Growing Up Downtown - June 2015
Continuing the tour of what is now the Bay St. Louis Historic District, step into the past for a stroll down Main Street.
- by Pat Murphy
Up Main and Down Second
Magnolia State Building Supply which was originally founded by the Gex family and stood right behind Henry Osoinach’s new Bay Mercantile building at the corner of Main and North Beach. Before Mr. Osoinach built the building, there had been a Standard Oil gas station in this location. Originally the Magnolia State building had been the location of the Edwards Ford Agency.
My friend Carey Phillips and I used to hang out and play up in the lumber racks because Carey’s grandfather, Mr. Hippo Phillips, was one of the co-owners. Mr. Hippo had married into the Gex family, but his first wife, Weena Gex Phillips, had died and Mr. Hippo remarried. We could usually get free nails and scrap lumber to build stuff with whenever we needed it from Mr. Hippo.
Behind the Hancock Bank (in the building that is joined to the bank) was the post office, before a newer one was built down the street in the mid-1930s. When I was a child, the next building behind this was Hancock Insurance. At one time, this building was also the location of the W.L. Bourgeois Grocery Store and later Supertane Gas Company, run by several of Mr. Bourgeois’ sons. Mr. Pete Benvenutti told me that there was a big old house located where the bank parking lot is now. That was the home of the W.L. Bourgeois family.
One of the really cool things about hanging out at my Grandfather’s store was that most anytime I needed fifty cents or a buck I could generally get it from Grandpa George if I went through the motions of sweeping off the sidewalk at the entrance to the store. After the sidewalk sweeping, I’d take off down the street to Bressler’s Café or The Bobbi Anne Bakery to spend my earnings.
Between my grandfather’s business and the Bobbi Anne Bakery there were three houses. The house next door belonged to Dutch and Vee Manieri who ran Maneiri’s Restaurant. After Hurricane Camille destroyed their building on the beach, the Manieri sisters reopened the restaurant in this house but it was never the same and the restaurant closed within a couple of years. The house next door belonged to the Tudury sisters (more on them in the chapter concerning the picture shows). The next house belonged to Ms. Lizana who was Ms. Totti Jacobi’s mother.
In my early years there was an old two-story wooden house next door to Magnolia State and a small brick building that housed Treutel Insurance. Dr. Ollo Mollere, a dentist had his office in the wooden house. Mr. Pete remembers that in earlier years, a Doctor Ward lived in this house and had his office in the little brick building next door. The house caught fire about 1960 and was torn down. Doctor Mollere built a modern white brick office building with a parking lot in front on Main Street. This building still stands and later housed Carol and Mary’s Old Town Cafe, and more recently, Gabby’s bar. The little brick building between the old house and the Masonic Temple that had been Dr. Ward’s office also once served as an appliance repair shop run by Earl Raymond before he built a new building further down Main Street.
The 126 Main Street location of my grandfather’s building originally had an old shotgun type house. Mr. Buster Heitzmann told me that at one time the grandfather (Papa Joe) of Joe and Rudy Labat ran an alteration, cleaning, and pressing business out of this house. Cornelius Ladner, an attorney acquired this property and my grandfather purchased it from him in about 1952. One of the terms of the sale was that my grandfather allow Mr. Ladner to build his law office onto the side of my grandfather’s building. My grandfather’s building at 126 Main Street still stands today and most recently housed Serenity Gallery and now Maggie May’s.
Across the street from my grandfather’s store, Stevenson Electric, was the Masonic Temple. This was Bay St. Louis’s answer to a skyscraper. At three stories it was about the tallest building in Bay St. Louis (now it seems that every bar being built on Beach Boulevard is three stories high!). When I was a youngster, Mississippi Power Company was located downstairs in one side of this building and Peoples Federal Savings and Loan was on the other side. The Masons had their meetings upstairs on the third floor of the building.
Kern’s Dime Store was like a F.W.Woolworth’s or McCrory’s and sold everything from fabric to toys and household items. I used to love hanging out in there. I bought the first Beatles album there and they had a pretty good stock of model cars and airplanes. This business was acquired in 1942 by the Kern family. Before Kern’s the business was known as B & F 5 &10 Store (Baxter & Fasterling). The (Papa Tony) Benvenutti family ran a plumbing business and supply (Bay Plumbing) before that in this building.
There was an old home that stood between Kern’s Dime Store and the Post Office where the parking lot is now located next to Bay Books and Serious Bread Company. This home belonged to a lady named Ms. Mame Parillo.
All the kids used to love to hang out at The Bobbi Anne Bakery. The Bobbi Anne was the home of great French bread, donuts, cinnamon rolls, cream pies, chocolate pies, cream puffs and anise cookies as well. Mr. Lawrence and Ms.Totti Jacobi were the proprietors and were always really nice to us kids. It probably had something to do with the fact that they also were raising a house full of kids that ran up and down Main Street. I know of many families that had the tradition of driving to The Bobbi Anne to buy hot French bread right out of the oven on Saturday night around 10:30 PM. What a treat that was!! When the bakery finally closed its doors, there was a joke circulating about “lost souls” wandering up and down Main Street on Saturday night searching for hot French bread."
My other favorite hangout on Main Street was right next door to The Bobbi Anne in a two story building. Bressler’s Café was run by Mr. Tom Bressler. Mr. Tom had great poboys, hamburgers, blue plate specials, pinball machines (that paid off) and a great juke box. I spent a lot of time at Tom Bressler’s also. Mr. Pete Benvenutti told me that at some point before Bressler’s opened, the Quintini family operated a meat market downstairs and lived upstairs in this building. Sometime in the early nineteen sixties, attorney Bill Frisbie bought the property, tore down the old building and built a new modern red brick office in this location. Mr. Tom Bressler relocated the café over on South Beach Boulevard in the duplex next to Mr. Eddie Marquez’s bar. This would have been around 1962.
On the other side of Mr. Frisbie’s office was the E.J. Gex building. This was a beautiful two story turn of the century building. Unfortunately this building was bulldozed by the owners with very little damage after Katrina. The next building had been the office of attorney Robert Genin, Sr. Now it is occupied by architect Ed Wikoff.
On the corner of Main and Gex Street was Jeanette Carmichael’s home and business, Carmichael Real Estate. Ms. Carmichael was an elderly lady and at one time had a pet monkey that escaped and attacked Mr. Pete Benvenutti’s sister, Lucille, as she was walking to school and the animal was shot by the police!! Ms. Carmichael also published a small - and apparently somewhat - controversial newspaper named The Light.
[Editor's Note: If anyone has a copy of "The Light," please contact Ellis Anderson at email@example.com]
The Post Office was directly across the street from The Bobbi Anne Bakery. There were always folks coming and going from the post office at all times of the day. The First Baptist Church was next door to the post office on property where the old Tudury family home had stood. The Methodist Church was at the end of the block on the corner of Second Street across from the original Jitney Jungle. The office of Dantagnan Realty stood directly across from the court house in a little house and Dan Russell and Sam Farve’s law firm was right next door.
At the corner of Cue Street and Main in the block with the Methodist church, stood a two story building that I knew as the Methodist Church Sunday school building. This building had been around since the turn of the century and at various times housed The Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Maurigi the shoemaker and the original headquarters for Coast Electric Power Association. At one time one of the Maurigi family also ran a restaurant downstairs next to the shoemaker and the family lived upstairs. This historic old landmark eventually came to be owned by the Methodist church and was demolished to make way for a playground.
The beautiful old building that now houses Sycamore House was the old Mauffray home but it was not occupied when I was a child. The building was beautifully renovated in the late 1970s when The Landmark Restaurant opened in the old home. At the end of the block where the 220 Main Gallery is located, the building originally was reconstructed by Mr. Joe Scharff for his original grocery store. After Mr. Scharff constructed the Jitney Jungle at Main and Second, Mr. Joe Loicano ran a grocery store in this location. There also was a period of time when this building was an upholstery shop.
Across Toulme Street on the opposite corner from this building was Mr. Earl Raymond’s Appliance business. Mr. Earl Raymond and his wife lived just a couple of houses down from my parents’ home in the second block of Felicity Street. This building changed hands after Mr. Earl died and was renovated into what is now apartments.
When I was a child, Jerome’s Department Store occupied both corners on Main and Second across from the Methodist Church. The men’s department was in the old building on the north side of Main and the women’s and children’s department was on the south side of Main. This building previously had been The Boston Shoe Store, run by a man named Schiro.
Second Street had a number of businesses including Mr. Guy Bufkin’s Television and Appliance store. Originally Mr. Bufkin was located on the corner of Second and DeMontluzin. When Mr. Joe Scharff built a newer and larger Jitney Jungle food store, he bought Mr. Bufkin’s property. Bufkin moved his building to a piece of property closer to Main Street on Second right behind the old Jitney Jungle and built a new modern showroom on the front of the old building.
When Mr. Scharff built the new Jitney Jungle he also acquired and tore down The Promote Hall which stood on the corner of State and Second Street. The Promote Hall was a meeting hall for an African-American social aid and pleasure club. This old building was the site of many dances and musical minstrel shows, especially in the Dixieland Jazz era from about 1885 until around 1940. Promote Hall predated Bay St. Louis’ 100 Men Hall by almost 40 years because it was constructed in the eighteen 1880s. By the time Mr. Scharff tore it down; Promote Hall was vacant and had not been used for a number of years. Ames Kergoisen has told me several times that when he was a boy they used to trap pigeons inside of the abandoned old hall.
Mr. Manuel Maurigi ran a cobbler and shoe repair business in the little building in between Jerome’s Ladies and Children’s Department and the old Fayard home which is now The Mockingbird Cafe. Mr. Maurigi’s father started his cobbler’s business originally in the building at the corner of Cue Street and Main Street, that eventually would become the Methodist church Sunday school building.
The beautiful old Bay Emporium on Second Street was originally The Woodsmen of the World Hall. The second floor of this building was a grand ballroom with the high stamped tin ceiling. The Sea Coast Echo office was located in this building during my teenage years. Steve Wyatt’s mother taught ballroom dancing upstairs in the ballroom. My mother, in an effort to give me culture, I suppose, enrolled me with Mrs. Wyatt for ballroom dancing lessons.
Of course, past the cemetery and over the railroad tracks was the beautiful old Bay St. Louis city hall. The shoofly was not in existence at that time. Further down Second Street going the north, Dr. Leroy McFarland’s office was on the corner of DeMontluzin Street. I laugh when I think about Dr. McFarland and Doc Wolfe and the broad scope of their work. In those days, small town doctors like them did everything. There weren’t any specialists (at least in Bay St. Louis) so these doctors did it all - from setting broken bones and delivering babies to minor surgeries. They were it!!
Some of these businesses that are no longer around are so fresh in my mind that I can still vividly picture them. Some of the others, like Mertz’s Dry Cleaners and Missile Pizza had totally slipped my mind until someone recently mentioned the businesses in conversation. I had not thought about them in many, many years.
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