Best-laid plans were dashed by war

One of the proposed buildings of the Mississippi Centennial Exposition.
One of the proposed buildings of the Mississippi Centennial Exposition. Photo courtesy of Paul Jermyn

Pictured is a rare image of an artist’s rendering of one of the buildings proposed for along the “Dixie Reef,” a midway or amusement street of the Mississippi Centennial Exposition, which was due to open Dec. 10, 1917.

It is speculated this is the architectural drawing of the movie theater.

The theater was to have been run by E.N. Hirsh, the owner of the Dixie Theater in Gulfport, who had obtained the concession for the exposition’s movie house.

The Dixie Reef was to be in the form of a 1,200-foot semicircle, along which, according to Director of Concessions Clyde Osborne, would be a “thoroughfare of light, gaiety, and laughter,” and that “from end to end the street will offer widely diversified entertainments of novel character.”

A March 7, 1917, newspaper article went on to say among the many concessions would be a huge Ferris wheel, the largest ever built in the South; an ice skating rink; merry-go-rounds; and a new ride called “the Whip.”

In October 1916, centennial officials advertised a contest for a free season pass to the person who submitted the best name the corridor of amusements. Because it was to be on the Gulfport beachfront, a nautical theme was suggested.

Suggestions came from 500 people in several states. Finally, on Nov. 11, after four hours of debate, “Dixie Reef,” submitted by F.C. Wirt of Napoleonville, Louisiana, was declared the winner.

But life has a way of interfering with the best-laid plans. In May 1917, Gulfport Mayor George Foote announced the postponing of the Centennial Exposition because on April 6 the United States had entered World War I.

In early 1918, the property was turned over to the United States government and converted into the Naval Training Center.

The grounds and buildings were later used as a rehabilitation center for shell-shocked veterans. Now owned by the city of Gulfport, the property is known as Centennial Park. It was the site of the state’s first bicentennial celebration, March 31-April 1.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and phone number to Flashback, Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; call 896-2424; or email