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David Wiseheart

My name is David Wiseheart and I served as the President of the Pine Hills Historical Society from 1984 till 1994.
For many years I drove across the bay bridge between Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, and saw what looked like a large pink castle setting on the back side of the bay. A friend of mine, Michelle Richardson, told me she knew how to get to the old building and that she would take me there.
 
My first trip to the old Pine Hills Hotel was on a beautiful spring day in 1981 We drove all the back roads trying to find the old building. Finally we asked someone and they told us how to get there. Once we got to the main gates we knew we had found someplace special. We drove down the mile and a half drive and there around the corner was Pine Hills.
 
At that time in my life one of my hobbies was making home movies. What a great place to make a movie but a beautiful old abandon hotel? We contacted the new owners, Bob Gimalot, who told us of their plans to convert the old hotel into luxury condos in time for the 1984 New Orleans Worlds Fair. We told him of our desire to film a movie at the old hotel. That summer, I moved into the empty hotel building. My friends would drive over on the weekends and we would film our movie. Sadly due to complications with equipment and high cost of film and supplies, we had to end our project without getting to complete it.
 
In 1983, while working for a small TV station in Slidell, LA, we made a documentary telling the hotels sad story and past that ran on Channel 10. Late 1983, several of us met in a hotel room at the Scottish Inns in Slidell, LA and formed the Pine Hills Historical Society. Those original members were myself, Donna Craft, Mike Westerman and Ron Paton. Our reason for forming the society was to get Pine Hills on the National Register of Historic Places and find a way to have the old hotel restored.
 
We had found a company named Taylor/Ward out of Atlanta, GA that was very interested in the project. They had gone into an agreement to purchase the hotel and grounds and had backing from Africa to complete the project. One of the Historical Society members, Ron Patton, who was a caretaker at the hotel at the time, heard rumors that DuPont was wanting to buy the hotel to stop this kind of development. The current owners said they would not sell to DuPont because they knew they would bring down the hotel and add the land to their buffer zone. As these rumors continued to grow Ron and myself went from office to office talking with everyone we could to figure out what was happening. Little did we know a deal had been cut under the table between DuPont and two men who were working along side Taylor/Ward. On January 7th the hotel was sold to Sun Belt Properties out of Toronto Canada. Before the ink was dry on the papers they turned around and sold it to DuPont on the very same day. Sunbelt was created just for this sale. We tried to find a loophole in the deal but couldn’t. That is when we kicked out effort to save the hotel in high gear.
 
For two years we met with politicians, the past and present Governor, celebrities, and numerous television stations and Newspapers. We put out petitions and spoke to Chamber of Commerce, Historical Societies and other local groups. It was an early Wednesday morning (May 28, 1986) that I got a call from a friend inside DuPont, telling me that they had decided to tear down the hotel with plans to have it gone by the end of July. We had to act quick! I contacted my friend, Brenda Heathcock who was a reporter at the Sea Coast Echo in Bay St. Louis. I told her what I had been told. She said we could get a story in Sunday’s paper if we did it that day. I quickly went to the Bay. Sunday, June 1st the article hit the front page with the headline “Pine Hills Facing Demolition”
 
Monday morning I got a call from Dave Settle who was the plant manager at the time. He was furious and was threatening to sue us for printing untruths. I didn’t give him the name of my source but I told him word for word what they had told me. He got quiet and said he wanted to me with us. The next day we showed up to meet with Mr. Settle. The security was so tight that day at the plant. They had guards in the parking lot, the lobby and had them escort us to Mr. Settles office. Looking back at it now I have to laugh because there was just a small handful of us there that day ranging in age from 15 to 23. The did confirm to us that day that it was true they were going to tear down the hotel. They said it was unsafe and structurally unstable. After our meeting they met with the press at the hotel and gave them a tour showing them why they needed to tear the hotel building down. Even with the confirmed fate of Pine Hills, now there in black and white, we didn’t let up our efforts. We had lawyers donating their time to get a hold put on the demolition. Again we met with the Governor trying to get him to step in. We worked everyday with many volunteers from every walk of life. We didn’t stop untill November 11, 1986. This is when the wrecking ball swung. DuPont said the building was structurally unsound but when they swung the wrecking ball it bounced off. Finally they had to bring the building down by dropping a huge steel ball on the roof and break the concrete. Then they had men come in with welding torches and cut the rebar in the concrete. They could drop the ball again and take out a small section. The took down the building floor by floor. What was predicted to take a few weeks ended up taking several months. Kimmins Industrial Services out of Pasadena Texas, was the company given the contract. We had worked out a deal with DuPont and Kimmins to salvage some of the architectural elements to use in a future museum.
 
After the hotel was gone we moved to working on establishing a museum dedicated to the hotels of the Mississippi “Gold” Coast. Dorothy Brown, who owned the Antique Arcade, in Bay St Louis, donated space for us in her mezzanine floor. We had several displays set up featuring items from Pine Hills as well as some other coast hotels like The Edgewater Gulf, Markham, White House and Tivoli. We started doing hours of research on each one of these properties hoping to compile them one day in a book. Sadly the museum was forced to close and the book was never written.


Now all those years of research sit in folders and boxes along side of a large collections of treasures from many of these hotels that are now all gone except for the Markham which is in Gulfport. Sadly thanks to Katrina, unless someone steps in, I’m afraid the Markham will find the same fate as Pine Hills, The Edgewater Gulf, the Buena Vista, and the Tivoli.

Even though the hotel is no longer standing and I have moved to Illinois, Pine Hills is still apart of my life. For those of you who have also been captured by her spell know what I mean. We may not have been able to physically save the Pine Hills Hotel but maybe in some way with this website, can keep her history a live for those who were lucky enough to go out there and walk her halls or have a picnic on the grounds. And maybe this will also be a way to introduce Pine Hills to a new generation of people who are interested in the rich history of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Pine Hills was a special place. A place that always welcomed you. A place were you never felt alone and always safe. It was almost like she was alive and was one of our best friends. I know Pine Hills was just a steel and concrete building but she has left a lasting mark on my life and I’m sure she will for the rest of my day.

 

 

Newspaper Article Noting Demolition of Hotel

Pre-Construction

Hotel Days
.

Monastery Days

Photos

Floor Plans
.

Memorabilia