City seeks interest in old Biloxi library

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich wants to turn an historic city-owned downtown building into an income-producing, job-creating showplace.

The city on Friday will advertise for proposals for the purchase, lease or lease purchase of a property referred to as the “Old Biloxi Library Building and Grounds,” at 124 and 122 Lameuse St.

The two-story building, which was constructed in 1924-25 to house the Biloxi Public Library and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is called “the finest example of the Spanish Colonial Revival in Biloxi” in “The Buildings of Biloxi: An Architectural Survey.” In fact, the library is one of the few remaining buildings designed by architect Carl Matthes (1896-1972), who also designed the old Biloxi City Hall, the Buena Vista and Tivoli hotels, Howard School No. 2, and the old Biloxi City Hospital.

“This is a piece of Biloxi history,” Gilich said. “At the same time, its highest and best use, considering its location and appeal, would be as a restaurant or some other use that would open it up to the public and private enterprise. The public ought to be able to appreciate the beauty and charm of this building, and at the same time it should be on the tax rolls and become part of our growing lineup of downtown restaurants.”

In fact, the library is at an intersection of Lameuse and Water streets, where three of the four corners have thriving restaurants: the Half Shell Oyster House, Adventures Bar and Grill and Fuji Restaurant. It’s a half block north of Sal & Mookie’s and a block north of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“I also think it’s prudent to see what kind of interest there is in this idea,” Gilich said. “This building is already a bonafide downtown attraction. It’s on our Downtown Walking Tour, but it’s an office building, and as such, not conducive to public visits. It would be great to open it up to the public, so everyone can appreciate its beauty and charm.”

The building was constructed by contractors Manuel and Wetzel in 1924-25. Said the “Buildings of Biloxi” book: “The main doorway with its twisted columns, embellished spandrels, full entablature, and cartouche, plus the highly decorated frieze panel over the side door, the curvilinear gables, and the gable window on the main facade all contribute to the richness of the design. The entrance stairway, with its twin flights, is especially grand.”

The building was constructed after the community outgrew the Creole Cottage, the state’s first lending library. It served as the public library until the mid-1970s, when a new library was constructed across from City Hall. That building, of course, was a victim of Katrina and gave way to the current library on Howard Avenue.

The Lameuse Street building currently houses nine administration employees, primarily the city’s Finance Division, which would move to other city facilities. Each occupies an office: five on the first floor and four on the second floor. In addition to the office spaces, the first floor includes a large open tiled foyer, a file room, a copy room, a large handicapped restroom and an elevator.  The second floor, lined with hardwood floors and an arch way supported by faux columns, includes a file room, conference room two single person restrooms, a small break room and a fire place.  Stairways are located outside the front and back of the building. Also, the building is lined with a parking lot with a surface of brick pavers.

Said Gilich: “With all of the historic buildings that we’ve lost in our city over the years, it’s especially important that the public be able to enjoy this old library and appreciate its charm. And, of course, whomever purchases it or leases it would have a true showplace and great part of the city’s past.”
See the Request for Proposals
Video: See background on the library
See background on architect Carl Matthes