Opening close-ups of vintage Biloxi postcards set the tone for WYES-TV’s latest documentary, a love letter to that Mississippi Gulf Coast city. The object of much of the program’s nostalgic affection is the Broadwater Beach Hotel, a vacation home-away-from-home for generations of New Orleanians.
“The Broadwater Beach was one of the happiest places on Earth,” says Gregory Cannizzaro, one of several former hotel guests interviewed for the documentary. “You forgot about your job. You forgot about your school work.”
Sadly, the hotel did not survive Hurricane Katrina.
“Biloxi Memories and the Broadwater Beach Hotel” premieres on WYES Wednesday, July 23, at 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. The hour-long program repeats Friday, July 25, at 9 p.m. and Saturday, July 26, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
New Orleanians long have been drawn to the beaches of Biloxi, which could be reached by train from the Crescent City as early as 1871, says Bill Raymond, historic administrator for the city of Biloxi.
By the 1940s, tourist accommodations included Pete Martin’s Broadwater Beach Hotel, which catered to gamblers. Across the highway from the hotel, a 600-foot fishing pier led to a beach house with a pavilion for dancing and a casino for gambling.
By the 1960s, a new owner — Dorothy Dorsett Brown — had transformed the Broadwater from a gaming venue into “the pleasure dome of the Gulf Coast,” says documentary narrator Peggy Scott Laborde, executive producer of the program. This is the Broadwater that stands solidly in local memories.
(Funding for the documentary came in part from the Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation.)
In addition to hotel rooms, accommodations at the Broadwater resort included cottages for families, many of whom booked annual visits with their extended clans.
As essential as bathing suits to these reunions were the favorite foods brought from home and shared with relatives and friends. Dorothy Ziegler remembers the hot tamales; Marilyn Reynolds says she was never far from the tiramisu; and Susan Gowland recalls endless lasagna, Italian sausage and meatballs and spaghetti.
Home movies and photos borrowed from family albums for the documentary illustrate the good times that rolled at the Broadwater Beach during its heyday.
The 240-acre property included a children’s playground, four tennis courts, two golf courses, a marina and several swimming pools. The pool “for ladies,” former hotel manager Jack Stanford says, “had tables in the water where they could be served drinks.”
The WYES-TV program goes beyond the Broadwater to explore other aspects of Biloxi’s past and present.
Just a few of the many stops on the journey are the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which exhibits the distinctive work of George Ohr, self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi” in the late 1800s; the memorials to victims of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005; and the marker commemorating the 1959, 1960 and 1963 “wade-ins” that led to desegregation of the Biloxi beaches.
Then there’s the iconic Biloxi lighthouse. “Originally the lighthouse was at the water’s edge,” Laborde says. “Today it is the only lighthouse to stand in the middle of a four-lane highway.” Decommissioned in 1968 and declared a Mississippi landmark in 1987, the lighthouse is operated by the city of Biloxi as a private aid to navigation.
“Biloxi Memories and the Broadwater Beach Hotel” was produced, directed and written by Barbara Sillery. Dawn Smith was associate producer; Larry Roussarie, editor; and Paul Combel, photographer.
The perfect beverage to accompany a viewing of the program would be a Barq’s. According to the documentary, the drink was created by Edward C. Barq, a New Orleanian who in 1898 moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and opened the Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works.