Coast Characters: 100 Men Hall owners want more history on hall's roots in the Bay's black community

100 Men Hall owners want to know about its roots in black community

jmitchell@sunherald.comJuly 5, 2014 

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Kerrie and Jessie Loya have resurrected a Bay St. Louis dance hall that had once hosted music-industry icons. But they want to know more about the black community that brought the 100 Men D.B.A. Hall to life.

According to the hall's website, 12 black men with Bay roots drafted bylaws in 1894 for The One Hundred Men Debating Benevolent Association. The group was formed to "assist members when sick, bury its dead in a respectable manner and knit friendship."

The bylaws said the group could host entertainment to replenish operating funds.

Kerrie Loya said a screened-in pavilion opened in 1922 at 303 Union Street for hall meetings. As the club expanded, the space was enclosed. The Loyas said the hall booked entertainment regularly and became a key aspect in the black social scene in Hancock County.

"It's very exciting to tell people Ike and Tina Turner played here," Kerrie Loya said. "Etta James played here multiple times."

But she said that's not what's intriguing about the hall.

"The fascinating thing is this stuff: Who the heck were these guys? Who were these black men?"

It's still a mystery, though the Loyas believe many descendants of those 12 men still live in the Bay.

Kerrie Loya said when older people come to the hall, they mention having memories here, but they won't let her interview them.

"They won't let me record it. They don't want to be videotaped," she said.

The Loyas said they are grateful for the memorabilia, stories and artifacts they have received from some folks, but they still have questions.

"I don't understand why people don't come forward in droves to tell their story, to tell what their family did here or their connection to the hall," Kerrie Loya said. "There's still so much unknown, and that is what's exciting."

They have been doing historical research and community outreach since they bought the hall in 2006.

From California to the Bay

Kerrie and Jesse Loya were entertainment-industry veterans who were ready to get out of California. They landed in the Bay in 2004.

"We hit the beach, and the clouds parted and the angels sang," Jessie Loya said.

Kerrie Loya said they looked at every single home for sale in Bay St. Louis. They made an offer on the 100 Men Hall, but it fell through.

Having no experience with catastrophic weather, they stayed for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kerrie moved back to California, but Jessie stayed in the Bay.

When he saw the 100 Men Hall was slated for destruction, Jessie Loya said he wouldn't hear of it. He called Kerrie and said he was buying the place, and she gave him her blessing.

"The building was going to be torn down that my crazy husband just had to have," she said.

Resurrecting a piece of Bay

Jessie Loya was drawn to the hall's charm and history.

"I thought it was a groovy little place because it had a stage, and oak floors," he said.

After two years of refurbishing, the hall opened in 2008. It received a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in 2011. The Loyas host soul, blues, R&B and jazz artists, usually each second Saturday.

The Loyas have found many clues and received artifacts that are helping them solve the puzzle of 100 Men Hall.

"I found a penny from 1922," Kerrie Loya said. "It's like a geological dig."

According to the hall's website, Bay resident Louise Nash, whose father, Joseph Curry, was a member of the hall, has a copy of the amended bylaws from 1923. Nash serves on the hall's board of directors.

The Loyas also have a St. Rose de Lima prom ticket and some old photographs of the hall.

"There are people that have things, like boxes of stuff that we know that they've given a few little things, and we know they have more," Kerrie Loya said.

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