Moran Withdraws Veto So Del Castle Can Come Down

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran grabbed her cell phone and made a quick phone call.

"I'm trying to save our house," she told the person on the other end of the phone.

The house she was referring to sits on an Ocean Springs bayou. It's called Del Castle. And for several months, its trustee Bruce Legate has been trying to get a demolition permit to tear down his family's 79-year-old home. Yet every time the issue came up, the Ocean Springs mayor blocked the permit, and tried to preserve the property.

She said she felt an obligation to save Del Castle, "Especially in the wake of Katrina, where we've lost so many of our historical homes on the waterfront."

Moran has some fond memories of Del Castle. As a child, she often visited the home on Government Street, while her grandparents played canasta. As mayor, she vetoed plans to demolish the property twice, hoping some sort of compromise with Mr. Legate could save the home.

"But he isn't willing to sell it," she conceded. "He's reluctant to lease it. He really wants to take it down."

So on Wednesday, Moran announced she was withdrawing her veto.

"It was difficult," she said. "But I knew our attorney said really that Mr. Legate was within his legal rights to pursue the demolition."

Del Castle is not on Mississippi's historic register. But it does have a history. The mobster Al Capone supposedly stayed on the oak filled lot. Nevertheless, Bruce Legate says family health issues, and skyrocketing restoration costs have forced him to dismantle the home as soon as possible.

Until demolition crews arrive, Mayor Moran will keep working the phones, looking for a way to save Del Castle.

"Who knows? Maybe there's a glimmer of hope," she told the person she called.

If there is hope out there, it must come from realtors. Attorneys have convinced the mayor city hall can't stop Del Castle from coming down.

"He's within his legal rights to demolish it. I would hate to see that happen, but it isn't my property," she said.

Legate called the mayor's decision "damage control." He credited his attorney for pushing aldermen and the mayor to give him his demolition permit.

"I thought it was 15 months too long," Legate said. "Fortunately I had resources to pursue the argument."

Legate isn't sure when he'll find a demolition contractor to knock down Del Castle.