This is the lobby of the historic King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson, Mississippi as it was before renovations began in the fall of 2006.
This is the same lobby in the fall of 2011, when I stayed there on a short road trip through central and northern Mississippi. It’s now operated as the Hilton Garden Inn Jackson Downtown, but everyone I talked to still calls it the King Edward.
When Marika Cackett from the Jackson CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) told me that the place had been an empty, blown-out mess for 40 years before restoration, with garbage all over the lobby where we sat visiting, I could not get my head around it. A huge thanks to people like local Jackson developer David Watkins who can look at a disaster area and see infinite possibilities, just as I found with the spectacular SteelStacks redevelopment project in Pennsylvania.
Cackett also mentioned that she’s heard of many older African-American couples who like to stay at the hotel, partly because they were not allowed to enjoy its hospitality during the days of segregation and Jim Crow.
Interestingly, the Mississippi Blues Trail historical marker out on the front sidewalk says that there used to be recording studios in the hotel: OKeh Records in 1930 and the American Record Corporation in 1935. Blues artists cutting records there included Bo Carter, Robert Wilkins, Joe McCoy, Isaiah Nettles and the Mississippi Sheiks.
Some poignant thoughts from the Preservation in Mississippi blog on the day after the hotel re-opened in 2009:
“As I walked down Capitol Street with friends, we saw other groups of people going in the same direction. As we got closer to the King Ed, the trickle became a stream, and past the Mayflower [cafe, still open today] the stream became a river of people. It was a wonderful feeling to be a part of a crowd on the sidewalk in downtown Jackson….One thing that struck me was the almost perfect balance between blacks and whites in the crowd, a hopeful sign for the city and for Mississippi, showing civic and business cooperation to bring this incredibly complex and difficult project to completion. This was not a “white” project or a “black” project. It was an Us project.”
Room rates were reasonable, WiFi was free, my room was super-comfy and more businesses and restaurants are springing up nearby, including the new Farish Street Entertainment District.
If you’re ever in Jackson, don’t stay in some suburban box hotel. Get yourself downtown to this gorgeous property.
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