Historic building to be razed after damage from Isaac

PASCAGOULA — Hurricane Isaac has done irreparable damage to the Brumfield’s Building, a fixture in downtown Pascagoula since the 1920s.

A spokesman for the family said a contractor has been selected and the building will be torn down, once the city has been consulted and all requirements and considerations met.

Losing the building will knock a hole in the structural landscape of the city’s formal downtown, Delmas Avenue.

The county also will tear down the Hatten Building next door that shares two walls with the Brumfield’s Building.

Hurricane Isaac damaged the roof of the Brumfield’s Building, which caused interior structural damage to walls. The family corporation that owns it determined it would be too expensive to save the building that had once been a bank before it became a premier men’s clothing store under the ownership of Joe Brumfield.

The building was the main store for a chain of Brumfield’s department stores that stretched along the Gulf Coast and thrived in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

There were Brumfield’s in Gulfport, Biloxi, Moss Point, Fairhope and Bay Minette, Ala., making Joe Brumfield one of the coast’s leading merchants when he died at the age of 60 in 1958.

A group that included his brother, Thad Brumfield and sister Pearl Stout, ran the businesses until they sold them in the late 1960s. The one in Gulfport became Hewes Brothers department store.

The Zales Corp. bought the Brumfield’s business, but not the building, in downtown Pascagoula and kept it as a department store under the Brumfield name until 1975, when it sold. Lyle Klasky managed it as a Brumfield’s until 1992, when it closed as a department store.

Because the building is strategically located, taking up a large part of a city block near the courthouse, the county rented it from the Brumfield family for almost a decade until Katrina’s surge flooded and closed it.

It hasn’t been used since.

What had been the department store display windows have been boarded in recent years, but the Brumfield’s script is still in the tile of the entry.

The building holds memories for many Jackson County residents who shopped there.

Mary Blackwell, Joe Brumfield’s daughter, said that when she ran for Justice Court judge years ago, people would come up to her and want to talk about their connection to Brumfield’s.

Some had started their first charge account there. Or said that Brumfield’s was their first job.

The chain had employed hundreds along the coast at one time. It was like the Gayfer’s or McRaes’s of its day and might have continued to grow, had Joe Brumfield not died suddenly at a fairly young age.

An editorial in a paper at the time of his death said Brumfield’s was a classic American story of a farm boy, born near Magnolia in Pike County, who rose by his own abilities to become a coast business leader.

He came to Pascagoula in 1919 and drove a taxi for a short time until he got a job at the local men’s clothing store. By 1923, he owned the store and had put his name on it.

As his business grew, he brought brothers and sisters from home to work with him. They formed a family corporation.

Blackwell and her son, Robert Blackwell, have a collection of photographs that survived Katrina. In one of them, she’s barely more than a toddler, with her father squatting next to her, surrounded by a wall of boxes being delivered to one of the stores.

Besides the Brumfield’s chain, he owned Bargain Annex stores along the Coast and in Pascagoula, a dry cleaners and a coal plant.

Even vacant, the building holds a prominent place in downtown Pascagoula.

But the family said that circumstances are making it impossible to keep it.

It can’t be rented in the current condition, and repairs would cost more than its value.

 

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