More than 50 members of the Maywood Homeowners Association applauded as Hugh Armistead described his plans to convert Maywood Beach into a planned subdivision and gated retirement community.
During the one-hour meeting held Tuesday night, June 30th, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi, not a single person objected to the closing of the pool, which has been a popular swimming and picnic spot for Mid-Southerners for more than 70 years.
Armistead, an attorney who has owned Maywood since 1987, explained, "Previous owners told me that the more people you have, the more money you make. Well, I discovered that the more people you have, the more risk you take, and the more problems you encounter."
A developer named Maurice Woodson opened Maywood on July 4, 1931, naming the beach after his wife, Mae. The sand for the beaches was trucked in from Destin, Florida, and the pool, with its slides and waterspouts, was promoted as "the beach within reach." Times have changed. Armistead mentioned "a huge amount of crime coming in" and alluded to the previous Sunday when a young man broke into a car in the parking lot. Police were called to quell the fight that broke out when the thief tried to escape by running across the beach. That incident, he said, convinced him to close the facility one day earlier than originally planned.
The other factor was the increasing liability. "We've had a remarkable safety record," he said. "In the past 15 years, we've never had a loss of life or a major claim. But that pool is more difficult to [life]guard than the beaches on the coast. The sand gets stirred up and it's hard to see into the water."
Most places like Maywood are no longer privately owned because of limits on liability insurance, he explained. "If the city or state owned it, there would be a $250,000 cap on any lawsuit. That's the law. But I could be hit with a $6 million suit."
Armistead outlined his plans to convert the parking area into lots for nine homes. The pool will be filled in and converted into a retirement community with as many as 30 residences.
"My intent is to capture the feeling of Harbor Town," he said. "I'll have an architecture committee come up with design guidelines. But I'm going to do this right. I'm not going to do anything bad and then run off," pointing out that he has lived in the area for 52 years.
"I think I'm speaking for everyone here when I say I'm glad to see this," one homeowner responded, and his comments were met with applause. "It's a real credit to our community. Every year, I've seen more and more people just driving around out here -- not the kind of people who would be visiting, either. We're lucky we haven't had a crime spree."
Residents asked questions about keeping the trees, extending water and sewer lines, and adding fire hydrants. One concern was Mirror Lake, which is replenished by runoff from the pool. Armistead said he wasn't sure how the lake would be affected by his project.
Even so, everyone seemed pleased with the news. "I'd rather see a real community here than that pool any day," said another resident.
That sentiment wasn't echoed by visitors who came to Maywood the day before, expecting to splash in the pool one last time. Instead, they were greeted by a scrawled sign reading "WE ARE CLOSED" tied to the locked gate.
"Oh, the Woodsons must be turning over in their graves," said one white-haired woman, peering over the wrought-iron fence. Workers dismantling a trampoline said that people had come by all day long, taking pictures of the Maywood sign and the pool, which had already been drained. "There were two women who drove here from Virginia," said one fellow. "Some people even took off from work to be here on the last day."
At the Tuesday meeting, Armistead said that selling Maywood wasn't an option, nor was keeping it open. "It's not that I just got sick of it and decided to close it," he said. "That's what I want y'all to understand."
After the meeting ended, one young woman walking to her car said she didn't understand. "He didn't even try to advertise it," she said, shaking her head. "He just wanted to close it. I've been swimming here for 17 years, and now I've got nowhere to go."