Hotels in Meridian, Mississippi
The numerous historic hotels in Meridian, Mississippi, provide insights into the city's growth and expansion, both in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and into the modern age. Many hotels were built in downtown Meridian in the early 1900s to provide lodging for passengers of the railroad, which was essential to the city's growth at the turn of the 20th century. Two of these historic hotels–the Union Hotel, built in 1910, and the Lamar Hotel, built in 1927–have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Still others have been recognized as contributing properties to the Meridian Downtown Historic District. Today, most hotels in the city are located in suburban developments, but urban activists want to establish a downtown hotel to aid in revitalizing the city's core and support the theater. The Threefoot Building, a former office building, has been considered for renovation and adaptation as a hotel.
Nineteenth century hotels
Even before the city was officially established in 1860, hotels had been built, on the strength of the proposed linking of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Vicksburg and Montgomery Railroad. After Sherman's raid of the city in 1864 during the American Civil War, only four buildings remained standing. One of those was the Jones House, used as a hotel, at the corner of the present-day 25th Avenue and 5th Street. Another hotel, the Ragsdale House, was built just after the war in 1865 near the train station. This three-story building provided a wooden-covered walkway for its customers leading directly to the train station, a luxury that other hotels did not have.
Other major hotels built before Meridian's "Golden Age" from 1890 to 1930 include the Phoenix Hotel at 26th Avenue and 7th Street, built in the early 1870s and destroyed by fire in 1876; the St. Charles Hotel and St. Bernard Hotel, both built in 1881; and the International Hotel, built in 1884. The owner of the International Hotel was Felix Weidmann, who had founded Weidmann's Restaurant in 1870. In the early 21st century, Weidmann's is the oldest operating restaurant in the state of Mississippi.
Two more hotels were built in 1890: the Grand Avenue Hotel and the Great Southern Hotel. The Grand Avenue Hotel was located only a block away from the train station and appealed to families accompanying students traveling to and from the Meridian Male College. The Grand Avenue was damaged, along with a large portion of downtown, by a tornado on March 2, 1906. Several photographs of the damage in the city were taken from the hotel's second floor balcony. The building was rebuilt, however, and survived into the late 20th century. It was listed as a contributing property to the Meridian Urban Center Historic District in 1979.
The Great Southern Hotel–described by Jack Shank, a local historian, as "the hotel"–was five stories tall and contained 150 rooms. Costing $175,000 (today $4,766,000) and taking up half a city block at 6th Street and 23rd Avenue, the building was the largest and most expensive in the city. A restaurant was located on the roof, and a number of social events were held in second-floor parlors. Luxuries standard in the hotel included ceiling fans and reading lamps in every room, ornate oak woodwork throughout the building, and a public stenographer to assist patrons.
With the construction of Union Station in 1906, hotel development was stimulated. The Elmira Hotel, now located at 1804 Front Street, was built in 1905 just before Union Station was completed. In 1910 the Terminal Hotel was constructed across the street at 1902 Front Street. Both hotels provided rooms for travelers passing through Union Station. Since Union Station was expanded and restored in 1997, these two hotels have been rehabilitated, along with many other downtown buildings in the following years.
Also seeking to profit from the construction of Union Station and expectation of increased passenger traffic, local businessman Louis H. Arky opened the five-story Hotel Meridian two blocks from the station in August 1907. The hotel attracted business from railroad workers and passengers, and it was home to a fine dining restaurant. The hotel operated until at least the 1930s, and later was converted into permanent residences. Hotel Meridian was listed as a contributing property to the Meridian Urban Center Historic District in 1979 and as a contributing property to the Meridian Downtown Historic District in 2007.
The building sat vacant for decades. When the board of the proposed Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center (MAEC) purchased the property next door to be used as a downtown museum, the owners donated this property for MAEC use. After the purchase, the MAEC released a statement that "due to the quality of the buildings and the function of them [...] we feel it's best to tear the buildings down." The building was demolished in late 2011. During the demolition, workers discovered several metal canisters full of crackers from the 1960s, evidence of a shelter dating from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
The site was vacant for more than three years. MAEC announced in early 2015 that the organization had raised over $19 million in private donations toward the center, as well as $25 million in state government funding. Ground was broken for construction on October 3, 2015, and construction of the center is scheduled to be completed in November 2017.
The Union Hotel was built in 1908 to serve travelers to the city. The four-story building is located two blocks from Union Station and offered rooms to frequent rail travelers for only $2 per night, even as late as the 1960s. The original owner was P.C. Steele, but a group of bond holders took over control of the building in 1926. The hotel was leased for two years to C.W. Tucker from 1932 to 1934, but because of the onset of the Great Depression, he was unable to keep the hotel afloat. A couple with the last name Williams took over the store in 1934 and operated a restaurant on the first floor, helping keep the business profitable. The Williams left the property after World War II but re-acquired it in 1955, operating the hotel until it closed on December 18, 1973.
In 1979 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places individually and as a contributing property to the Meridian Depot Historic District. After being sold in 1981 by the Williams family, the hotel was later converted into downtown apartments. When the Depot Historic District was combined with the Urban Center Historic District as the Meridian Downtown Historic District in 2007, the hotel was listed as a contributing property to the latter.
Boosted by the railroad industry and related manufacturing, the economy of Meridian was in its "Golden Age" at the turn of the century. The population was around 15,000 in 1898, but by 1906 it had almost doubled to 28,000. Between 1890 and 1930, Meridian was the largest city in Mississippi and a leading center in the South for manufacturing. In 1907, around forty trains per day stopped in the city, providing passenger and freight service to a wide variety of destinations. The various railroad companies provided more than 6,000 jobs to city residents. By 1920 the number of trains per day increased to as many as one hundred.
Sam and Joe Meyer, who had previously been successful in the grocery business, became determined to build a hotel to express the grandeur of the growing city. In 1927 they built the eleven-story (then considered a skyscraper) Lamar Hotel, on the corner of 5th Street and 21st Avenue. The hotel was named after Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II, a former U.S. Senator from Mississippi, cabinet member, and member of the Supreme Court.
When completed, the hotel had two grand openings–one for local and state officials, and a second for the general public. The hotel was supposed to be "the hotel" in Meridian, and at the beginning of its commission, it attracted business away from Hotel Meridian and the Union Hotel. With the drastic decline in business due to the Great Depression, it never reached its predicted splendor. The hotel was generally used by wealthier citizens and official visitors to the city; the general public rarely stayed in its rooms. For a short time, exhibits from the Meridian Art League were held in the hotel. These exhibits were eventually moved to the Meridian Museum of Art. The hotel was in business well into the 1950s, before being sold a number of times. The building was eventually purchased by Lauderdale County in 1969 and converted for office use as the Raymond P. Davis County Annex Building.
The Lamar Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and as a Mississippi Landmark in 1988. As it was not within the boundaries of either of the two smaller historic districts in downtown Meridian, the building was not listed as a contributing property to a historic district on the National Register until the larger Meridian Downtown Historic District was defined and listed in 2007. In 2011 the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) issued a grant to the city to assess the building for possible restoration, stating the building had "significant repair and restoration needs."
E. F. Young Hotel
As the city grew, a small African-American business district developed slightly west of the city's core around the intersection of 25th Avenue with 4th and 5th streets. Black travelers often visited this area when coming through, as they were prevented by racial segregation from using some other public facilities. Black-owned businesses included a hotel, two restaurants, and a movie theater.
Many businesses were started in this area, including one owned by E. F. Young, Jr., a local barber and taxi driver. Young opened a hotel and barber shop in 1931, and he also began selling hair care products made especially for African Americans. Some products he made himself. Eventually Young's operations included a beauty shop, two barber shops, a shoe shine parlor, and a manufacturing shop.
While operating the barber shops out of the hotel, Young sold hair care products made in his own kitchen to customers. Demand became so great that he opened a manufacturing company in 1933. The hotel also prospered, as it was one of the only hotels in the city to serve black travelers. The company did so well that by the end of World War II, Young's hair products were sold at locations around the state, including a pharmacy in Clarksdale and a barber shop in Cleveland. Later, he opened a second manufacturing site for his products in Chicago, a major destination in the 20th-century Great Migration for many African Americans from Mississippi.
After Young died in 1950, his wife Velma took over the business. In the mid-1970s, their son Charles Young took it over. In 1985, Charles Young moved the business offices from the Young Hotel to a new building. In 2007, the Young Hotel was listed as a contributing property to the Meridian Downtown Historic District.
The push for a new downtown hotel
Starting in the 1960s, residents began to move away from downtown in favor of new subdivisions north of the city's core. After strip commercial interests began to move downtown, the city worked to preserve its architectural legacy. It researched documentation to support designation of historic districts in the 1970s and 80s to preserve aspects of the city's history. The city established the Meridian Historic Districts and Landmarks Commission in 1979. The Meridian Main Street program was founded in 1985 to capitalize on the city's unique assets and sense of place.
Meridian Main Street organized several projects to revitalize downtown and worked with merchants on marketing and design. It was one of the parties supporting the reconstruction of Union Station in 1997 based on the original design of the 1906 train station, with a contemporary use as a multi-modal transportation center for the region. Other Main Street projects included the renovation of the Rosenbaum Building in 2001 and Weidmann's Restaurant in 2002. Meridian Main Street, along with The Riley Foundation, helped renovate the historic Grand Opera House in 2006, adapting it as the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and the Performing Arts. It is intended as a site of activities and events to enliven the city.
Just before the Riley Center was completed, the city announced that it had bought the Threefoot Building from a private developer. The expectation was that a Jackson renovation firm would convert the former office building into a luxury hotel. Staff at the Riley Center reacted positively, saying a downtown hotel would be a "wonderful thing for the city of Meridian." No Jackson renovator was found for the project. In 2009 the city entered into a partnership with Historic Renovation, Inc. (HRI) from New Orleans, which had completed a similar project in Jackson. Late that year the partnership was terminated by the newly elected mayor Cheri Barry. The city was required to pay HRI $1 million in reimbursement fees.
In this same period, local hotel owner Abdul Lala proposed constructing a new hotel for the downtown. Lala, who owns six hotels in the city, originally proposed the idea in 2008, before the city had partnered with HRI. While the Threefoot Building project, even with the partnership of HRI, would cost taxpayers millions of dollars, Lala offered to build a hotel at his own cost. Believing that the downtown cannot support two hotels, if the city renovates the Threefoot, he will not proceed with his project.
After the city terminated its partnership with HRI, it initiated an arrangement with Watkins Development to develop a plan to build a new hotel on the same block as the Threefoot. Plans released in June 2011 include renovating the Threefoot Building as a mixed-use commercial and residential development. Jason Goree, vice president of Watkins Development, has said, "The Riley Center needs a convention center hotel. (Downtown Meridian) needs a convention center hotel." Former mayor John Robert Smith, Lauderdale County Tourism Director Suzy Johnson, and Lala's partner Dede Mogollon agree.
In September 2015 a deal was approved by the Meridian City Council which sold the Threefoot to a Buford, Georgia-based hotel management company named Ascent Hospitality Management. The building was purchased "as-is" for $10,000 cash, and Ascent agreed to begin construction within 12 months of the date of purchase on a Courtyard by Marriott hotel with 120 guest rooms. Construction is scheduled to take approximately 14 to 18 months, with the company committing to spending at least $14 million on the project. John Tampa, head of Ascent Hospitality Management, has set a goal for the opening of the renovated building to coincide with the opening of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center at the site of the old Hotel Meridian in November 2017.
- Jack Shank (1986). "Chapter 2: A City of Hotels". Meridian: The Queen with a Past. Volume II. Meridian, Mississippi: Southeastern Printing Company. pp. 6–12. ISBN 0-9616123-2-0.
- Jack Shank (1985). "Part 2, Chapter 8: Weidmann's, Not Just a Restaurant But an Institution". Meridian: The Queen with a Past. Volume I. Meridian, Mississippi: Brown Printing Company. pp. 99–106. ISBN 0-9616123-1-2.
- "Tornado at Meridian, 33 Reported Killed". The New York Times. March 3, 1906. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- "Meridian from Grand Ave. Hotel. Tornado damage". Cooper Postcard Collection. Meridian Department of Archives and History.[permanent dead link]
- "Looking from Grand Ave. Hotel, Meridian, Miss. Tornado damage". Cooper Postcard Collection. Meridian Department of Archives and History.[permanent dead link]
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Linda Ford (January 16, 2007). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Meridian Downtown Historic District" (pdf). National Park Service.
- "Elmira Hotel". City of Meridian. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- "Terminal Hotel". City of Meridian. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- "Downtown Meridian". City of Meridian. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- Robert J. Cangelosi, Jr. (August 28, 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Meridian Urban Center Historic District" (pdf). National Park Service.
- Jennifer Jacob Brown (August 10, 2011). "Meridian Hotel to be leveled". The Meridian Star. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- Andrea Williams (August 18, 2011). "Demolition Pending for MAEC Site". WTOK-TV. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- Brian Livingston (November 15, 2011). "Crackers from 1960s found in hotel basement". The Meridian Star. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
- Jeff Byrd (January 20, 2015). "Officials: Miss. Arts and Entertainment Center 'a go'". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Jeff Byrd (October 2, 2015). "Groundbreaking Saturday for Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center". Meridian Star. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Jody Cook (February 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Union Hotel" (pdf). National Park Service.
- "Meridian Multiple Resource Area Nomination" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 1979-12-18.
- "History of Meridian, MS". City of Meridian. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Anne McKee (April 26, 2007). "The Little Museum that could, and did, thrives into the Twenty-First century". The Meridian Star. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Jody Cook (February 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Lamar Hotel" (pdf). National Park Service.
- "Lamar Hotel". Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Jennifer Jacob Brown (December 25, 2011). "Grant helps county look into costs of historic preservation". Sun Herald. Retrieved 2012-01-04.[permanent dead link]
- Seth Cagin, Philip Dray (April 26, 2006). We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi. Nation Books. p. 248. ISBN 1-56025-864-0.
- "Young's political, business interests cross variety of lines". Mississippi Business Journal. January 7, 2002. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- "The Legacy". E. F. Young Jr. Manufacturing Company. 1999. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- "Union Station History". City of Meridian. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Lynne Jeter (July 19, 2004). "Strategic center of the South, Meridian poised for takeoff". The Mississippi Business Journal. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- "MSU Riley Center - History and Renovation". Archived from the original on 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Jennifer Jacob Brown (June 27, 2010). "Threefoot Building: Part 1 'Looking at all our options': Development, demolition and stabilization". The Meridian Star. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Georgia E. Frye (August 20, 2006). "Riley Center officials get set to go". The Meridian Star. Archived from the original on March 15, 2013. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- "Lala Enterprises". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Jennifer Jacob Brown (November 16, 2008). "Downtown dilemma: Weighing the pros and cons". The Meridian Star. Archived from the original on January 28, 2013. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Jennifer Jacob Brown (June 12, 2011). "City working on downtown hotel". The Meridian Star. Archived from the original on March 15, 2013. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Jeff Byrd (September 15, 2015). "Threefoot sold". Meridian Star. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Jeff Byrd (October 21, 2015). "Council OKs contract for sale of Threefoot Building". Meridian Star. Retrieved 2015-12-28.