DOWNTOWN DRAW Owners expect to open Monte Carlo by May

Published 11:45 am Thursday, July 26, 2012

When Linda and James Fondren look over the plans for the Monte Carlo building at 913 Washington St., they see a multifaceted attraction that will bring people downtown, teach tourists and residents about Vicksburg’s history and culture, feed them and entertain them with live Mississippi Blues.

Their plans are to have a restaurant on the building’s ground floor open and operating in time for Vicksburg’s Sesquicentennial observance on Memorial Day 2013.

Right now, the building remains vacant awaiting the crews that will transform it into the Fondrens’ vision.

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“What we want to do is build something that will tell people about Vicksburg and its people and attract people to the downtown area,” Linda Fondren said. When the Fondrens bought the Monte Carlo building in December from Vicksburg resident Malcolm Carson, their plans were to transform it into an interpretive center to tell visitors about the city’s history and culture.

The building is across Washington Street from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Lower Mississippi Interpretive Center and the MV Mississippi, which Cissy Anklam of Washington D.C.-based Museum Concepts, the Fondrens’ consultant for the project, said is a good location to tell Vicksburg’s story.

“The interpretive center can tell people the story of the river, and we can tell the stories of the people who live on it,” she said. “We want to tell people about the musical and cultural heritage of Vicksburg.”

The building’s development is planned in three phases. The first involves the restaurant, which will feature live blues music.

The second is the museum. The third is a three- to four-story building in an adjacent vacant lot that once held a since-demolished section of the building. The third phase includes an interpretive center, retail and office space and condominiums.

“We want to highlight the city’s blues history,” Anklam said. “The last Blues Trail marker is right by the building. The Blues Trail begins at the Peabody Hotel (in Memphis) and it ends at the Monte Carlo.”

“We want to put in a quality restaurant,” James Fondren said. “We’re looking for a restaurateur who’s interested in opening up a business in the building.”

He said a dual level storage area on the first floor will be removed, and a stairway in the rear of the first floor is expected to be closed. The only item not threatened is a Kenneth Humphrey painting on the room’s south wall. That’s a masterpiece,” Fondren said. “He’s said he’ll restore it.”

“We want to make Vicksburg a major destination,” Linda Fondren said. “We had a meeting with civic leaders and business people from the downtown district, and this is what they told us they want.”

The building was constructed in 1911 for Christian and Burroughs Co., which built wagons and carriages. It was later used by a car dealership, which stayed in the building until the late 1920s, and later became a 7-Up bottling plant until the 1960s.

The building was later turned into a nightclub owned jointly by Joe Farris and Jesse Smith and called the Monte Carlo, which gained notoriety as a dance hall that booked regional and national rhythm and blues acts in the 1970s and early ’80s.

The building deteriorated and in 2007, the city razed the north section of the building, which had been damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Fondrens bought the 101-year-old building in December for $240,000.

Carson had bought the building in 2010 from Ferris, a Vicksburg native who now lives in California, and owned the building for 40 years.