Twenty-four moss-covered oaks complemented the five cottages and the 1918 Big House at 315 Front Beach Drive, built by a New Orleans stevedore and importer and bought three decades ago by Mary Jensen.|
Built on the side of a hill, the first-floor level is 27.6 feet, and the retired insurance agent heard the basement received only a small amount of water in Hurricane Camille. The charm, the sturdy construction of heart pine, the Gulf views and the rental cottages made the Ocean Springs property and Jensen a perfect match.
She often allowed the Big House to be on home and garden tours.
As Katrina approached, she and her husband, David, decided to stay, as did four cottage tenants. They thought they'd fare well when the water rushed under the house, but then the front wall, porch and overhang went and instead of getting a foot from the surge they faced 7-foot waves driven by high wind.
They safely sat on the stairs between the first and second floors and watched as a hole in the living room floor sucked out furniture. The Big House and the oaks stayed put but three cottages disappeared.
"For three weeks we camped out with no electricity and one water spigot outside," said Mary. "It's a wonderful house. It is worth saving."
She and David have set a goal to have their gardens back and the Big House repaired on the three-year anniversary. The missing foundation bricks were replaced with reinforced concrete blocks and plans approved for a "blow-out" wall to keep the house stable if another Katrinalike surge comes.
"That seems to be the current thinking, to have give-aways and then strong parts of the house where they really count," David said. "We're making good progress on the house, but I'm getting older and grayer trying to find people to do the work."
They've had delivery of custom redwood columns to replace missing cedar columns - there were 22 in all - and they live in the liveable parts of the house and do what they can themselves.
"This house had soul," said David, retired from the military. "That's why we're fighting hard to put it back like it was and we're going to win."
- KAT BERGERON