- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - From the outside, the restored Anderson Theater looks completely different from the French Quarter style of the neighboring Balch & Bingham building, but inside it’s one seamless expansion of the law office.

The recently completed historic restoration preserved the exterior of the theater that operated for 30 years, from 1921 to 1951, while providing more space for Balch & Bingham staff.

The challenge, said Ricky Cox, a partner in the law firm, was to provide video-conference capabilities and other modern amenities in the 6,000-square-foot addition and blend it with the 15,000-square-foot original building that exudes New Orleans charm.

The firm restored the old Hewes Brothers Department Store building in 1988, and made repairs after the offices were flooded with 3 1/2 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The 2015 addition gave the opportunity to install arched doors in the main conference room to match the arched windows and enhance the look of the wood floors and exposed-brick walls.

“We named all of the conference rooms after barrier islands,” Cox said, such as Ship, Round, Horn, Petit Bois. “We have more conference rooms than we have islands - almost.”



A two-story atrium provides interior views for the offices and conference rooms along with an area for events. Cox called the architecture “pretty iconic in terms of law offices.”

Ben Stone, a senior partner in the 100-year-old firm, was among those who’d remodeled the Hewes building and brought new life to the downtown landmark, Cox said.

The interior of the theater building, which had operated under the Saenger and other names, saw successive generations of remodeling. The building became Coast Hardware Store in the 1950s and later was used as an office for Mississippi Power’s media division.

With the latest restoration, the firm gained more space for the paralegal department, two conference rooms, break rooms and eight additional offices. The addition can now accommodate 30 attorneys and with 25 on staff, “we’ve got a little expansion room now,” Cox said. The theater’s second floor wasn’t part of the renovation and remains open for future offices, apartments or other options.

“The historic tax credits made a huge difference,” Cox said.

The company bought the building in early 2015 for $525,000. The renovation costs and professional fees of $1.9 million brought the total project to $2.4 million.

“The firm applied for and was awarded historical tax credits offered by both the state and federal governments by committing to preserve the historical design of the building,” office manager Tommy Hauer said.

Virtually every modification from the original plan had to be approved all the way up to the Department of the Interior. Hurricane-proof windows were special order; the “Anderson Theater” sign at the top of the building remains; and awnings recall the look of the marquee and ticket booth.

The restoration was designed by architect Denise Earles Walsh of Jackson. Biloxi firm Machado Patano was the local architect and engineer. Starks Contracting of Biloxi was the contractor and while the restoration was in progress, art students from Gulfport High School created murals to decorate the walls concealing the construction.

With the firm’s historical remodel complete, Cox said, the entire block in downtown Gulfport from The First bank to Triplett-Day Drugs is restored.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com

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