Having photographed wedding ceremonies and events across the country, from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama to Connecticut and Cape Cod to Houston, Los Angeles and elsewhere, I have to say Grass Lawn in Gulfport is among the most beautiful venues I have had the opportunity to photograph.
Tragically, the Mississippi Gulf Coast lost several locations for weddings with Hurricane Katrina as we all know too well. I was thrilled to see Grass Lawn come back to life and fully support this historic location. It is important to the City of Gulfport and her citizens. Our heritage is important, even if the structure is not the original building, which was leveled by the hurricane. Structures like this are important gathering places for a city. Not everyone wishes to have their wedding ceremony on the beach, in a typical community center or in a church.
I have experienced firsthand one Second Street resident's opposition to Grass Lawn being rebuilt. During the reconstruction of Grass Lawn post-Katrina, I parked across from the property on the very public Second Street. Immediately, I was told by a resident that I couldn't park in front of his house. I politely, and quiet plainly, told him that he couldn't forbid me from parking on a public street, even if it was in front of his house. I went about my business and left my car in place until my work was complete.
A few years later, I had the honor of photographing the first wedding event to be held at Grass Lawn after the rebuild. Unfortunately, this same neighbor crashed the wedding, yelling at the wedding guests and servers. He was upset that people were parking on, you guessed it, "his" very public street.
Here's my take on it. Grass Lawn was built in 1836 on 235 acres. Grass Lawn existed long before any other houses that currently exist on Second Street. Period. If you have a problem with Grass Lawn's existence, then you or your ancestors should not have purchased property next to it.
It would be great if the City of Gulfport could find the funds to purchase the adjacent property for event parking and reduce the impact on the Second Street area. Just provide guests with a simple, level grass-covered lot, no need for an ugly asphalt-layered parking lot.
I understand there is currently a lawsuit against the city due before the Supreme Court of Mississippi. I hope our justices don't allow the voice of a few people to override the greater good that Grass Lawn provides Gulfport, surrounding communities and tourists alike. A vital representation of our Coast's continuing Katrina recovery, historic properties like Grass Lawn should be preserved, celebrated and treasured. I am proud that Grass Lawn is back and thrilled each time I have the honor to work or attend an event there.
- James Edward Bates