Mexican Gulf Hotel
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 firefighting equipment was added to the volunteer "Bucket Brigade".