One of the Gulf Coast’s flagship beachfront hotels is being restored from top to bottom and its long awaited reopening is set for mid summer.
The historic White House Hotel, which sat empty for years, dates back to the 1890s and is the last of Biloxi’s popular 1920s era tourist hotels that included the Edgewater Gulf Hotel and Tivoli Hotel. It was bought last year by Barrington Development, LLC of Ridgeland and the developers are reportedly spending several million dollars to restore the property which is near the U.S. 90 entrance to Keesler Air Force Base.
“We have already done all the electrical and plumbing and just passed inspection,” said Cono Caranna, general manager and co-owner of the hotel’s restaurant. Drywall work is being done on the 76 rooms and suites and the hotel’s original facade will be painted signature white starting this week.
The hotel’s fate was touch-and-go for years as it fell into disrepair. Caranna said after the hotel made the city’s top 10 endangered building list, it got historic landmark status and became eligible for tax credits.
Biloxi businessman Jimmy Love bought the hotel in 1989 and began restoration in 1999 but the project was thwarted by setbacks, including the economic downturn.
The property began as the home of Walter White, a Coast judge, and his family. When White later expanded his home, he enlisted the help of the architect who designed the house at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama. The reopened hotel will feature a fine dining restaurant named for White’s wife, Cora.
Bill Yockey, co-owner and general manager of the 100-seat restaurant, said besides steaks, the menu will feature Coast favorites such as fresh seafood. Yockey, a former Ruth’s Chris general manager, promises “a beautiful room” and dishes featured “lots of local ingredients”
There also will be a third-floor balcony bar outfitted with sectional sofas and fire pits so patrons can take in views of the Gulf.
Caranna, who has a casino and hotel background, said the swimming pool, covered up after Hurricane Katrina, will also be added to the hotel’s amenities list, including approximately 1,600-square-feet of meeting and event space. The property is non smoking
The hotel and restaurant will employ 65 to 70. The restaurant will be open initially for breakfast and dinner. “There are not a lot of fine dining restaurants where you can park at the front door,” Yockey said.
Nicole Gilbert, the director of events operations, said she is marketing the property for weddings, parties and other special events. Gilbert has a special attachment to the historic hotel. “My grandmother worked there as a girl in the restaurant,” she said. “It’s really an honor for me.”
Gilbert said she wants to bring back “some of the Southern traditions with a contemporary style” to events at the hotel in keeping with its history.
Caranna and Yockey believe the hotel’s history, beachfront location, local connections and amenities will set it apart from other properties.
“It is the only high-end, non-gaming hotel on the Coast,” Yockey said. “We have the amenities that can compete with the casino hotels.”
“We can accommodate wedding from rehearsal dinners to overnight stays to the wedding itself with our own catering,” Caranna said. “You can pull up on Thursday and leave on Monday.”
Since word of the reopening began to spread, Caranna and Yockey said the response has been strong. “The community is super excited about it coming back,” Caranna said. “People are stopping by and stopping us to talk about it.”
Yockey said the hotel’s Facebook page had almost 1,000 ‘Likes” in less than a week.