of the bucket brigade saved them.
(Along the west side of Davis Avenue) The home of Mrs. F.P. Wittmann was damaged to the extent of almost $800. The residence of Ed Bielenberg and that of Mrs. W. Champlin were also damaged considerably by the heat and water. The two large stores of Elmer Northrop & Company, the postoffice building, and the Cumberland Telephone Company’s office seemed doomed and from many of them all effects were removed.
The Gulfport fire engine was called and reached the scene in about forty minutes, but owing to a lack of water pressure, was unable to work. An engine from Biloxi also responded to the call of help, but before its arrival, the walls of the massive building fell.
A large number of firemen from Bay St. Louis walked across the thee-mile trestle and from Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, DeLisle, and Cuevas, large numbers of people were attracted by the flames that lit the heavens for miles around.
This is the third large hotel to burn within eighteen months at Pass Christian. Lynn Castle and the New Magnolia being the other two. Their combined loss value was estimated at $300,000.
Local Men Owned Hotel
The Mexican Gulf Hotel was owned by a local company of which Arthur B. Lacour is the president. The stockholders are Ernest Lee Jahncke, W.B. Gilliean, Robert J. Perkins, W.P. Burke, Percy Stern, R. Frank Taylor– secretary and manager, and W.H. Aschaffenburg – vice-president and treasurer.
News of the disaster reached here (at New Orleans) Monday afternoon, hardly four hours after a long distance telephone conversation between R. Frank Taylor and Mr. Aschaffenburg to the effect that work on the hotel was almost completed and a grand season was expected. Mr. Taylor spoke in high praise of the general appearance of the hotel. Many reservations had been made, and the greatest season in the history of the gulf coast was expected.
The directors of the company will go to Pass Christian Tuesday to see what can be done.
They believe a cigaret or a carelessly thrown match must have caused the fire. There was no electricity in the building. Fire extinguishers had been installed and it was thought every step had been taken to avoid a conflagration.
The following information is probably from an old Mexican Gulf Hotel flyer:
The hotel is constructed in the Colonial style of architecture, with covered verandas and observatories, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on the South. Guest rooms are equipped with hot and cold water, telephones and all modern conveniences, private baths, arranged singly and en suite, steam heated throughout, an elevator renders access to the upper floors easy. Having no inside rooms, sunshine enters every room directly.
Box Ball and Billiard Parlor -- Connected with the hotel on the North side, completely equipped, these popular games are enjoyed by both ladies and gentlemen.
Recreation -- Directly in front of the hotel, on the Gulf side is the private pier of the Mexican Gulf property. It is a spacious covered structure, provided with seats, where guests of the hotel may enjoy breathing the salt air, also where boats of all kinds, with fishing tackle, can be obtained, together with .........
Reminiscences of a Veteran, by M.J. Crawford
Pass Christian -1882-87
Mexican Gulf Hotel
Some twenty years or so ago a gentleman of means living in Pass Christian on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi conceived the idea of building a hotel at that charming spot. To this end he engaged the co-operation of some bankers and cotton merchants of New Orleans in the undertaking. This gentleman (Aschafenberg) was a very pleasant person, and like many pleasant people knew very little about hotel construction and the manner in which it should be conducted when built. He was obstinate in his views and as those who were associated with him knew even less than he did about such matters he was allowed his own way in everything. In consequence, when the hotel was completed, instead of facing the Gulf, it offered by a small front, two rooms deep overlooking the water. As the house was designed for a summer and winter resort, and as everyone stopping at the hotel wants a front room, the house, when opened, was unable to supply the demand, there being only four front rooms having a view of the Gulf. My reputation having preceded me, such as it was, I was selected to manage it. I left New York for the "Sunny South" and upon my arrival took charge of the hostelry. I had many acquaintances and friends in New Orleans, so I felt that I would like to be among them. The house opened early one summer and by July we were fairly under way. The clientele was entirely Southern. Sugar and cotton planters from Louisiana and Mississippi and New Orleans and Mobile families attended by an army of colored servants. The children and servants made up nearly half the house count, and invariably as the summer season came 'round also would appear the whooping cough and then it was a sight to see the "fussed up" manager vainly trying to quarantine the afflicted babies so as to prevent the mothers of the well ones not to depart and leave a lot of vacant rooms on his hands.
From Charles Dyer's Along the Gulf, 1885
"The Mexican Gulf Hotel is by long odds, the finest hotel architecturally on the entire coast, and its interior decorations and furnishings are beautiful in the extreme, so much so in fact as to cause the management of this house to be greatly envied by many of the other hotel keepers of the coast. The Mexican Gulf having been built within the past few years is modern in every particular and is supplied with all modern conveniences such as electric bells, gas, steam heat, etc. In fact it would not be saying too much, to state, that this house more than all others it is the favorite resort for Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and other northern and western people, who during the winter months come to "the Pass" in large numbers in order to escape the rigors of the severe northern winters of their homes. After once coming to the Mexican Gulf Hotel, the visitor becomes a sort of walking advertisement both for "the Pass" and the Mexican Gulf Hotel, disseminating the information regarding the beauties and healthful properties of the delightful spot among their friends and acquaintances throughout the north. Thus it is that the Mexican Gulf Hotel has become so successful with its winter season, while in addition to this there is the delightful summer season, when the Southern people avail themselves of the balmy breezes of the Gulf and flock to the various resorts in great numbers, the "Mexican Gulf" getting their full share of the better class of patronage. The hotel consists of a large main building built upon the Queen Anne style and several detached cottages and out buildings all of which are situated in the center of spacious grounds directly on the water front, and from which a fine view of the Gulf can be obtained. Altogether there are about 250 guest chambers and parlors which in price according to location, the regular rates being form three to five dollars per day with special reductions for families and guest remaining for a month or longer. There are two one story cottages, connected with the main building by covered board walks, which are fitted with bath, gas, electric lights, etc. The one nearest to the hotel has three rooms en suite besides a servants room, while the second cottage has two communicating rooms. Both of these cottages face the Gulf and are specially adapted for the use of parties and families who desire more privacy than can be had in the main body of the hotel, and as the price for these are about the same as for the rooms on the second floor of the hotel they are seldom vacant.
The beautiful lawn surrounding this hotel is kept in splendid trim and as it is shaded by stately live oak trees, under whose spreading branches seats are placed, it makes a pleasant play ground for the children, while their elders may recline at ease, being screened from the sun and fanned by the cool gulf breezes. Some of the largest trees in this section are on the grounds of this hotel, and the artist of our party took a snap shot of one the largest which is here presented. Regarding the management of the hotel too much cannot be said in praise, as Mr. J.R. Leeke, the chief clerk is a hotel man of great experience and ability, who knows perfectly how to overseer the management of the army of servants employed in a house of this kind, and also how to make every one of the many guests feel at home at once upon arrival, paying the necessary attention to each one, so that all leave the place satisfied with their treatment. The present management took charge of the hotel for the season of 1894-95, Mr. S.F. Heaslip purchasing the interest held previously by Mr. Frank H. Day. Being an enterprising business man, Mr. Heaslip made extensive improvements both in the house and ground, and it is to him that the patrons are indebted for the fine new system of lighting and heating.
The beautiful dining hall of this hotel is one of its greatest features and although but a faint idea of its attractiveness can be gleaned from an illustration; we present one here, taken by our artist during the quiet time between meals. From this picture will be seen that the rooms are large and airy, it being lighted from three sides, with long French windows which reach from the floor almost to the ceiling. This hall will accommodate about two hundred people comfortably, and is beautifully furnished with regard to tables, chairs, silverware, crockery, drapery, etc., which is all of the fines sort, much of it being specially made for this hotel. During the busy summer and winter seasons, this hotel presents a very bright and lively appearance during meal times, when the tables are crowded with guests, and the colored waiters gliding noiselessly about supplying the many wants. As far as the table itself, it is all that the most fastidious can desire, being strictly first class in every respect, and not pains are spared to secure all the delicacies of the season for the guests.
The immense Registration office and lobby from which the grand staircase runs to the floor above is also worthy of mention, as it is the finest on the coast. The office and staircase are carpeted with heavy velvet Brussels into which the feet seems to sink as the guest walk across to the dining hall or ladies parlor. The walls are beautifully decorated, and the office furniture is of the finest grade. There are tow enormous open fire places here, on which logs are placed in the chilly winter evenings, which throw out a grateful warmth and light which reflected on the bright colored carpets and hangings make the place look cheery and homelike. Or artist took a snap shot of both office and grand staircase which are her presented. The ladies parlors and the reading and writing room are just off the office lobby, the former being a model of good taste and elegance in its furnishings and appointments. This parlor has cozy home-like appearance, and as it is airy and cool in the summer, and well heated in winter, it is much resorted in by the fair guests of the house, during the long evenings. There is a grand upright piano for the use of those musically inclined. The hotel also has several finely furnished private parlors and bridal suits which are models of elegance in their appointments. Taken all in all the famous Mexican Gulf Hotel is one of the finest places in the entire South at which to pass either a summer or winter vacation, and the invalid could not find a better place in which to build up the constitution, for the climate is even the average winter temperature being, about 70 degrees, while during the summer the salt laden breezes from the Gulf prevent the temperature from jumping up very high. Then there are the land breezes which are laden with the health giving scent of the pine forests which taken together with the great variety of diversions and amusements such as bathing, fishing, sailing, hunting, the brilliant colorings of field and foliage, the sweet joyful singing of the feathered warblers, and the ever changing panorama of the sea, all serve to divest the mind of the sojourner and act as a healing balm to wounded nature.
It is just a place that the tired business man can find rest and recreation from the cares of city life."