The Beach Boulevard Experience Continues
Part 2 - South of the Tracks
by Pat Murphy
Missed Part One of the Beach Boulevard Experience? Click here.
At the time of my birth (1949) the only building left south of the railroad tracks on the water side was the old Osoinach Bay Mercantile building which was across the street from Merchants Bank. When I was a child this building housed a Bill’s Dollar Store.
I can’t say why but I have always been fascinated by the previous existence of the old buildings south of the tracks on the water side. As far back as pre-1900, there had been many buildings on the water side of South Beach Boulevard. Starting just south of Washington Street (which at the time was a very big commercial area); these buildings included the original location of Maneiri’s Restaurant.
Growing Up Downtown
By the 1920s there were businesses like The Rosedale Inn that were located across Beach Boulevard from Ben Hille’s garage, as well as Ladner’s Hardware on the water side at Bookter Street. This building was actually built out on pilings over the water and opened onto South Beach Boulevard.
Before approximately 1940 there had been at least two other buildings south of the Bay Mercantile building on the water side. I’m told that one of the buildings was a mechanic shop which was operated by Mr. Bernie and Albert Piazza’s father, and later Mr. Pete Porter, whose business eventually moved to Ulman Avenue. The other building was the location of my grandfather Stevenson’s first business in downtown Bay St. Louis.
This building was owned by Ms. Josie Welch who previously ran a store selling china, crystal, stationary, school supplies and such. I remember my grandfather talking about experiences that he had renting from Ms. Josie Welch who, by that time was a very elderly woman. Mr. Buster Heitzmann told me before his death that in 1939 Alfred Raboteau tore Ms. Welch’s building down, salvaged the materials and used them to build a home somewhere in Bay St. Louis.
Next to the bank was the location of Merchant’s Insurance Agency. At one time around the turn of the century, this lot was the location of Osoinach’s Opera House. My daddy’s sister Nancy (who would later drown in Hurricane Katrina) worked at Merchants Insurance (and later at Hancock Insurance).
What I remember most about Merchant’s Insurance is the smell of coffee and cigarette smoke. Ms. Kat Jordy, who worked with my aunt was a heavy smoker. On many occasions, I would stop in at Merchant’s Insurance on my walk from St. Stanislaus to the shop in the afternoons after school and visit with my Aunt Nan and drink coffee (even as a youngster!).
There were two more homes south of Merchant’s Insurance before St. Joseph Academy. One was the old Osoinach home and the other was Mr. Ed Arceneaux’s home. Both of these buildings were eventually donated or acquired by St. Joseph Academy. In the nineteen sixties the Osoinach Home was named Marion Hall and the Arceneaux home was named Lourdes Hall.
St. Joseph's Academy
This institution burned to the ground in the great fire of 1907 that claimed Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic church and its rectory, as well as Osoinach’s Opera House and a number of other structures. St. Joseph’s rebuilt with the beautiful historic building that I knew as a young man.
SJA closed its doors with the last graduating class of 1967. This beautiful old brick building sustained substantial structural damage in 1969’s Hurricane Camille and was demolished in the early 1970’s.
Two funny things stand out in my mind about SJA. There was an old nun named Sr. Albertine who had been at SJA forever it seemed. The old funeral home was about a half block away in the second block of Union Street. Sr. Albertine was known for grabbing kids off the playground in threes and fours and marching them back to the funeral home to pray three or four Hail Marys over the body that was laid out. As kids on the playground, we would scatter whenever we saw Sister Albertine headed our way!
The other funny thing that I remember about SJA is that there was this one little old nun named Sister Leonard who taught third grade forever. Everybody that I’ve ever known who went to SJA had Sister Leonard for their third grade teacher! There were two classes for first and second grade but only one BIG class for third grade. I don’t know how this little nun did it because there were like sixty kids in my third grade class and, without mentioning names, there were some tough, rough kids (and you know who you were) in that class. I remember kids jumping out of windows and stuff like that. In retrospect, I guess I got what I needed from Sister Leonard because at the end of the school year, I moved on to fourth grade at St. Stanislaus!!
Our Lady of the Gulf and the Rectory
This is the church of my youth, and really, my life. It is where I was baptized, made my first communion, and was confirmed in the Catholic religion. While I admit to being one of those “roamin’ Catholics”, I always seem to come back to Our Lady of the Gulf. Our Lady of the Gulf parish dates back to 1847 founded by Father Louis Stanislaus Buteux. Father Butuex also saw the need for and founded both St. Joseph Academy and St. Stanislaus in 1854. The original church construction began in March of 1848 and was completed in just over two years but burned to the ground in the great fire of 1907.
The present church was rebuilt without the spires on top of each tower. I’m not sure at which point the spires were added. This beautiful building has survived every hurricane since its construction in about 1909. The interior was flooded and gutted during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but renovated beautifully.
The old rectory or “priest house” of my youth was a beautiful two-story wooden building with porches across the front of both stories. It was built at the time of the new church after the 1907 fire. The old rectory was demolished after it sustained “structural damage” as a result of Hurricane Camille.
Sometimes I have to wonder about the designation of structural damage as a road to demolition. Anyway several years after Hurricane Camille the beautiful old rectory was demolished and replaced with a nice new modern brick building. Hmmmm.
The Planchette Home & Candy Store
When I was a child, there was a little shop building right on the corner of the property where Mr. Planchette, who was quite elderly, ran a candy store. Later on, the mid-1960s, my friend Matt Ames and his family lived in the Planchette home until it was demolished along with the old OLG rectory to make way for the lovely new modern brick “priest house”.
St. Stanislaus boy’s school is an institution that is well known throughout the United Stated of America. Boarding students came from all over the continental United States and Central America to attend St. Stanislaus.
Known as “The School of Character”, we quickly renamed it “The School of Characters." St. Stanislaus was founded in 1854 by the by Father Louis Stanislaus Buteux and has been operated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart ever since.
In 1903 the wooden front buildings burned to the ground and the beautiful brick front buildings that I knew were immediately constructed. The three pre-1969 front buildings, as well as the two side buildings (the gym building on Union and the chapel/study hall building on Bookter), were architectural wonders and Mississippi gulf coast landmarks that people still fondly remember almost fifty years later. These stately brick buildings have a permanent image burned into my mind. The pre-Hurricane Camille St. Stanislaus pier was truly a work of art, probably the grandest wooden pier that I have ever laid my eyes on!
I attended St. Stanislaus from fourth grade through twelfth grade. Three of those years (fourth, seventh and eighth grades), I attended "Rip’s University," which is what everyone called the old back school. This building was an old wooden three-room school house with a big open porch all the way across the front of it. It dated back into the 1800s and faced the Bay St. Louis railroad depot on the Stanislaus property between Hancock and Blaize Avenue. The historic back school was also torn down (more progress) after Hurricane Camille.
I played in the St Stanislaus band from sixth grade through twelfth grade and there can be no doubt that this experience started me on my lifetime musical journey. I have to say that some of my oldest and closest friends are guys that I went through St. Stanislaus with. Almost fifty years after graduating in 1967, I am still very close to many of the guys that were in my graduating class.
Two lots down from Swoop’s was the Otis residence. The thing that always stands out most for me in regards to the Otis residence is the story of this structure being moved from somewhere else and how it arrived here on a barge. After the Otis home, the next notable home was Ms. Janie Languirand’s residence, Hilltop, and next door was Ms. Elsie Sporl’s residence. Ms. Elsie’s nephew, Mike Willumitis, lived with her and was playing guitar in my band Tomorrow’s Dawn.
This saintly older woman graciously allowed us to set up all of our music equipment (there was a bunch of equipment) and take up permanent residency rehearsing in her living room and living in the rear cottage (which we christened “The Den of Iniquity”) at the rear of the property. There are unverified stories that this old cottage served as the post office around the time of the civil war. All of these homes had been on South Beach Boulevard for well over one hundred years when they were wiped clean during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There were several businesses at Washington Street that stand out in my youth. The first of these was Sellier’s and was run by Woodford Sellier. This was a sandwich shop that had pinball machines. Woodford also sold fireworks. This place attracted a lot of young people, especially when the movies at the theatre across the street let out. The building that Sellier’s was in also had been around since about nineteen hundred. This building was originally the W.H. Yenni store.
Right across the street from Sellier’s was The Star Theatre which was run by Mr. Joe Scafide and later his son Andrew. Before it was the Star, it was the Ortte Theatre owned by Mr. Ed Ortte. The building had been around since the eighteen hundreds and originally was August Keller’s store. In between it served as the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club and later Uncle Charlie’s nightclub.
Next to the Star Theatre was Ben Hille’s garage and Oldsmobile-GMC dealership. Ben Hille was my Grandpa George’s best friend and I was friends with Mr. Benny’s son, Squeaky (Irwin) so I spent a lot of time at the garage. As late as just before the 1947 hurricane there was still a business across the street on the water side of South Beach Boulevard as seen in the photo of Ben Hille working on the car. All of these buildings were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina – nothing left but rubble. Ironically, the daughter of my grandfather’s first business partner, Townsend Wolfe, died in the destruction of this old theatre building during Hurricane Katrina.
My dad, as a means of extra income, used to call bingo here at the American Legion and at the Knights of Columbus hall on Main Street. I used to spend a lot of time in both locations helping my dad. I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 208 which was sponsored by this American Legion post. We had weekly meetings downstairs. One of my bands, The Saxons, played for teen dances downstairs (we weren’t quite up to playing the big time dances held upstairs at this point). There were Legion Fairs on the beach out front with fireworks displays and kids fishing rodeos.
American Legion Post 139 was and still is very active in the Bay St. Louis community. Unfortunately, this building was destroyed in 1969 during Hurricane Camille and the post home was relocated to the current Green Meadow Road location. The only photos that I can share are "before" and "after," but I have been unable to locate any of the old American Legion home taken prior to 1969.
This whole Beach Boulevard experience starting from DeMontluzin Street and ending at Washington remains a vital and endearing part of my youth, despite the fact that it no longer exists. In my mind’s eye, it is a memory that I will forever cherish.