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Repeat Photography of Postcards from:

1920 's - 1970's of Edgewater Park,

Biloxi, Mississippi

Repeat photography is the process of taking the same picture as that of one taken at an earlier point in time.  The new photograph must adhere as precisely as possible to the original image.  The scope of the image must remain the same as the original image.  That is one must limit the image to covering only the area that was included in the original.  This scope may be very limited and not representative of the area as a whole.  While that is a weakness of the process, in that we may want to include more area than the original, we must respect voice of the photograph as it was taken.  The first photographer mentally edited the subject of the image before taking the photograph.  That selection of what to include, and conversely, what to exclude was the choice of the photographer.  Our research and analysis of the image must restrict the new image to the extent that was covered in the original as that is the only narrative of the photograph.

 

The original photographer may have chosen to exclude power lines, signs, people, or an infinite number of subjects.  This editing process may be for aesthetic reasons, personal preference, or perhaps a desire to focus on a specific subject.  Others may be oblivious to these extraneous features, and simply take a photograph of the subject.  In the case of a photograph taken of a parade, for instance, an image may contain information important to a researcher -- that was not what the original photographer intended to capture.  The image may contain telltale clues of when or where an photograph was taken.  Automobiles change styles frequently and are excellent clues to the era of an image.  Telegraph lines, steam locomotives, peoples attire, are also excellent bits of information.  We can analyze the images, seeking to extract details that describe the social and historical context of the image.

 

The photograph can be read just as text can be read.  The photograph contains information about the cultural and historical context about the world as the photographer saw it (Close, 2005).  Susan Close refers to this "visual text" as a "coded sign constructed by the photographer" (2005).  The signs are the clues about the cultural information contained within the photograph.  The subject, or focus, of the image conveys a story of what was important or significant to the photographer.

 

Commercial photography seeks to profit from portraits, natural scenes, and other subjects they view as marketable.  Postcards are mass produced versions of commercial photographs.  The story they tell is not only contained in the image, but in some cases, in the written text as well.  A brief description may be provided by the producer of the postcard that could include information about where the image was taken.  It may also include some historical information or a longer description.  The sender of the postcard may have included a message to the recipient of the postcard.  This message may be an innocuous note such as "hi from Biloxi".  The message may be a fascinating clue about the sender or receiver of the postcard.

 

I will use the repeat photography analysis method to examine six postcards.  The postcards, one from each decade, from the 1920's through the 1970's, are of Biloxi, Mississippi.  The historic postcards were retrieved from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History's online digital archives.  The Randazzo Collection contains thousands of postcards from approximately 1900 to the 1970's.  A search option is provided to narrow the results to a manageable quantity.

The subject of the decadal analysis will be the Edgewater Gulf Hotel (see figure 1).  The story of this Biloxi landmark begins in 1885 when John Cochran purchases land 7 miles north of Chicago, to build the Edgewater Subdivision (Pekar, et al, 2013).  In 1916 The Edgewater Beach Hotel opened on  Lake Michigan, in the Edgewater Subdivision (Pekar, et al, 2013).  Ten years later, the same developers opened a similarly named hotel, The Edgewater Gulf Hotel, near Biloxi, Mississippi (Pekar, et al, 2013).  The hotel encompassed 600 acres in between Biloxi and Gulfport, that included an 18 hole golf course, horse stables and bridle paths,  pier, residential neighborhood, and train depot (Miller, 2002).  The neighborhood and passenger depot were called Edgewater Park.  Edgewater Park was listed on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad map and timetable as an official stop (L&N, 1958).  The name persists today, and USGS topographical maps show the neighborhood on current maps (USGS, 2015).

 

The Edgewater Hotel was built to cater to wealthy Chicagoans that could take a direct train from Chicago to Edgewater Park ( Boudreaux, 2013).  The tourists could walk from the train station to the hotel, which faced north towards the station.  They would pass an miniature golf course, horseshoe court, and riding stables, before arriving at an azalea lined courtyard.  On the east side of the hotel was a residential neighborhood whose street namesakes were also from Illinois.  Bryn Mawr Avenue, Kenmore Avenue, Wilson Avenue, and Balmoral Avenue are streets in Illinois.  Connery Circle comes from one of the founding shareholders, John Connery.  Marshall Road's namesake was Benjamin Marshall, the architect of the hotel.   

 

Edgewater Mall opened on the west side of the hotel property in 1963 (WLOX, 2013).  The mall opening began the slow demise of the hotel.  Both hotels, the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, and the Edgewater Gulf Hotel were demolished in 1971 (Blommaert, n.d.).  The Edgewater Gulf Hotel was a five star resort in its day and elevated the stature of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1926.  The extravagance of the hotel and the grounds left an imprint that is still visible on the landscape today. The streets, street names and the homes that line them are the same.   The back nine holes of the golf course are still open green space, the front nine holes are now shops, offices, and residential homes.  The bridle paths have been replaced by a subdivision, River Place.

 

The photograph from the 1920's depicts a group of horseback riders on one the hotels bridle paths (see image pair 1).  The riders, 3 boys, 2 men, and 2 women appear to be a family grouped together with the exception of the older man on the far right.  The older man is much farther from the others as if he is a guide not wanting to be in the photograph.  All of the riders are dressed in rather formal attire for horse riding, presumably because they are staying at an upscale resort where formal attire would be expected.  The trees are live oaks and water oaks draped in Spanish moss.  In the 2018 image, the area is now the River Place subdivision.  The character of the area still feels shaded with dense trees and Spanish moss while the homes are distinctly different.

 

The 1930's image features a parking garage that can accommodate 75 cars (see image pair 2).  It is important to understand that automobiles were still relatively new in the 1930's and the notion of providing a garage for them was a new concept.  Directly behind the garage is the riding stable, to the right is the miniature golf and horse-shoe area -- placed along the path leading from the train station to the hotel.  Marketing tactics at work in the 1930's.  The awning for the train station is barely visible in the background and is no longer extant.  It is a shame the station didn't survive as urban light rail is making a resurgence today.  Beyond the station lies the 18-hole golf course and bridle paths.  The modern image reveals that the mall and its parking has grown to encompass all of the area in the earlier image.

 

In the 1940's image the golf course clubhouse is visible just beyond the 9th green (see image pair 4).  The building is plain and unembellished in opposition to what would be expected for a luxury resort.  The one decoration on the building is the cupola on the roof.  The green is elevated approximately 0.75m and is still present today.  The golf course is now occupied by retail shops, restaurants, day care centers, homes, apartments, and offices.  One of the fairways on Pass Road is still visible as open green space.

 

The 1950's image captured the hotel at the center of this development (see image pair 5).  The imposing structure featured a central tower crowned with the American flag.  Live oak trees were prominent, as well as flower gardens.  Visible at the front of the hotel are the tennis courts.  The contemporary photograph shows that a Sears Automotive service facility now occupies the front lawn of the hotel.  Edgewater Mall can be seen in the background.  The hotel was demolished by implosion in 1971 to make way for Sears (Boudreaux, 2013).

 

Image pair 5 captured the 9th hole green looking south towards the hotel and its tower. A group of older men are playing golf on a sunny day in the image.  One of the men is seated in an electric golf cart which would have been an extravagance in the 1960's. This is unlike today where riding in golf carts is the norm.  The green elevation is clearly visible on the landscape but the sand traps have been filled in and paved over.  Many of the trees have been replaced by buildings and parking lots.

 

The final image encapsulated the front of the mall with its numerous pine trees (see image pair 6).  The building in the foreground is the Plaza Restaurant.  Gayfers Department Store is visible behind the Plaza.  The mall has altered the resort style green space and replaced it with expansive parking lots and large retail stores.  The pine trees are long gone, but two live oaks survive and are visible in the modern image.  The restaurant building has been torn down in favor of an interior food court.

 

The hotel and golf course are gone, and have been for decades, yet the area is vibrant and busy.  The automobile has changed how people move around and that has changed how we use this space as much as it has changed how our culture has changed.  Yet the space is still a micro-city containing many essentials to a city.  Beyond the mall lies homes, coffee shops, gas stations, a grocery store, and soon a movie theatre.  The one item most lacking in the use of this space is a light rail or train service.  The railroad is currently used exclusively for freight trains and a passenger train or tram would add greatly to the livability of the area.  It would also restore what was there in 1926.

Bibliography

Bal, M. Crewe, J. V., & Spitzer, L. (1999). Acts of Memory : Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

 

Blommaert, L. (n.d.).  Edgewater Beach Hotel, Apartments, and Edgewater Gulf Hotel Key Dates. Retrieved from:  http://www.edgewaterhistory.org/ehs/local/edgewater-beach-hotel-and-apartments-key-dates.

 

Boudreaux, E. (2013).  The Edgewater Gulf Hotel.  The Biloxi D'Iberville Press.

 

Close, S. (2005).  Framing identity : social practices of photography in Canada (1880-1920).  Amsterdam: ASCA publication series.  Retrieved from:  http://hdl.handle.net/11245/1.243568.

 

L&N, (1958).  Passenger Train Timetables.  Louisville and Nashville Railroad.  Retrieved from:  http://www.lnrr.org/Magazine/Ln_passenger_timetable.pdf.

 

Miller, S. (2002).  Lost Landmarks of Mississippi.  Jackson, MS:   University Press of Mississippi.

 

Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  (n.d.).  Randazzo (Randy) Collection:  Series II Postcards.  Retrieved from:  http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/series/randazzo.

 

Pekar, G., Gemperle, K., & Blommaert, L. (2013).  Timeline, A Brief History of the Development of Edgewater: Decade by Decade.  Edgewater Historical Society.  Retrieved from:  http://www.edgewaterhistory.org/ehs/local/development-timeline.

 

USGS, (2015).  Biloxi Quadrangle 7.5 Minute Series.  Map.  1:24000. Retrieved from: https://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/index.html.

 

WLOX, Staff writer. (2013).  Edgewater Mall's 50th Birthday Brings Hope For Many More. Retrieved from:  http://www.wlox.com/story/23492891/edgewater-mall-celebrates-its-50th-birthday.

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