In 1916, hidden within hundreds of live oak trees, a 92 acre parcel of beachfront property was selected as the ideal place to celebrate Mississippi’s 100th Anniversary into the Union. The centennial celebration was set for December of 1917, but with the onset of United States participation in World War I, the celebration of statehood never occurred.
In support of the war efforts, the state of Mississippi leased the land and the existing centennial exhibition buildings to the United States Navy for use as a training facility. When the war ended, the U.S. Public Health Service took over the lease, and in 1921, opened a hospital for military servicemen.
In 1922, the hospital was transferred to the U.S. Veterans’ Bureau. That same year, the Bureau purchased the property from the State of Mississippi and began construction of several buildings that were completed in 1923. As medical services increased additional buildings were constructed to accommodate more veterans. The facility was established as the Veterans’ Administration Medical Center – Gulfport Division.
Still operating as the VA hospital in 1980, the property received National Register eligibility. Approximately 30 of the original buildings were still intact and maintained architectural significance of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated several parts of the Gulf Coast. The City of Gulfport, including the Veterans Hospital property sustained massive damage necessitating the facility’s closing. It was necessary during the site clean up process to demolish a number of buildings. However, several of the buildings still stand, a testament to their sturdy construction and the determination of the City of Gulfport to save as many of the historic structures of Centennial Plaza as possible.
In 2007 the National Register of Historic Places deemed the property still eligible for the coveted award in spite of its losses from the storm damage.
In 2009 the Veterans Administration transferred the Centennial Plaza property, 48 acres, back to the City of Gulfport.
In 2010 the property was designated a Mississippi Landmark.
In 2013 the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission entered into a contract with Centennial Plaza, LLC to reestablish the site as a mixed-use traditional neighborhood development. A family oriented community to include a town square, resort hotel, restaurants, events space, office space, retail space, residential housing, and a festival marketplace with a wide variety of entertainment.
In 2014 this beautiful historic site, full of Spanish culture and military history, finally received its rightful place on the National Register of Historic Places as “The Gulfport Veterans Administration Medical Center Historic District.”
Once known as a sleepy coastal town, the City of Gulfport is now the center of economic and cultural activity along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
What was once perceived as a lost vision for the beautiful historic site of Centennial Plaza is now a reality!