John and Marjorie Milford’s efforts were realized on Friday, December 4 as the iconic Gulfport Casino celebrated its 80th birthday and recent designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
The couple, who have been Gulfport residents for 25 years, gave credit to Representative Kathleen Peters and Senator Jack Lavata.
“The Milfords have worked for years, years, in all honestly, well over a decade, trying to get this building on the national historic registry,” Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson said. “I truly believe that without their efforts, we couldn’t have done it.”
“The [effort to have the Casino recognized on the Register] was going nowhere,” Marjorie Milford said. “We got involved because we are active in politics. But we only did it because we care.”
The Casino was honored with a gala for the ages on Friday night. Gulfport City Council, as well as members of the Gulfport Historical Society and residents braved a windy evening to hear tales of the history of the Casino and take a look at the new plaque commemorating its historical designation.
“The Department of the Interior has listed the Gulfport Casino in the National Register of Historic Places,” the plaque reads. “This is the third such Casino in this location; the first fell in the 1921 hurricane; the second came down in the early 1930s. Using funds from the Works Progress Administration’s Civil Works Authority, Gulfport dedicated the Casino on December 1, 1935. A crowd of 1,200 people attended the dedication.”
There may not have been 1,200 people at Friday’s ceremony, but the celebration entertained a large crowd with music, dancing and cake – just the sort of party that the Casino was made for.
Gulfport Historical Society’s President and Gulfport Councilmember Christine Brown gave a short speech honoring the building.
“To this day, the Casino is a cultural boon for us,” Brown said in her speech. “It brings us together, it is the town centerpiece, it is a meeting place and a topic of conversation. This building made us a community.”
Cathy Salustri, the Gulfport Historical Society’s secretary, gave a presentation about the history of the Casino and how and why it was built. Salustri shared information that the Casino as it is known today was built thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt’s government works projects.
“Roosevelt became president in 1933 and he had to find a way to fix a broken country,” Salustri said. “He signed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act and that devoted almost five billion dollars to public arts projects. Under this act, the government created programs that would help Americans get back on their feet.”
The WPA, or Works Progress Administration, employed millions of people to complete public works projects. One of them was building the Gulfport Casino.
“This Casino that we honor and designate tonight is not just a building,” Salustri said. “This is our providence.”
While inclusion on the Register does not necessarily guarantee protection, according to the National Parks Service website, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.