February 4, 2021

Demolition Begins at the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel

Demolition is underway at the midcentury Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the places included in the 2020 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Sun-n-Sand was a fixture of downtown Jackson from its opening in 1960 until it was shuttered in 2001. Despite the dedicated efforts over many years of the Mississippi Heritage Trust and other advocates across the state and country, the building will be torn down to create a surface parking lot for state employees.

The iconic sign and the commercial portion of the hotel will be retained and used as meeting or retail space, but this partial salvage is not a preservation victory—the hotel rooms that defined the building’s use will be lost, irrevocably changing the character of this historic place.

Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel

photo by: Lolly Rash/Mississippi Heritage Trust

View of the iconic sign and hotel rooms of the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel.

The Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel exemplified mid-century modern design with features such as metal screens, large plate windows, and its distinctive Googie-style sign. For forty years of operation, it served as the home away from home for Mississippi legislators, many of whom stayed at the Sun-n-Sand while the legislature was in session. The Sun-n-Sand was also a gathering place for civil rights activists—most notably the multi-racial, women-led initiative “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” which built relationships between Northern and Southern women to work toward racial justice. The Sun-n-Sand’s place in Mississippi history is reinforced through its appearance in literary works based in the state, including Willie Morris’s My Cat Spit McGee and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

Following the closure of the hotel in 2001, the State of Mississippi entered into a contract with the former owner to lease the site for parking for state employees. After several years of vacancy, the Mississippi Heritage Trust named the Sun-n-Sand to its list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi in 2005. In 2019, the state acquired the property and announced its intention to demolish the building to create surface parking. After receiving dozens of letters and a petition with over 2,600 signatures, in January 2020 the Mississippi Department of Archives and History designated the Sun-n-Sand as a Mississippi Landmark, the highest recognition of historical significance in the state. Nonetheless, it authorized the state to proceed with demolition.

The demolition of the Sun-n-Sand is a loss of economic opportunity for Mississippi. Across the country, mid-century hotels like the Sun-n-Sand have been successfully rehabilitated to restore their distinctive architecture and put them back into active, revenue-generating uses. Former hotels are well-suited to be redeveloped for hospitality or residential purposes. Several developers expressed an interest in doing the same for the Sun-n-Sand. By demolishing the majority of the building, the state is losing the opportunity to recoup a purchase price of approximately $1 million and put the building back into a use that would generate tax revenue.

Mississippi Heritage Trust Director Lolly Rash writes, “We have now lost an opportunity to repurpose a stylish, solid building that could have been used to tell our story as Mississippians and create economic opportunity for Jackson. Let us use this loss as an opportunity for everyone in this state to recommit to our Capital City. To the thousands of people who showed up for the fight to save the Sun-n-Sand, thank you. While we lost this one, our network of friends who care about historic buildings and the stories they have to tell is stronger for the next fight.”

Rassawek

photo by: Greg Werkheiser

View along the James River on land that was home to Rasswek.

The Sun-n-Sand sadly joins only a small handful of places included on 11 Most lists that have been lost. For other places included in the 2020 list, however, the future is looking brighter.

  • In Columbia, Virginia, the James River Water Authority will more closely study a potential alternative site for a project that currently is slated to be built on land that was home to Rassawek, the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. The authority board voted to allow a consultant to move forward with an archaeological survey of a potential alternative site for the project.

  • In Excelsior Springs, Missouri, the City of Excelsior Springs is now working on developing an RFP for the Hall of Waters and has solidified that, as their community strives to become the largest Midwest spa, this building is ideally suited to contribute to that game plan. They have also heard from potential investors.
  • In Berkeley, California, the 11 Most listing has raised the profile of the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site. Corrina Gould, leader of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan and our partner on the 11 Most listing, was invited to brief Berkeley City Council about Ohlone history for Indigenous People's Day and shared a new animated video of a concept for the Shellmound and memorial park.

  • In Chicago, the National Trust is working with Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ to facilitate a pro bono structural engineering assessment of the building. This assessment will be used to inform the congregation of steps needs to correct and repair structural issues as well as estimated costs.

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Kendra Parzen is a field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

See the List