One of the first things about Gulfport that captured my attention was the majestic old Gulfport Casino by the beach. I gazed through the glass door at the wide open area inside and imagined it in another era, filled with raucous swingin' jazz music, gaily feathered and sequined women of ill repute, and the clatter and clank of spinning roulette wheels and primitive early slot machines.
Well, as it turns out, none of that ever happened, at least not in this segment of the Multiverse. The Gulfport Casino, I've learned, was never actually a gambling casino, but a casino casino, in the archaic sense of the word when a casino simply meant a gathering place.
It took some time to shake off the cloak of disappointment but now I'm good with it; the place still has a rich past, dripping with historical goodies. It was once the waiting area for an old ferryboat that once shuttled passengers over to Pass-A-Grille, and has been for most if not all of its existence a performance hall for live music and ballroom dancing, and even had a thriving barn dance scene, if a squib from the December 24, 1937 edition of the Evening Independent is to be believed.
Even during the cultural morass of the seventies, the casino (which is finally being considered for protected historic building status) managed to survive the years of post-hippie-burnout, Nixon, Carter, disco and punk rock. A 1976 puff-piece/advertisement notes a swing band called The Debonaires performing at the casino, keeping the dimly flickering candle of swing burning during those desperate dark pre-hipster swing revival times when about the only thing keeping the tradition going in popular culture was The Lawrence Welk Show. It doesn't say whether the Debonaires were the regular house band composed of locals, or if they were a regional act traveling to Gulfport for special appearances each weekend.
If it's the former (most likely) I'm betting some old retired members are puttering around watering their lawns in Gulfport and Pasadena right this minute, and I should probably go track them down and interview them, shouldn't I? And another advertisement, from the 1950s, mentions a Merrymaker's Orchestra of which the same question applies.
To this very day, the casino still hosts a swing night that looks to be right up my alley. I'll be stationed full-time in Gulfport in about a week or so, and plan to check out the proceedings. Who knows, maybe I'll even do a JSH Combo appearance here if they'll let me molest their piano a little and also pay me in something other than smiles and soda. Come swing with me.