City receives approval for Lighthouse restoration

The City of Biloxi today received verbal approval to move forward on restoring its signature landmark, the Biloxi Lighthouse.

Bill Raymond, the city’s Histioric Administrator and planner, said construction on the project – which has a FEMA-estimated budget of $72,000 — could begin as soon as May and is expected to take 180 days once construction begins.

Bids from contractors are due April 15.

Raymond had previously received approvals from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and FEMA, and today received verbal approval from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re expecting the written confirmation Wednesday or Thursday,” Raymond said, “and we felt confident that the approval was forthcoming so we’d already decided to move forward with the advertising to attract bids from contractors.”

The project is significant because the storm-ravaged Biloxi Lighthouse, which was erected in 1848, has come to symbolize the city’s resilience, standing tall amid the debris in the days after Katrina. Today, the flag-draped lighthouse remains one of the most-photographed icons in the city.

The Biloxi lighthouse, which stands in the center median of Beach Boulevard, is reportedly the first cast iron lighthouse to be erected in the South. The light was civilian-operated from 1848 to 1939, and is notable for its several female lightkeepers, including Maria Younghans, who tended the light for 53 years. In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the light’s operation. After being declared surplus property in 1968, the Biloxi Lighthouse was deeded to the city.

The very history of the Lighthouse has added time to the restoration project.

“Anytime you’re undertaking a restoration project on an historic landmark – and we’re working on several of them besides the Lighthouse – you have a detailed process to go through, with FEMA, MEMA and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History,” said Mayor A.J. Holloway. “I don’t like the amount of time it takes, but we’re making sure to do it right, not right now.”

Besides the Biloxi Lighthouse, the city is working its way through necessary federal and state approvals on the restoration of such historic sites as the Visitors Center north of the lighthouse; the Magnolia Hotel, which had formerly housed the Mardi Gras Museum; the Old Brick House on Back Bay, believed to be one of the oldest structures in the city; and the White House fountain, a 1920s-era fountain that the city hopes to restore to its original grandeur in the center median of Beach Boulevard near White Avenue.

“The approval for these historic projects requires extra layers of time-consuming and costly approvals,” Holloway said, “but in an historic city like Biloxi it’s important to restore these landmarks and to do it accurately. These landmarks speak to our sense of place. They are some of the things that make Biloxi different from any other city in the country. They say who we were and who we are.”

More on the Biloxi Lighthouse

Photos through time: To see photographs of the Biloxi Lighthouse through the years – including images of the lighthouse in 1909, after the storm of 1919, in the 1930s, and as it appeared pre- and post-Katrina – click here.

Poetic license: Last year, the Mississippi license plate that features the Biloxi Lighthouse was named the Best Plate of 2007 in the U.S. and Canada by the 4,000-member Automobile License Plate Collector’s Association. To see the license plate and read background on how the Lighthouse plate came to be, click here.

Stamp of approval: The U.S. Postal Service announced earlier this year the Biloxi Lighthouse will be one of five lighthouses featured in a series this summer about the lighthouses of hurricane alley. To read more about the project and to see the other lighthouses, click here.