You Only Live Twice

One of the goals I had when I started up this blog was to use it as a platform to republish some of the material from my former blog The Kohrman Report. That site was a record of the various places I photographed during my years at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. Most of these buildings were not in Detroit, but nonetheless they can be interesting. So in the spirit of that goal, and my desire to put up a story with a happy ending, I present, or re-present, the King Edward Hotel.

I don’t remember what I was googling back in the summer of 2005 that led me to a blurb about an abandoned hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. But after I learned of the building I couldn’t think about anything else for the rest of the day. Perhaps it was the mystery of the whole thing. Google the MCS and you will get thousands of hits. With this building all I could find was a brief news mention and a small photo from a couple of years earlier. There was absolutely nothing on the web that told me if the building still existed or not. Well, it just so happened that a long 4th of July weekend was coming up in a few days. I made a spur of the moment decision to make a road trip. Ah, the freedoms one has when they lack any sort of social life.

As I made my travel plans, which amounted to little more than finding an Econolodge, I was able to dig up a handful of historical facts. The hotel was built in 1923 as the Hotel Edwards, replacing an earlier hotel of the same name. The hotel closed in 1967 and had been abandoned ever since. Good lord. Back then when I was trying to conceptualize the length of abandonment for buildings that had been closed longer than I’ve been alive, I would associate their closing dates to whichever James Bond movie had come out that year. In this case it was You Only Live Twice. Suffice to say, the fact that this building closed when Sean Connery was still in the role blew my mind. By comparison most of the Detroit buildings, like the Statler or UA, closed in the Roger Moore era.

Fast forward five Bond actors, several hundred miles, and a couple of Waffle Houses, I pulled into Jackson in the middle of the night and immediately set out to find the building. I had no clue where I was going, what Jackson was like, or if the building was even still there. But, as the photos on this page suggest, I got lucky and it was easy to spot. Downtown Jackson is fairly nice for a mid-sized city. But the King Edward is on the extreme edge of it and in a rather run-down part of town.

This was essentially the MCS of Jackson. It stood out on its own, was wide open to the elements, and looked like a twelve-story tombstone. As hotels go, this was a strange one. The hotel proper anchored a complex that occupied an entire city block. Other structures included a 1953 addition with a rooftop pool, a 1920s parking garage, and a mechanical building that housed, among other things, the hotel’s laundry. I’ve never seen another arrangement like this. It is worth noting that the Fort Shelby had its own dedicated parking garage, but it wasn’t attached directly to the hotel.

My first stop was the roof, which offered nice views of Jackson and the massive rusted hotel signs. The U-shaped hotel room floors were all fairly identical. Walls were painted shades of blue, woodwork was painted white. It was obvious that air conditioning had been added as an afterthought and unsightly ducts were everywhere. The rooms themselves were pretty much empty and picked apart. Most rooms either had no windows or had windows that were collapsing inward. 

The most memorable thing about these floors was how one end of the hall ended in a dead space that was nearly large enough to be another hotel room. It was pretty much a huge waste of square footage. I wonder if they expected to build another wing of rooms at some point and that was the where the planned connection would be? At the very least they could have joined it with the nearest hotel room as a suite. How hard is it to design a U-shaped hotel? I mean it is pretty much the most common layout. It is funny the things one remembers.

The other strong memory I have of the guestroom floors is thinking what an abysmal place to stay the night it must have been. The hotel is directly across the street from Jackson’s still-active train station. The noise was terrible, and this was 2005 train traffic. Imagine the horrors of 1920’s train traffic, complete with filthy steam flowing! I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink. Sure, there was the advantage of convenience. There is a reason why so many hotels located near railroad stations. It is the same reason so many motels sprout up near the interstates. But it is also worth pointing out that the era’s best hotels were rarely near the trains. In that regard the King Edward was an oddball.

Things got more interesting once I descended down to the lower four levels. The 1953 addition mostly housed straight forward function rooms and other public spaces with fairly plain designs. The aforementioned rooftop pool however, likely an effort for the hotel to compete with motels, was more of a swamp than a pool. I’m not kidding; it had its own ecosystem. The water was a deep green and there were various aquatic creatures living in it. After forty years the King Edward could have been home to its own variety of frogs.

The public spaces from the original hotel were the real treat. They had more or less survived intact. The ballroom was the least recognizable only because it was the most deteriorated. It was a vast hall with a barrel vaulted ceiling that had a central skylight.  Because it hadn’t seen any maintenance since before the moon landing the skylight was nothing more than a giant hole through which nature could come and go in order to have its way with the interior.

The large ballroom foyer was considerably more intact. From this space it was possible to see just how beautiful the King Edward was in its prime. Another lovely space, a wood-paneled grill room, was tucked around the corner. But the highlight was the massive lobby on the ground floor. This space was huge. A forest of columns supported a two-story ceiling. The office, elevator bank, and grand staircase were shattered but still there. The room had been even grander. It once had an oval atrium opening up to the ballroom foyer above, which had been filled in probably in the 1950s. In the lobby photo above it is possible to see the outline of the original opening. The other unfortunate change was an escalator, which was horribly placed in the center of the lobby. Even so, it was still possible to see how grand the lobby once was.

After working my way through the rest of the ground floor, which was mostly storefronts and work spaces, I headed through the parking garage and back to the real world. I made a return trip to the hotel that December, inspired by news reports of possible demolition. But I promised that this story had a happy ending, and it does.

The good news is that the next time I find myself in Jackson, Mississippi I can stay at the King Edward. The building was saved from demolition and beautifully restored between 2007 and 2009. It is now operated as a Hilton Garden Inn. The restoration was very well done, with most of the original interiors restored. For example, the lobby’s atrium has been reopened and the ballroom rebuilt.

I guess the point of bringing up the swimming pool ecosystem, the missing skylights, and the general devastation brought on by forty years of neglect is that anything is possible. If the King Edward could come back, then so could any of Detroit’s skyscraper ruins. Sure, buildings with fates as the University Club may appear to be more common. But happy endings are not impossible.

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