Allen and Janet Baker were living happily in Denver and not looking for another house when they drove by 728 East Beach in Gulfport. The couple had come to the Coast to visit Allen's boyhood Long Beach.|
"It was April and the middle of the azalea season, and several times we passed this house," he said. "My wife pointed and said, 'Why don't we live like this?'
On the way out of town, the Bakers drove by the 1906 house one more time, called the number on the 'For Sale' sign and ended their life in Denver. They moved into the Moseley/Milner House in 2003.
Next door was historic Grass Lawn, a city-owned antebellum home used for receptions and weddings.
"We'd sit on the back porch and admire the proceedings at Grass Lawn and sometimes toast the couples," said Baker. "One night a couple walked over and asked if they could visit. She'd been related to the Milners and had a notebook on the house."
That's when the Bakers learned it was built by the Milner family as a wedding gift for a daughter who married the second cousin of John Wilkes Boothe. In the 1960s and '70s it was a boarding house.
This summer, the Bakers had planned a 100-year birthday party for the house and all who had lived in it and the neighborhood. Katrina had other plans.
"We really feel a duty to reconstruct that architecture and recapture the beauty," said Baker, who used a civil engineer degree and experience as a safety officer mishap specialist to present their case to insurance.
"I never thought I'd use this training to dissect my own house," he said. "We're in a unique position because we did get a full payout from our wind policy and both of us still have our jobs. We found a house plan that replicates the original but it's elevated and we'll use reinforced piers and concrete hearty board that resembles old clapboard."
ETA for the new house is uncertain.
"It's important for the people of the Coast to bring back life to the beachfront but we should not rush into it, rather be smart and careful. We also think it wise for the cost of building to equalize."
- KAT BERGERON