Exerpts from "DiamondHead Discovered" by Dan Ellis
The original Gex acreage was purchased by Walter Gex, Jr. in 1937 from the Gulf State Paper Company and the Easy Opener Bag Company. These two pieces approximated 3700 acres. Additional acreage was later accumulated which brought the acquisitions to approximately 5000 acres. This property was sold in October of 1969 to D.E.A.R, Inc., an interim company representing the developer's interests. Designated shareholders were Malcolm Purcell McLean, the founder of SeaLand, and the innovator of containerized shipping; and William Maurer, an investor and president of the D.E.A.R. Corporation which later became the Diamondhead Corporation.
In his law offices at the vacant former Merchant's Bank building in Bay St. Louis, Jody Gex unrolled a frail parchment map with an oil cloth backing. He described that all of the "X" marks in red were the original Gex acreage. He pointed out the peripheral boundaries indicating that the tract of land almost abutted the back of the Bay of St. Louis and bordered the Jourdan River (or the St. Germain River as originally named by the French) and Rotten Bayou (or the Baneeshewah as named by the Indians). It was mostly high ground which would not require residential terracing or stilted pilings as is sometimes necessary in the low lands nearer the Coast. And the ten square miles were dotted by ponds and small lakes. Pulling out a sheaf of documents, Jody read the County resolution which provided the impetus for the interchange construction at the Interchange of Interstate 10 and Gex Boulevard. The County Road ran from the Kiln-Pass Christian Highway through the Gex tract which was known as Hickory Point Road. The highest elevation at Diamondhead is the current site of the Highpoint Condos, which is 105 feet above sea level. Jody responded, "That is the highest point between Corpus Christi, Texas and St. Petersburg, Florida. For this reason, the Development Group called the area Diamondhead. For that reason,the architectural engineers followed through with its Hawaiian derivation."
Actually, the property had almost been sold for development some ten years previous. W.L. Holcomb, when with the Real Estate Development company of Holcomb and Milner of Gulfport, was approached by Walter Gex, Sr. in 1960. Gex offered his 5000 acres for sale. Holcomb pursued the prospect by riding the hilly area on horseback. He was amazed at all the tall timber that covered the whole area. Billy Holcomb related that as he alighted from the mount, he walked a ways through a clearing and stumbled into a hole. As he was raising himself, he was confronted by a shotgun pointed at him about 30 feet away.
The man behind the gun yelled out, "What the heck ya doin' here?"
Billy replied, "I'm looking over Walter Gex's land that he wants to sell me!"
"Well, get the heck away from here right now!, stammered the man.
Needless to say, Billy Holcomb mounted his horse and steered clear of the area as he continued to survey the land. He reported to his partner that the land was very impressive for its high elevation and rolling hills. However, he felt that the cost to develop it would be astounding and would take 20 to 25 years to get their money back. The venture was too risky to pursue in light of the undetermined construction of an Interstate highway system. Ten years later the property was sold for twice the offering.
Billy continued, "That same man came into my office about two weeks later offering me to purchase 80 acres of land around the Kiln."
The man looked at him real good and said, "Don't I know you? Weren't you riding around my Moonshine Still a few weeks back?"
"Yeah, and I'm sure glad you didn't bring in your shotgun this time," stated Billy.
The man grinned. And as things go, Billy Holcomb bought the property at the Kiln. W.L. Holcomb remained quite active in day today activities as a partner in former Coast Delta Realty.
How it happened ---
In an interview with Gary Gilmore, June 1, 1995, he explained that the initial machinations dated back to 1967 and 1968. Gary was a close associate of the Gex family who were youthful inheritors of the Gex property. Walter Gex, Sr. was the mastermind to acquire the large acreage. Gary also knew Mr. Gex, Sr. whom he called “Uncle Walter.”
Gary came to learn the hills and the high ground turf of the Gex Property by way of having traversed it so frequently during quail hunting trips with “Uncle Walter”. When Walter Gex was a young man practicing law in Jackson, he had asked Gary to participate in selling a portion of the site, which was the site of the Texaco Station on the way to the current Yacht Club. Its location was excellent due to the coming Interstate 10 throughway.
Once Gary sold the option to the property he became looked upon as the man who could make things happen. —And, happen it did. His connections with a principal developer from Greenwood, Mississippi put him in position to roll out the 5000 acres of Gex property. This was how Malcolm McLean was introduced to his future Paradise. The Deal was set to go down on Monday, August 18, 1969, the final day of the option. It almost splintered apart because on the very day before, Camille's perilous journey caused almost total destruction to much of the Coastal area.
Fortunately, McLean was able to fly over the property the following week and upon seeing such little damage, his interest in renewing the option remained strong. The only thing keeping the sale from being closed that week was because the Storm so damaged the coast, the Hancock Court system had been closed down to all transactions for a couple of weeks.
And Construction Began ---
During the first phase of construction the Diamondhead Manufacturing Company in Mobile hired local construction crews to build the Kona and Molokai Condo Villages.
I-10 Interchange -- Exit 16
Because the property already had a roadway maintained by the County, the Diamondhead Interchange at I-10 and Gex Boulevard was expedited in 1972.
"Paradise" came alive for the developers.
This is the original main entranceway as it was seen in 1970.
The Security Check office was built later.
And then came the Salesmen ---
The sales office was later converted to the current Community Center Building.
The first lot sales were made in June of 1970. A small army of salesmen headed by Buzz Prince was commissioned to promote Diamondhead lot sales. They were all dressed alike with red blazers with black or white trousers as they stood ready to escort their prospects in a fleet of twenty white brand new vehicles.