Beachwood Hall, the 1840 Greek Revival at 806 South Beach Blvd., was home to several of Bay St. Louis' most prominent and colorful citizens. |
In recent times, that includes Charles Gray, the man who'd never stepped foot in the Bay until the day he bought the house but is now Hancock County's most-knowledgeable historian and purveyor of sense of place.
"I'd started to Key West on my boat and picked up a radio message that the Lipton races were being held in the Bay of St. Louis, so I pulled into the bay," said Gray. "When I passed the house with an eight-foot-sale sign on it I put in to shore as close as I could and binoculared it."
He called the real estate agent and by afternoon owned the house he would name Beachwood in a play on Beechwood, his Tennessee ancestral manse. Gray didn't see the inside until the next morning when he met the owner, the widow of Lionel Baxter, busily packing her belongings because of the quick sale.
"The house was in such pristine condition I didn't paint for eight years," said Gray, whose Southern lineage, patrician carriage and humor are legendary. "That house was a preservation rather than a restoration because it was always maintained."
The house's 45-degree placement gave an ocean view from every window, and the front gallery revealed a panorama from Henderson Point to Bayou Caddy. Gray and his business and life partner Jimmy Plauche - they owned the New Orleans restaurant Corinne Dunbar's - filled Beachwood with wonderful art treasures and held memorable galas.
When Plauche died in 2001, Gray sold Beachwood and began restoring a former Model T manufacturing site for his new home. That was 80 perent finished when Katrina took it, Gray's treasures and Beachwood.
Gray is busy rebuilding on the Model T site. He said the new Beachwood owners, Susan and Charles Gary, are studying plans for another house on that site.