Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Edgewater Mall

Biloxi, Mississippi - circa 1960s

Bird's eye view of Edgewater Mall (originally known as Edgewater Plaza), and the Edgewater Beach Hotel just to its right, sitting along the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is up the coast to the West.

I really enjoyed the following informative Edgewater Mall comments by MOA reader, David, a while back, so thought they deserved to be shared in this entry:
Edgewater Mall opened in 1963, a development of the Holcomb Company of Biloxi. It was sold many years later to what was then ANREM (American National Real Estate Management), a division of an insurance company.

When the mall opened, Gayfer's (opening their third suburban location from their headquarters in Mobile, Alabama) and Godchaux's (a very rich apparel store from New Orleans) were among the merchants, along with a Walgreens that had a terrific lunch counter/restaurant.

The complex was originally called "Edgewater Plaza Shopping City" named for its location both on the beach and in close proximity to the famous Edgewater Park Hotel. Newberry's opened in the North end of the mall in the late 1960s.

The mall was expanded in 1972-1973 with the demolition of the Edgewater Park Hotel. Sears moved from downtown Gulfport to anchor this addition, along with a Jackson store called Waldoff's, which wasn't open for that long. So, at it's peak, Edgewater boasted five anchors: Gayfer's, Newberry's, Godchaux's, Waldoff's, and Sears.

The mall has been renovated a few times over the years, but Gayfer's was the lone holdout, never changing the outward appearance of the store from its 1963 opening. Even the annex of the former William Tally House restaurant-Sherwin Williams store in 1987 was finished with the exact same old exterior.

Gayfer's, as it has been noted before, was purchased by Dillard's in 1998, right along the same time that McRae's came to the mall. Godchaux's went under during the early 1990s, and the space was taken over by a food court. Waldoff's simply went away. JCPenney took the Newberry's space in 1978 (I remember the closing day there), and annexed the grocery store space next to them a few years ago. Sears finally added a second floor to their store.

When speaking with Dillard executives, I asked them what would become of the original Gayfer's store. "The damage is unreal," I was told. I'm hoping that Dillard's will bulldoze the original structure and build a new store. Both Biloxi and the mall could use it.
Mall history: 1963 - present
Developer: Holcomb Company
Current website: here
Current aerial view
Previous entries: 1, 2, 3


Blogger BIGMallrat said...

This looks like the most shortsided place to build a mall. On the beach in a hurricane zone. Were they surprised that Katrina damaged it to the extent it was? The current aerial view compared to the postcard looks like it started a massive deforestation effort, too. All pretty sad.

Tue Nov 07, 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

Biloxi is one of those towns that literally stretch along the beach, hence it's no surprise that the mall, like everything else, was built there. In fact, I can't recall anything in Biloxi that wasn't within spitting distance of the Gulf.

Plus, they got off lightly with regards to direct hurricane hits. Camilla hit sometimes in the 1950s, i.e. before Edgewater Plaza was built (must have been a bad one - they were still talking about it twenty years later). Then came one in the 1990s (Ivan?) and finally Katrina in 2005. Which pretty much bulldozed the Gulf Coast I knew and loved.

I lived in Biloxi in 1978, and I don't remember Newberry's, just J.C. Penney. I do recall that there was construction work going on at the mall at that time, though. The name Godchaux's doesn't ring a bell, either, probably because it wasn't particularly interesting to a five-year-old. I do remember Gayfer's, though I always preferred Sears, they had better toys. I still have a talking Big Bird bought there, though I broke the voice mechanism long ago.

The arrival of Santa at this mall in November 1978 killed my belief in Santa for good, by the way. Because Santa rode up in a tank (borrowed from the nearby military base most likely) decorated with cardboard reindeer. And I saw that and thought, "Okay, that's just wrong. No way would the real Santa ever ride a tank, cause tanks are bed." (There was a big campaign against military toys in Germany in the 1970s). Then I decided to "test" Santa by telling him my Christmas wish in German, figuring that the real Santa would understand me and I would get my wish anyway. God only knows what the poor Santa thought of a kid talking to him in a language he didn't understand. Anyway, I never got the doll I wanted and hence decided that Santa didn't exist.

By the way, does anyone know what the grocery store next to Edgewater Plaza was called? Neither I nor my parents remember, even though we went there all the time.

Thu Nov 09, 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Our Santa came parachuting into the mall, which pretty much killed it for me, too.

Thu Nov 09, 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

A parachuting Santa - that is pretty freaky, too.

As an adult, I can appreciate that the soldiers at Biloxi base were trying to do something nice for the local kids (though I still wonder where they got the tank from, considering it's a Navy base). But the whole experience was still so freaky, particularly in that very pacifist 1970s mindset, that you have to wonder what they were thinking.

Edgewater Plaza had a great haunted house with real life actors at Halloween, though. They also had a sort of traveling wax museum exhibit some time. My Mom even took photos of the wax works, but the quality is so bad (damn those early Polaroid cameras) that even Photoshop can't do much about it.

Thu Nov 09, 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Camille hit in 1969 -- not in the 1950s, as Cora stated -- when the mall was six years old. Even that storm didn't damage the center as bad as Katrina did.

Thanks, Keith, for publishing this!

Fri Nov 10, 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Ed said...


If you happen to read this I believe that the grocery was called Jitney-Jungle. My father was an electrician on the mall when it was built in the early 60's. When the grocery opened we went to the grand opening and they had all sorts of give-aways. My mom won about 10 silver dollars, which I still have.

The mall had several other shops which we loved to frequent as kids. One was a pet shop, named Du-Says, which had a talking myna bird named Joe. It was always fun to go in there and talk to Joe. Another shop was called Hobbyville. It had all sorts of models, trains, dolls, etc. I bought many Matchbox cars in that store.

I believe that Newberry's was actually opened earlier in the 60's than is related here because I know that my dad worked on it then. They also had a great lunchette where we used to eat quite a bit. They also had a very nice toy area when Christmas came around.

Godchaux's was considered to be too upscale for my family and I don't remember ever buying anything there.

They had a good record store, Newsom's, and a good book store that I can remember the name of.

They had a very good high-end men's apparel store, Gene Warr's, a musical instruments store called Werleins, a camera store called Gulffoto, and a photographic studio named Broome's Studio (who's daughter I was in school with).

I have many fond memories of that mall. We would spend many Friday evenings or Saturday mornings there.

Mon Jul 16, 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in texas but was raised in gulfport every summer with my grandma Lucy Bates yarbrough.I remember going to edgewater and shopping in Godchaux's.I raised my daughters at summer time with uncle Buddy Robinson my girls also got to shop edgewater.All my baby pics. are in the gulf from Camille,Granny lived at sand beach in moblie home park.It was where wet willy's(what fun) was. God how I miss gulfport and my family and friends,Mike Dupree, Hot rod(ottis), Robert myers every one.

Thu Dec 27, 12:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The grocery store was originally called "Food Center". It became a Jitney Jungle in the very late 70's. I grew up in Edgewater Estates which was across the tracks and just north of pass road. I frequented the mall throughout childhood and my teens. I grew up going to Orange Julius, Aladdin's Castle arcade, Karmelcorn (the Middleton family had that), and remember very well both the restaurant at Newberry's and the lunch counter and booths in Walgreens which remained until the early 90's. I was dragged by my mother to virtually every anchor store in the mall and still remember the strange smell that Godchaux's had. I also have very vivid memories of the fountains that people tossed coins into. I also remember both the fudge at Gayfer's as well as the Copper Kettle Rstaurant on its second floor. They had the best milkshakes ever, as well a fantastic hamburger.

Tue Jun 25, 03:28:00 AM  
Blogger James Craig said...

I heard that a cemetery used to be in the area and was relocated. Can anyone tell me if this is true and if so, where where the plots moved to. Also, is there any records of who was moved.

Sun Apr 20, 05:25:00 PM  
OpenID Wendy said...

I am seeking information about my godfather that was a local business owner on the mall. First w a pet store n then a candle store w his life partner lynne. I know my Un le Tom died around 1976 or so I was told. I adored him as he and lynn were my godfathrs. My parents are of no help to me now n a family fire destroyed any documentation. If anyone has info for me I would b so grateful. I loved this man n have waited a lo.g. time to search. He was very close to my family in around 1972???? While we were stationed at Keesler. Please respond n thank u

Fri Oct 31, 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Cheryl Dimitry said...

There was a candle store there I loved as a child called Wick's & Sticks. Does this help?

Sat Jan 16, 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger CADWALLATER said...

Used to shop there once in a while, bought my sister a birthday present there, back in the 60's when I was stationed at Keesler as a young airman. Walked the grounds of the old Edgewater hotel adjacent to the Mall on a balmy evening with a date, listening to the waves lapping against the beach, with a bright moon over the bay. In the pre-casino days, when the place was loaded with charm. Came back in the late 60's to observe the devastation wrought by Hurricane Camille, and then in the 70's, with a camera to record the felling of the old Edgewater Hotel, with several well placed dynamite charges. It took several tries; the old lady didn't give up easily. Better times, by an objective standard. Should have left it alone, as a tourist attraction, with its quiet beaches, and old ante-bellum home.

Mon Sep 12, 02:54:00 AM  

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