Growing Up Downtown - November 2015
The Hotels, Grocery Stores and Bars
Sleeping, eating and celebrating life: things folks in Bay St. Louis have always enjoyed - past and present! In this installment of Pat Murphy's book-in-progress about historic Bay St. Louis, you'll get an in-depth look into our community's past!
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The Hotel Reed was the upscale full-service hotel in Bay St. Louis during my youth. This hotel closed and became a nursing home around 1960. This grand old building at the corner of Ulman Avenue and North Beach Boulevard lay vacant for a time but burned in a mysterious fire. The business originally opened under the name of the Hotel Weston in about 1926. This was shortly before the wooden car bridge was built in 1927 and 1928.
There are stories that there were two entities competing for the location of the new car bridge. For a period of time the new bridge was planned to run from the end of Dunbar Avenue in Cedar Point over to the Delisle area north of Pass Christian. The Gulf Hills Hotel and Resort was constructed on the north side of the bay based on this version of the plan for the bridge, but another entity apparently had more clout and the new bridge was built at the corner of Ulman Avenue where the new Hotel Weston was located. This hotel had 50 luxury rooms complete with private baths, a grand combination dining and ballroom, a swanky cocktail lounge, and even a swimming pool. There was other lodging in Bay St. Louis at the time, but Hotel Reed was the pinnacle of what Bay St. Louis had to offer as far as lodging went.
There were several rooming houses where one could rent a room by the night or longer. When I was a child Ms. Daisy Bordages rented rooms in her home on North Beach Boulevard next to The A&G Theatre. This boarding house was originally established and run by Mrs. F. C. Bordages (Ms. Daisy’s mother) and her daughters Daisy and Lucy.
Mrs. Douglas “Babylove” Bourgeois ran an a boarding house named the Answer in the second block of Union Street next door to Fahey Funeral Home. This rooming house catered mainly to young female schoolteachers in the 1930s and ‘40s. In those days there was a clause in female schoolteachers’ contracts stating that their employment would be terminated if they married. The Answer did offer catering for group luncheons, bridal showers and the like held on the premises.
Ms. Carmelita Saucier also rented rooms at her house back on Necaise Avenue at the corner of St. John Street close to St. Rose Catholic Church.
The motels out on Highway 90, other than several “tourist courts” with individual cabins, did not open until the 1950s or later.
The Benignos ran a nightclub, restaurant and tourist court on highway 90 and Drinkwater Road across from Hancock Medical Center on the property where Wendy’s and Knight’s Inn is today. Later Mr. John Benigno ran a praline shop and rented cabins. These cabins eventually were moved behind The Knock Knock at Highway 90 and Waveland Avenue.
There was another restaurant, bar and tourist court named the Pines Cabins on Highway 90 just before it curved into Ulman Avenue. This was located where the Bay St. Louis City Hall stands today. The Pines was run by Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Armitage.
William Muller was proprietor of a restaurant, bar and tourist court (cabins) on Ulman Avenue closer into town. This business was also run by Charlie and Bernice Flink, under the name Flink’s House of Gifts. Later in the early 1960s this location would house one of “Daddy” Ray Kidd’s restaurants and bars. By the time Mr. Ray opened this location the cabins were abandoned and falling apart.
By the mid nineteen fifties The Phillips 66 Truckstop and Travelrest Motel were open out on two lane Highway 90 between Nicholson Ave and Waveland Avenue. This was located just west of the present location of Markel Building Supply. The truck stop is long gone but the motel is still in operation.
Sometime in the mid-1960s the Driftwood Motel opened complete with a swimming pool in Bay St. Louis on Highway 90 just east of Scafidi’s Wheel Inn and Service Station.
Another larger motel, a Best Western (complete with cocktail lounge and restaurant) was constructed at the intersection of Highways 90 and 603 in about 1966. This motel would become a Ramada Inn a couple of years later.
It would eventually be purchased by the Milford Lady family and renamed the Waveland Resort Inn. Mr. and Mrs. Lady, with their sons Jim, Steve, and Bill purchased this landmark in 1976 and made major improvements and renovations over the years. Eventually it became a Holiday Inn and in more recent years the Coast Inn, and is still owned by Bill Lady.
The Grocery Stores
Many of the grocery stores operated in Bay St. Louis actually did business under three or four different names through the years. It seems that when one established grocery store relocated another grocery would open in the same location under different ownership.
W. L. Bourgeois
In the early 1900s W.L. Bourgeois’ original grocery store was on North Beach Boulevard in downtown Bay St. Louis. Later the store moved to Main Street, where Hancock Insurance Agency was later located and where Ellis Real Estate is now. W.L. Bourgeois had the original Jitney Jungle franchise before Mr. Joe Scharff. W.L. Bourgeois also served as a Bay St. Louis city commissioner at one time. Along with W.L. Bourgeois there were several other groceries in the downtown area during the 1930s and ‘40s. Mr. George DiBenedetto’s father Joseph ran a grocery on Beach Boulevard for a number of years. There was an Ashton’s Grocery (also known as Coast Self Serve) that operated in the Echo building at the corner of State and North Beach before my grandfather’s business moved into the space.
Scharff Fine Foods/Jitney Jungle
Mr. Joe Scharff was a good friend of my grandfather Stevenson. In fact they were next-door neighbors on South Beach Boulevard in the late 1940s. Mr. Joe came to Bay St. Louis with his wife and son in 1931. His father owned a grocery store in Memphis that went under during the depression. He opened a grocery store at the corner of Toulme and Main. Originally this building had housed Gardebled’s Drug store and later Joseph Bontemps’ Grocery.
The building had been empty when Mr. Scharff bought out the lease along with some of the old fixtures and opened his store in April of 1931. Mr. Scharff added onto and renovated the 220 Main location and eventually constructed a new building for his Jitney Jungle franchise at Main and Second Streets. A few years later he constructed a larger Jitney Jungle at Second and DeMontluzin Streets. This building later became Bay Technical Associates and now is the location of the Bay Waveland School offices.
C & S Food Store
C & S stood for Carter and Scafide and was located on Blaize Avenue across from the railroad depot. Mr. Charlie Carter (married to Mary Scafide) and John Scafide were the proprietors of C & S. Eventually I think it was mainly the Carters who ran this grocery business. At one time C & S was one of the main groceries in Bay St. Louis and enjoyed a large trade with the Bay St. Louis locals. C & S was one of about five grocery stores that existed in the depot area during my youth.
Wilmer’s Food Store
Another grocery located close to the railroad depot was Wilmer’s Food Store. This grocery was run by a man named Wilmer Thibaut. The building stood at the corner of Third Street (Blaize Avenue) and Sycamore. The location is now a church parking lot. Mr. Wilmer Thibaux, who was the proprietor, was very well thought of in the community. I have heard stories of kindness and generosity he showed to people that the community never heard about. Mr. Joe Scharff’s son Robert told a funny story that Mr. Wilmer related to Mr. Scharff, who was the proprietor of Scharff’s Fine Foods and then Jitney Jungle.
It seems that Mr. Wilmer observed one of his customers inserting a glass jar of mustard into her very ample purse. Thibaux arranged with one of his cashiers to “accidentally” knock her purse off of the counter onto the concrete floor when she checked out, breaking the mustard bottle. Neither Mr. Wilmer nor the customer ever said anything further.
In 1936 Mr. Anthony Pitalo, Sr. moved from Biloxi and bought Renike’s Grocery and opened Pitalo’s Market on Third Street. In 1955 when his son Buddy got out of the service Mr. Pitalo constructed a new building on the site of the original store and gave the business to his son and son in law, Gilbert Gayaut. Buddy left the business in 1960 to go to work for St. Stanislaus as a coach. Buddy’s mother and her son-in-law Gilbert ran the business with Gilbert eventually becoming sole proprietor. Gilbert Gayaut ran Pitalo’s Market until retirement in 1982 when the business was sold. Pitalo’s operated for about two more years after it changed hands but eventually closed. The building is now used for antique storage.
Joe Loicano’s (A & J Food Store)
Mr. Joe Loicano went into the grocery business in the spring of 1934 when he purchased a store at the corner of Necaise Avenue and St. John Street from his father, Anthony Loicano. In 1936 Mr. Joe moved the business just down the street to the corner of Necaise and Easterbrook. In 1949 when Mr. Joe Scharff moved out of his 220 Main location and into his first Jitney Jungle store at Main and Second Streets, Joe Loicano moved his grocery business into the 220 Main location.
By the late 1950s, Mr. Joe had moved his business into a larger building down Main Street at the corner of St. Francis Street. This was directly across the street from the Triangle Café building. Mr. Bert Estapa ran a bicycle and lawnmower shop as well as a gas station in this old building. Mr. Joe Loicano’s building at one time was the location of Ferdinald’s Bakery. Later J. E. Loicano ran Loicano’s Health Club in this building. Now the location houses Blue Rose Antiques.
Mr. George DiBenedetto’s father, Joseph DiBenedetto, ran a grocery store on South Beach Boulevard named DiBenedetto Fine Foods. The business was adjacent to the railroad tracks. Later his son, Mr. George, had his television and appliance business in this location.
Mutchler & Ashton Coast Self Serve Grocery was located at the corner of State Street and North Beach Boulevard at 200 North Beach. This store was in business during the 1930s into the ‘40s. When they closed in 1943, my grandfather Stevenson moved his business into this location.
There were several other groceries located in the depot area in earlier years. The Boudins ran a grocery at the corner of Third Street and Washington where the mechanic shop is now located. Mrs. Boudin also ran a nursery and used to sell bedding plants. At one time in the mid-1930s there was a Quality Food Store that was run by a Mr. Blaize on South Beach close to Washington Street. “Uncle Louie” Schwall ran Uncle Louie’s Cash Grocery in the early 1940s at the corner of Main Street and Old Spanish Trail.
The Taverns, Bars and Lounges
Bay St. Louis, like most small towns on the Gulf Coast, had an abundance of bar rooms. Trapani’s Knock Knock, Marquez’s, and Benigno’s, along with many others, were all very much a part of downtown. There were many more like Martin’s Bar, that were destroyed when the 1947 hurricane washed away about a third of the beachfront businesses. There is a story about Martin’s Bar during the 1947 hurricane that while the hurricane was raging and eventually would wash away the entire back half of the building, Dick Dailey, the bartender, was still serving customers at the bar in knee deep water. The rest of the building eventually collapsed down the hill.
At this point I’ll talk about a few of my favorite old taverns in Bay St. Louis.
Trapani’s Knock Knock
Topping the list would have to be Trapani’s Knock Knock Bar and Bingo Hall. The Knock Knock name comes from the practice of knocking on the table when someone bingos. This business was established by Mr. Anthony Trapani, Sr. around 1935. The original business was named the Dutch Kitchen. It was close to the corner of Waveland Avenue and Highway 90, near a turpentine distillery and workers camp that existed off Waveland Avenue. This location was really pretty far out in the country at the time.
Mr. Trapani had gasoline pumps with a restaurant and bar. The family lived upstairs above the operation. In 1937 Trapani sold the business, moved into Bay St. Louis to Main and St. Francis Street, and opened the Triangle Café (now location of Unabridged Architecture). Mr. Trapani moved to 120 North Beach in 1939. The building was heavily damaged in the 1947 hurricane and was totally renovated. By this time, the proprietor was Frank Trapani, the older son of the Trapanis.
Frank was a veteran and German prisoner of war camp survivor. Upon his return to Bay St. Louis after the war, Frank ran the business with his father, who died in 1953. Frank’s nickname was “Cat,” which he got from his well-known greeting “Where y’at cat?”
Trapani’s Knock Knock was completely destroyed along with everything else on the water side of Beach Boulevard in Hurricane Camille in August of 1969. Trapani’s was always very special to me because I used to go in there with my dad when I was a kid. This place was also the location of my first professional (we actually got paid $10 each) band job on New Year’s Eve 1965.
Frank Trapani rebuilt the bar and bingo hall after Hurricane Camille on family property at the intersection of Highway 90 and Waveland Avenue and reopened around 1971. Frank operated in this location for many years and finally died in December of 1996. The Knock Knock is still open under different ownership in this location and is still quite popular.
Eddie Marquez originally opened his bar on Hancock Street between Kellar and Sycamore streets and would eventually move to the location that I knew as a child on South Beach Boulevard across the street from Mauffray’s Hardware. Mr. Eddie Marquez’s place was another classic Bay St. Louis cocktail lounge.
This was more of a cocktail lounge than a neighborhood bar like Trapani’s. Marquez’s was further down Beach Boulevard away from Trapani’s, closer to the railroad tracks. Mr. Eddie Marquez worked at the post office in Bay St. Louis as well as running his cocktail lounge. After Mr. Marquez’s bar was totally destroyed in Camille, Mr. Eddie’s was the first establishment to build back on the water side. Eventually he sold the lounge to the Dan B. Murphy (no relation) family who operated Dan B’s until it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
There were actually two establishments run by different Benigno brothers. One was on Highway 90 at the corner of Drinkwater where Wendy’s now stands. Benigno’s Tavern was run by brothers Norman and John Benigno. Mr. Benigno also had a tourist court and rented cabins to travelers on a nightly basis. In the 1940 Bay High yearbook, the business ad mentions the bar and dance floor.
The Benigno’s that I grew up in, Benigno’s Bar, has always been located on Blaize Avenue opposite the railroad depot in a strip of old storefronts. In 1940 Mr. Norman Benigno was advertised as the proprietor but by the time that I remember, his brother, Sam Benigno, was operating the bar. This place is still one of the classic old neighborhood bars in Bay St. Louis.
Benigno’s was another one of my father’s hangouts. Daddy would take me into Sam Benigno’s at a very early age and, like Trapani’s, I’d sit up on the bar, drink a root beer and eat peanuts while the old man drank a couple of beers. Mr. Sam was a first class southern gentleman and was always well mannered in a white shirt and tie behind the bar. Mr. Sam and his brothers were all fellow Knights of Columbus along with my dad.
This bar is still in business and in its original location across from the old train depot, and is run by Mr. Sam’s grandson, Joey Dedeaux. It is now a restaurant and bar named Little Joe’s and is one of the hot spots of the depot area.
Bertucci’s was on Ulman Avenue and Highway 90 next to the Bay St. Louis Police and Fire Department. Originally this establishment was run by Mr. Willie “Pops” Bertucci and was later run by Mr. Willie’s daughter Amelia. Bertucci’s had its heyday in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Compretta’s Bar was at the corner of Main Street and Highway 90 in the property that now houses the Shell Station. I think it was owned by Dick Cue, who was the Shell jobber in Hancock County. Mr. Norman Compretta ran this bar when I was a young boy. Before Mr. Compretta the bar was named Craddock’s Tavern and they sold Shell gasoline from pumps out front. By the time Mr. Compretta had the bar Cue had built a Shell service station just to the west of the bar on part of the property (I worked pumping gas at this station in the early ‘70s). Eventually all of this was bulldozed to make room for the mega Shell station convenience store that is now there.
Bennie French’s Tavern
While technically not a Bay St. Louis bar, Bennie French’s was just a short two-mile jaunt across the Bay Bridge on Henderson Point. Since this bar played such an integral part in my life (and the lives many others) as a teenager, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about it
I probably started going into Bennie French’s when I was 16 years old, although I didn’t have the nerve to try to buy my own beer for another year or so. By the time I reached 18 I was a regular. Bennie’s, like Trapani’s, was where everybody hung out and made the scene. Bennie’s had pinball machines, bumper pool tables and pool tables and was the place where the younger crowd hung out.
Mr. Bennie was a very old man but still sat down at the end of the bar in his wheelchair. His second wife, Izella, worked behind the bar along with an old guy named Cleve Nichols who helped out and cleaned up the place. Cleve was an old alcoholic who would go on a bender every once in awhile. He rode a big old bicycle with a basket on the front. When Cleve would get drunk Ms.Izella would say that he went to the Bahamas. For a long time I really thought that he went there on vacation! He was kind of grumpy and short-tempered but always seemed to like me, and was nice to me.
Ms. Izella and Mr. Bennie had an old poodle name Tessa, who would pick up beer cans. When a beer can would fall off a table and hit the floor, Tessa would come running, pick it up, carry it to the trash can and drop it in!
Izella called all of the kids that hung out there “her kids.” Izella’s athletic grandson went on to be pro-football superstar Brett Favre. In many ways Ms. Izella was like a surrogate mother to me and I was definitely one of “her kids.” I used to refer to her as my barroom mom and I was so very honored when her daughter, Bonita, asked me to speak at Ms. Izella’s funeral when she passed on.
There were, of course, many other bars in the area. Around the corner from Bennie French’s on the side of the Henderson Point overpass was Bouvier’s, which always was a much rougher place. On Coleman Avenue in Waveland there were Villere’s, Bea Georgi’s (later to become Charles & Ramona’s), Haverty’s, and the Tophat (where occasionally Dixieland great Papa Cellestin would perform). Back of town there were Oswald Gilbert’s legendary Krack Bar and The Big 5 Club. Out on Highway 90 there was Wilma’s Block House, Jerry and Mary Ladner’s (later Doug’s Mardi Gras Lounge) as well as Joe and Shirley Richardson’s Flamingo. Up north in the Kiln there were Melva’s and the Cowshed, along with Roy Koenen’s place.
As I said earlier, as far as bars went, I don’t really think that the Bay St. Louis area was much different from anywhere else.
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