White House Hotel Beginning
Passed Down by Family Lore
and recorded by Walter and Cora's Great- Granddaughter
Bettie Allen Fore
"In the late 1800s when one traveled almost any distance it was never for just a few hours or a day or two. In fact if one just traveled 25 miles back then it was for a visit of at least a week. Now if relatives travel a distance of 50 to 100 or even more miles it was usually for two weeks or a month long visit.
Walter and Cora White's home faced a wonderful sandy beach and the beautiful Gulf waters. This was a great place to lie around and enjoy the warm sun after winter was over. Relatives and a few friends had a habit of showing up to visit with Walter and Cora during the summer. In those days a host and hostess was expected to be very accommodating in order to make the guest feel at home.
Walter and Cora were very gracious in that area. However with Walter being a lawyer most of his days were spent in the law office. That left the largest part of looking after the guest to fall on Cora. After a several summers of this Cora decided she had enough of the summer visitors with them expecting her to cook, clean and provide entertainment for them every day.
Her decision was made during a winter month and by early spring she had her list made for the cost of just a room or room and board. She had the price sheets printed up and she mailed to all that had been coming down for the summer. She also included on the list that reservations should be made early in order to have a room available for their arrival date on the coast.
The family story goes that about half of the relatives and friends which had always shown up did not reply nor did they appear in Biloxi that summer. It worked so well that Cora decided they should start a boarding house. The boarding house would not be for just the summer visitors but for year long guest.
Thus was the start of what was to become a very well known hotel and golf course,
The White House Hotel."
Let a Southern Breeze Welcome You Back Home
Shaded by venerable oaks while commanding a panoramic Gulf view, this Grande Dame once reigned as the crown jewel of the Mississippi coast. Now sadly deteriorated, the White House Hotel still speaks to passerby of a glamorous age. With the help of several federal and state financial incentives, plans are underway to save this treasured landmark.
A Celebrated Heyday
It was an unforgettable era. Along with fashionable flappers and Henry Ford's Model T, the decade of singular style known as "The Roaring Twenties" also launched a new travel boom across the entire country. In the Deep South, well-heeled tourists from as far away as Chicago flocked to a pristine stretch of sandy beaches along Mississippi's coast, which would became famous as the "Riviera of America." Their destination: a casually elegant hotel, shaded by magnificent live oaks and overlooking the shimmering Gulf of Mexico, simply called "The White House." Here, guests lingered on the White House Hotel's front porch to watch graceful wooden schooners catch the Gulf breeze in their sails. Spirited girls showed off golden tans - along with lots of leg - in the era's revolutionary, one-piece stretch bathing suits. While gentlemen, often wearing hats with their summer whites, honed their putts on the Hotel's immaculate grand front lawn.
Shaded by Seven Oaks
The White House Hotel’s name could easily have been inspired by her stately white façade and imposing Corinthian columns, which evoke images of a presidential mansion. However, the Hotel was actually named after popular long-time owner Walter A. White, a Mississippi lawyer who moved to the Gulf Coast in 1890 and would later be appointed as a Circuit Court Judge. Mr. White purchased the Hotel’s main property, originally the site of the successful Gorenflo Oyster Company, in the aftermath of a disastrous 1893 hurricane, which destroyed the oyster packing plant and left a three-rigged schooner wrecked on its shoreline. Salvaging thousands of discarded oyster shells to fill in the enormous lot’s swampy lowlands, White created a gently sloping knoll that would anchor his new Victorian residence on high ground while commanding a panoramic view of the Gulf. He also planted the seven live oak trees that continue to graciously shade the White House Hotel today.
Cora's Boarding House
After completing his new Biloxi waterfront home around 1895, Walter White could finally focus all his attentions on building his young law practice. To help make ends meet, his resourceful wife Cora began taking in boarders, mainly local schoolteachers. As White’s law practice grew, so did the number of tourists who were drawn to the invigorating beauty of Mississippi’s beaches. With visitors vying for the Coast’s few hotel rooms, Cora White saw a new opportunity...and by 1904 she had developed a steady clientele of summer guests. Mrs. White’s boarding business became so successful that she expanded by acquiring the Burke house next door. By 1910, one travel book was touting her establishment, now a row of seven Victorian residences, as “the leading hotel of Biloxi.” A year later, the savvy proprietress joined the first two homes together with a connecting building that became the grand front lobby and dining room, as well as a space for ballroom dancing, for the newly enlarged White House. She also added a generous front porch with classical pillars and a second floor balcony. Live music filled the downstairs rooms, and in July of 1915 the “Daily Herald” reported, “An orchestra of talented musicians from New Orleans has been secured for the White House.” With band members often decked out in summer linen suits, an orchestra played three sets a day for Hotel guests–beginning in the morning and ending after the dinner hour.
The Coast's Crown Jewel
By the booming tourism era of the 1920’s, Cora White’s charming Victorian boarding houses had collectively evolved into the crown jewel of Gulf Coast hotels. As fresh-cut flowers from the Hotel’s own hothouse graced the dining room tables, the White House chef could rely on "home raised vegetables and home raised, milk fed chickens," supplied by a farm and poultry yard located on the back of the Hotel grounds. Mrs. White’s promotional brochure also proudly noted, "All the milk furnished is from the White House herd of Jersey cows, whose maintenance is carefully supervised by the management." Sons Walter and John joined their mother in running the family business, and together they oversaw two significant expansions that would transform the White House Hotel from an eclectic row of Gulf-front residences into the grand white stucco structure that still endures today. Under the supervision of prominent architect George B. Rogers, who also designed Alabama’s famous Bellingrath Garden’s house, two large Spanish Colonial annexes were built in 1927 and 1929. These additions, which featured a private tiled bath for every guest room, now form the Center and East Wings of today’s imposing White House Hotel.
A Famous Fountain
One of the Hotel’s most notable landmarks was also created during the Roaring Twenties, inspired by Walter White’s tour of the General Electric plant up in Lynn, Massachusetts. There, the innovative general manager was captivated by a beautiful color fountain, featuring cascading sprays of water sparkling with rainbow hues projected by colored lights. Returning home with a set of the plans, White would immediately commission one of the country’s few fountains of color, building it right next to the popular White House dance pavilion that fronted the Hotel between the seawall and old Highway 90. To the delight of thousands of spectators who crowded Biloxi’s beachfront, the amazing fountain first sprayed its dancing columns of water, which were manually controlled to reach alternating heights up to 40 feet, on July 17, 1926 to coincide with the regular Saturday evening summer dance held at the White House Pavilion. The Hotel’s famous cascading color fountain became one of the Coast’s most beloved weekend attractions, and bathing beauties often posed for photographs by its immense stucco and granite rock base. Surrounded today by a new Highway 90's concrete median, the old fountain is now owned by the City of Biloxi.
Lured by the Gulf Waters
What drew the first French boats to drop anchor here over 300 years ago continued to lure visitors from across the country to the White House Hotel. And that was the balmy climate, and abundant waters, provided by the Gulf of Mexico. Sport fisherman came to chase the great Silver King, or tarpon, which could easily weigh in at over 100 pounds after furnishing a magnificent fight - often towing a boat for miles. A single morning’s catch of mackerel could yield dozens of fish strung in iridescent rows across the end of the White House pier. And the Hotel also arranged "spearing parties" to hunt for sweet flounders buried in the shallow, sandy shoals. With canvas sails billowing in the Gulf breeze, wooden-hulled schooners raced gracefully across the horizon. Soaking in "the most pleasing views imaginable," many Hotel guests simply rocked back and forth on Cora’s sweeping front porch… "Where the salt sea air renews the sagging nerves and jaded appetite and enables one to thoroughly enjoy every minute of their stay."
A New Guardian Named Love
With the White family’s unerring instinct for perfection, the Hotel continued to flourish as a refined center for the good life on the Gulf Coast. Local couples danced cheek-to-cheek on summer nights at the White House Pavilion; northern guests made annual Hotel pilgrimages to escape the icy winters. Following the 1934 death of legendary proprietress Cora White, the Hotel was finally sold in 1940 to a proud new owner who would cherish this Grand Lady on the Gulf for three more wonderful decades. While prominent Mississippi businessman Jimmie Love, Jr. already owned the area’s highly successful Buena Vista Hotel, and would later launch Biloxi’s first television station with WLOX-TV, his heart would always belong to the White House. Mr. Love guided his Grande Dame hotel through several facelifts, which included removing the second floor screened-in balcony so that her imposing white columns could soar without interruption. He added a gracefully curved, in-ground swimming pool, an aquamarine gem set high on the crest of her vast green lawn. And Love’s leadership would also bring a new type of corporate clientele to the White House, as he developed the Hotel into a top destination for the burgeoning convention market.
A Son’s Vision
After failing health forced him to retire, Mr. Love sold his beloved White House in 1971. It would mark the beginning of the end of the Hotel’s reign as queen of the Coast, as she passed through a rapid succession of financially-strapped owners. In March of 1988, her once gracious doors were finally nailed shut under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, sadly accompanied by a "For Sale" sign. With her stately Corinthian columns now cracked and fading, her lovely grounds choked with tall weeds, and her elegant guests replaced by only an occasional vandal or vagrant, the fate of the White House seemed uncertain in 1989 as the Hotel sat like a boarded-up ghost overlooking the Gulf. But miraculously, an old friend would surface that same year to rescue the Grand Lady. He had spent nearly every summer there as a boy, and had fallen in love with her just like his dad did. The son was determined to save this gracious landmark, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the glorious heritage that the White House Hotel had brought to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. In 1989, James S. Love, III would borrow $700,000 from the People's Bank to buy the deteriorating old hotel that his father, Jimmie Love, Jr., had sold almost twenty years earlier. Yet despite the son's vision for an approaching new millennium's extraordinary opportunities, it would literally take love to begin bringing the White House back to luxurious life.