Chateau Sherman at 1012 West Beach Boulevard is a famed landmark in Pass Christian due to its eclectic architecture.
The Sage of Chateau Sherman
by Virginia Gregory
The original owners, the Sherman family, called the place Chateau Sherman. It was built by James M Sherman, a retired electrical engineer, who bought the property and moved to the coast in 1921. The lot was as big as a city block then and was dominated by a large three-bedroom log cabin with a screened porch across the front and a huge fireplace inside. Sherman’s daughters and their children visited during the summers.
At that time, Hwy 90 was a two-lane blacktop road angling the length of the coast. There was no sand beach. Sherman built a square pier about one-hundred yards from shore, and his grandchildren loved to swim or boat out to it. In a letter written many years later, Jane Johnson, one of the granddaughters, tells of how she used to lie flat on the pier, watching dolphins and sharks slide through the water below.
In 1928, when Sherman was seventy-five-years-old, he had a heart attack which almost incapacitated him. He was, however, a strong-willed man, and he refused to give in to the depression that followed his illness. He designed a garage with an office upstairs for his use, and he and a black man built it of solid concrete on the east side of the property. The effort inspired Sherman. He drew plans for a house that, as Jane Johnson (a daughter) says in her letter, was “not so pretentious as a castle, but the further he got along, the bigger it became.” He and his black employee poured concrete into sand molds, made posts for the front balustrade, and sections for the circular tower. The walls inside and out are nine inches thick, reinforced with steel rods. The work continued for ten years. Then, in 1938, James Sherman died. He was eighty-five-years-old.
After her husband’s death, his widow failed to pay taxes on the place, and by 1942, was so deeply in arrears that selling out was her only solution. A daughter, Mrs. George Gundlach, appeared on the scene at that point, paid off the debt, and took possession of the house. She and her husband, a civil engineer, though still married, had separated and remained so.
Jessie Gundlach was a woman of high intelligence, a naturalist who was a world traveler and had a lively interest in all manner of things. She befriended Korean airmen stationed at Keesler Field before and during the Korean War. She and they sang Christmas carols together on the back lawn at Chateau Sherman. According to Jane, it was they who persuaded her mother to paint the house florescent pink and green. After the war, Jessie visited Korea as a guest of that government, and she was awarded a medal of gratitude for her many kindnesses to those airmen.
During Hurricane Camille, Jessie Gundlach remained alone in the house. She watched her furniture wash away in the tidal surge. Afterwards, she gathered up the shattered pieces, put them back together again and placed a sign on each restored item, telling how many parts had been reduced by the storm.
Jessie collected mushrooms and snakes, – loved butterflies. Rumor has it that, at sometime along the way, she ate a poisonous mushroom, became desperately ill, hemorrhaged from her ears, eyes, and mouth. But she recovered. When she tired of her possessions, she dropped them into the bottom of the tower where they remained until her death. She left Chateau Sherman to the University of Missouri for use as a marine biology laboratory. The university, however, decided against the laboratory and sold the house.
During the change over by several owners, parts of the Chateau Sherman have been modified and renovated, but still maintains its outer allure.
James Sherman visiting the Currie House.