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Sun n Sand motel has been vacant since 2001. Photo by Jack Weatherly

Petition drive highlights effort to save Sun-n-Sand motel

 

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Heritage Trust has asked the state Department of Archives and History (DAH) to declare the vacant Sun-n-Sand motel in downtown Jackson a historic landmark to prevent its demolition.

The state Department of Finance and Administration (DF&A) bought the property for $1 million early this year and plans to raze the motel, which was shut down in 2001.

It has been on the Heritage Trust’s Ten Most Endangered Historic Places since 2005.

The motel on Lamar Street earned a colorful history as a gathering place for legislators to hash out bills outside the glare of public scrutiny.

The DF&A plans to continue to use the property for parking, primarily for state employees.

The Archives and History department said in a prepared statement late Monday afternoon that a 30-day public comment period started on Nov. 5, at the end of which “if the building is designated [a landmark], demolition would require a permit from the [DAH] board of trustees.”

The DAH placed the motel under such consideration at its Oct. 25 meeting, according to the statement.

The current owners decided to leave the modernistic sign for the motel while demolishing the building, which is scheduled for next year.

Lolly Rash, executive director of the Heritage Trust, said that the plan to destroy the motel opened by legendary Mississippi businessman Dumas Milner in 1960. Lamar Properties sold the property to the state.

Rash said the petition as of Monday had more than 1,100 signatures.

The Heritage Trust states on its petition that “the first step in analyzing whether this publicly owned building can be saved should be a Historic Structures Report detailing its current condition.”

Chuck McIntosh, director of communications for DF&A, said that the standard procedure is for the MDAH to request such a report.

The MDAH said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that “a historic structures report would not typically be required for Mississippi Landmark consideration. If the board designates the property a Mississippi Landmark and the owner still wants a demolition permit, MDAH could then require a historic structures report.”

When the motel was put on the endangered properties list, Lamar Properties “rebuffed” developers because it “had no incentive to lose the steady stream of income that the State of Mississippi paid to use the hotel’s parking lot,” the petition states.

“The new owner, the State of Mississippi, has stated that this historic hotel that speaks to Mississippi’s colorful past is too far gone to be saved . . . .”

McIntosh said that a couple of developers approached agency Executive Director Laura Jackson after the property was bought but did not pursue the matter.

The Heritage Trust said in an earlier statement that “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.” Some legislators were “voting dry and drinking wet” at the motel’s bar, the trust said.

Famed Mississippi author Willie Morris wrote some of his 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 secretive trysts.”

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About Jack Weatherly