He got his start in the club business in 1955 and went to the Sun-n-Sand in 1970, creating cocktails for legislators and others who populated the hotel. These days, the 86-year-old (he'll be 87 on Dec. 1) doesn't mix drinks, but he still remembers his time at the Sun-n-Sand.
He remembers it back in its heyday, but these days, the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel doesn't look it used to. The building has been vacant since the early 2000s. The only indication that the space was once thriving is the yellow sign with the name in a Las Vegas casino-esque font.
But turn the clock back 50 years, and the hotel was the place to be. R.E. "Dumas" Milner, who also owned the King Edward Hotel, opened the Sun-n-Sand in October 1960 as an alternative to the grandeur of hotels such as the what was then called the Edwards Hotel.
It eventually became a second home to state legislators, with its calling card being the affordable rooms and proximity to the Mississippi State Capitol. Even famous authors inhabited the space.
In Willie Morris' book, "My Cat Spit McGee" (Vintage Books, 1999, $11), he describes the Sun-n-Sand where he would go to write. "The physiognomy and decor of the Sun-N-Sand were straight out of the 1950s, and since numerous members of the state Legislature rented rooms here, it had been famous for many years for its egregious political wheelings and dealings, not to mention its secretive trysts," Morris wrote. "In the shadowy bar with Patsy Cline and Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn on the jukebox, or in the dining room at breakfast, the pols more or less passed that day's legislation, merely to be formalized later on the floors of the capitol."
The late author's book details his experience with his cat, Spit McGee. Morris would take Spit to the Sun-n-Sand as he worked on a book about William Faulkner. The confident white cat would explore, interrupt the author numerous times, and disorganize his notes and index cards. Some of the politicians who frequented the hotel would come to see him and Spit.
The Sun-n-Sand closed in 2001. Four years later, the Mississippi Heritage Trust put it on its "10 Most Endangered Historic Places" list. Currently, the State is leasing out the space for parking.
In 2015, Gov. Phil Bryant signed SB 2685, which lets the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration purchase the nearby Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home property with available funds. At press time, MDFA was still in the talking stages of purchasing the funeral-home space. The "10 Most" posting says that Sidney Mack of Lamar Properties owns the Sun-n-Sand. Mack could not be reached for comment on the building's future.
Though the hotel is still endangered, the memory of it lives on elsewhere in Jackson in the form of wearable art: Studio Chane, which Ron Chane owns in Fondren, has items such as T-shirts and mugs with the Sun-n-Sand logo on them. Read more about it in "My Cat Spit McGee."
For more information, visit ms10most.com and misspreservation.com.