Chapter 18-Biloxi, September 1923
Biloxi West End-7 September 1923
A stiff breeze blew in from the Gulf thick with salt and moisture. A flock of least terns flew overhead screeching. Below them, a group of people were gathered where the land met the water. Occasionally a lone bird would dive down in the hopes one of the group had any food for them. Despite the fact that none was offered the birds stayed witnessing the event.
The crowd of nearly fifty people gathered around a fresh pile of dirt with three shovels sticking out of it. To one side were a photographer and a reporter from the newspaper and on the other stood Webster, Diaz, Woods, Ladner, and Desporte. Three men walked up to the shovels and with a flourish and showmanship for the photographer proceeded to dig a shovel of dirt and throw it to one side to a round of applause from the crowd.
The perseverance of the birds was rewarded as the crowd headed to the catering tent nearby with two of the dignitaries while the third walked over to where Desporte and the others stood.
“Ernest, glad you could make it,” said the man.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world Colonel. Allow me to introduce you to my friends, this is Colonel John W. Apperson. Currently he owns the Riviera Hotel and has just broken ground on. . .” Desporte trailed off looking at Apperson.
“The Buena Vista. Beautiful View in Spanish,” offered Apperson.
“Ah, the Buena Vista, soon to be the newest resort hotel on the Biloxi beach. Colonel, my associates, Clarence Webster, Captain Woods, Luis Diaz, and Eugene Ladner,” continued Desporte.
“Any friend of Ernest’s is a friend of mine. And it’s J.W. to my friends,” Apperson said as he shook each man’s hands.
“So what’s it going to look like then, J.W.?” asked Webster.
Apperson moved to the side of the group to wave his hands and paint a visual picture for them, “A Spanish Colonial Revival building containing 105 rooms overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Carl Matthes designed it to be a modern updating of the classic look. It will be a true marvel and a destination worthy of the title resort.”
Woods looked over his shoulder admiring the imagined building, “Aye, but who’s going to build it?”
Apperson laughed, “Underwood Construction out of New Orleans. They should be here in the morning to get it started. But this isn’t the only one we’re working on is it Ernest?”
Desporte looked at the group, “No, we’re still working out the details on that one. In negotiations on purchasing the rights to Dog Island now. That hotel resort will be just outside the 12 mile limit. Gambling and alcohol will be allowed. Maybe not offered, but allowed.”
“Well, the gambling is a shoe-in,” added Apperson. “It’s the booze that’s questionable. I think gambling will be a huge boon to the tourism industry here on the Coast.”
A second dignitary from the event was walking up to the group, “Colonel, they want you at the cake for another picture,” he said.
“Will you gentlemen excuse me?” Apperson asked as he bowed slightly and walked towards the tent.
“Mayor,” said Webster, “I think you know Erenest and the Captain here, but I’ll introduce you to Eugene Ladner. He’s been my right hand man for some time but he’s leaving soon for a new career. Eugene, Mayor John Kennedy.”
Ladner offered his hand, “Mayor, very nice to meet you.”
“It’s good to see all of you,” the Mayor said, “But I do apologize. I must get back as well. Very nice to meet you Eugene.” He tipped his hat and headed toward the tent as the third dignitary made his way over.
“Dad, I’m glad you could come. And the rest of you, too. It isn’t every day that the future jewel of the city starts construction.” Senator John Webster said.
Woods looked down the beach, “What else do you have in store, Senator?”
The Senator stepped to the side and looked in the same direction as Woods, “Funny you would mention it, but I have been pushing for a big civil works project for the Corps of Engineers to work on. Just got approved last month and will be under design soon. A seawall that stretches from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis.”
“Seawall? That has to be 25 miles if it’s a foot,” said Desporte. “How long will that take to build?”
“Let’s put it this way, Eugene’ll be out of school by then. Probably four years at least,” said the Senator.
Desporte slapped Ladner on the back as the boy smiled and hung his head embarrassed by the attention. “When do you leave?”
“The Senator and I will be traveling together after the ceremony. He’ll stay in Washington and I’ll continue on to Annapolis.,” said Ladner. The men congratulated Ladner again on his appointment to the Naval Academy as the birds swooped by.
“Look,” started the Senator, “I know y’all have a lot invested in turning things around here. But from my perspective it was the best thing that could happen.”
Desporte cleared his throat, “My family’s been working hard to keep their vision the only vision for Biloxi for a long time. But it’s too much a gem to only allow one facet to shine. It was time for a change. A non-violent change.”
“Yes, well violent changes are seldom enduring as it relates to history so let’s hope this one sticks,” said Woods.
The group wandered over to the tent with the rest of the crowd. The birds continued to swoop down for any food that his the ground, and the breeze continued to blow. The hustle and bustle of life in the city, and especially on the docks, continued but further west the sun was setting on the horizon and a warm red glow spread across the entire sky.
Vashon Island-October 1929
Newly promoted Lieutenant Junior Grade Ladner exited the car and walked towards the porch. The ferry ride from Ballard had been without incident but had earned him many stares from locals. The roads on Vashon Island were not used by many cars and none were yet paved. As if a car were not out of the ordinary enough, here was a uniformed member of the navy traveling well off the beaten path. But Ladner was used to stares now.
“I should have known,” said Lander looking at the lady sitting on the porch. “When I saw it on the map I just had to check it out and now it makes sense. How have you been Missus Cuevas?”
Jenny Cuevas stood up from her rocking chair, “The face looks familiar, but my memory’s going slowly. Do we know each other?” she asked.
“Eugene Ladner, I helped bring your husband back from rum-running back in 22,” he explained.
She held a hand to her heart, “Oh yes, Captain Woods’s friends, how could I forget? Come up and sit a spell. I’ll go fetch us some tea.”
Ladner walked up the porch steps, “Thank you, but I don’t have much time. I saw Biloxi on the map and had to check it out. Is Captain Cuevas around?”
“He’s around, but you won’t get much out of him. He passed away last year and I buried him in the yard out back. He couldn’t stand being away from his beloved. We moved here and named the house Biloxi. When they put in streets they transferred the name and before you know it there it was on the map,” explained Cuevas.
Ladner looked around, the crisp, cool air of the Northwest made the ever present drizzling rain feel worse. “You did pick a nice place here. My only complaint about it is that it’s too far north. I think the Puget Sound would be the perfect place to live if it were closer to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Cuevas laughed, “Ray said something similar just before he passed. Are you sure you won’t have a glass of tea?”
“Oh, no ma’am. It took longer to get here than I thought it would and I have to get back. We ship out tomorrow. I’m not sure what the future holds but I had to see the other Biloxi.” Ladner tipped his hat and got back into the car. The morning sunrise had been covered in clouds and been quite red but things still looked good in his mind.