By Jack Weatherly
Two historic downtown landmarks have been purchased by the state Department of Finance and Administration for about $2.3 million.
The Sun-n-Sand motor hotel on Lamar Street earned a colorful history as a gathering place for legislators to hash out bills outside the glare of public scrutiny.
The other property is the former Wright & Ferguson Funeral Home on High Street.
The motel, which has been vacant since 2001, will be razed to make way for more parking for government workers, Chuck McIntosh, director of communications for the DF and A, said last Wednesday.
But he said on Monday that the distinctive sign will be salvaged. That had been part of the plan all along, he said.
The motel is on the state Archives and History’s Mississippi Landmark list and on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s “10 Most Endangered Places.”
“I think it’s huge mistake,” Lolly Rash, executive director of the Heritage Trust, said in an interview on Wednesday. “I think we need to look at all options before any historic building is demolished, particularly the Sun n Sand, which had such tremendous amount of history for our state.”
The Heritage Trust website states: “In 2001, House Ways and Means Chairman Billy McCoy said, ‘We have passed many important measures because of our conversations after hours in the Sun-n-Sand.’”
“ ‘Its free form, space-age sign recalls the mid-twentieth century Las Vegas style atmosphere and hints at its reputation as the place to party in Jackson.
“ ‘When the legislature legalized liquor in 1965, the Sun-n-Sand was one of the first bars to open in Jackson. One legislative insider remembered that ‘a year before the state repealed its anti-liquor laws, the place was hopping.… I would go to the Legislature and see some of the lawmakers speaking against liquor … then I’d come back to the Sun-n-Sand and watch them take a drink. They were voting dry and drinking wet.’ ”
The Heritage Trust has listed it as one of the “10 Most Endangered Historic Places” since 2005.
Famed Mississippi author Willie Morris wrote some of his posthumous book “My Cat Spit McGee” at the motel and noted it as the site of “many years [of] egregious political wheeling and dealings, not to mention its secretive trysts.”
Jennifer Braughn, chief architecture historian for the state Department of Archives and History, said the style of the motel sign is called “googie,” featuring “flamboyant roadside architecture from the ‘50s and ‘60s . . . capturing the attention of passersby with neon lights and interesting shapes.”
The department of Archives and History has to review any publicly owned property for its historical and architectural significance, she said.
The sign alone could be designated as significant in that sense. There is precedent for that, Braughn said, citing the operating room at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where the world’s first heart transplant was conducted in 1964.
The late businessman Dumas Milner opened the motel in 1960. Milner named it for another one of his properties, this one in Biloxi. He also owned the King Edward, another home-away-from-home for legislators until he closed it in 1967.
Lamar Properties had owned the Sun-n-Sand since 2005. The state bought it for $1,015,021. Funding was a combination of land acquisition funds and bonds authorized property acquisition for parking, according to McIntosh.
The 30,000-square-foot Wright & Ferguson property was bought from Alderwoods LLC in September of 2018, according to McIntosh, and the Sun-n-Sand was bought in January of 2019 for $1,285,300.
By law, the state paid the average of two appraisals for the two properties, McIntosh said.
The future tenants of the Wright & Ferguson property have yet to be decided, McIntosh said.
Funding for the Wright & Ferguson property acquisition was from the Mississippi Development Bank. The loan payments are defrayed by the elimination of previous parking leases.
Braughn said that the Wright and Ferguson funeral home’s architecture is not historically significant, though it is a “lovely Tudor” edifice.
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