The White House Hotel
In the 1890’s, Walter and Cora White’s beautiful Biloxi home provided a cool refuge from the blistering summer heat. Walter spent most days establishing his Gulf Coast law practice and later serving as circuit court judge. Cora cooked, cleaned, and entertained friends and relatives throughout several seasons before deciding to formally transition the home to a year round boarding house. Hence was the inception of the White House Hotel.
As American wealth grew in the roaring 1920’s, people’s travel appetite also began to grow. “America’s Riviera” of sandy beaches along Mississippi’s historic Gulf Coast was the perfect destination for guests traveling from as far away as Chicago. Summer swimwear and elegant evening attire decorated visitors from all walks of life. Walter White had no idea the house he completed in 1895 would turn into such a sensational vacation destination. Most of that credit belongs to his wife, Cora. Cora started by accepting local schoolteachers as boarders, and by 1904 she had enough summer guests that she bought the Burke residence next door. By 1910, the Whites had seven Victorian houses; this group of exquisite homes earned billing as “The Leading Hotel in Biloxi.” Cora then decided to connect the first two homes together with an opulent lobby, dining room, and dance floor. By 1915, classic pillars complimented a substantial porch outside while professional musicians from New Orleans performed three sets a day inside. Fresh cuts flowers accented the dinner tables as the Whites served fresh milk, produce, and meat from their own grounds. Walter and Cora’s sons, Walter and John, assisted their mother in managing the family business. They oversaw the Spanish Colonial annex additions of 1927 and 1929 that articulate the center and east wings of the current hotel. Around this same time, Walter White commissioned the construction of the famous cascading color fountain after seeing a similar one at the General Electric plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. Now encompassed by a concrete median, this landmark is owned by the City of Biloxi today.
Cora White passed away in 1934 and the hotel was sold to Jimmy Love, Jr. in 1940. Love, who owned the successful Buena Vista Hotel and later launched Biloxi’s first TV station, WLOX, renovated the grand hotel several times, adding an elegant swimming pool, and started hosting affluent conventions on the property. Love fell ill in 1971 and sold The White House Hotel. It changed hands a few times, losing luster with each sale until finally became bankrupt and boarded up in 1988. Love’s heir, James S. Love III, secured a sizable loan to renovate his father’s then dilapidated labor of love in 1989, but these renovations did not start for 10 years. Economic factors from the September 11th terror attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the great recession of 2008 once again defeated restoration efforts until 2013. The property was sold to a Mississippi developer, renovations were completed, and the hotel reopened in August of 2014.
Today, clean lines, modern furniture, and plush amenities have erased any trace of that brief, dark period within the guest rooms. The monumental facade, majestic rooftop lounge, and shimmering shoreline seascape still deliver Cora’s timeless natural touches of the past. The gourmet comforts of “Cora’s Restaurant and Bar” celebrate her spirit in the dining room with each sip of fine wine, portion of Angus beef, and morsel of fresh Gulf Coast seafood. It is hard to determine whether Cora White’s spirit finally resurrected this grand hotel or if she just took some well deserved time off. One thing is clear. Her influence inhabits every detail of this exquisite hotel today.