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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Elks Club and Elks Hotel

Posted By on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 8:26 PM

In the December issue of Memphis magazine, I told the compelling, thrilling, and ultimately heart-rending story of the Elks Club / Hotel, one of the finest such clubs in the entire country, and a downtown landmark that — by then known as the Hotel King Cotton — ultimately fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the Morgan Keegan Tower.

Did you get all that, or should I repeat myself? Whew, I get long-winded sometimes.

ANYWAYS. The University of Memphis Special Collections Department has a very fine booklet that was published to announce the opening of the new Elks Club, and it was just packed with nice photographs and illustrations showing off the rather magnificent facilities available to club members. And since I'm feeling curiously kind-hearted tonight (it must be the cheap liquor), I thought I'd share some of those images with you, so you can see what we have lost. And as you gaze upon these marvels, remember this: They were available to the men only. Since they weren't actually Elks, the only part of the club that the women could enjoy was the "Ladies Writing Room" on the top floor.

We ran a few of these images in the December issue. Here's the rest. Click on any image to enlarge it, and enjoy!











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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dowdle Sporting Goods' Great Neon Sign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 3:57 PM

I certainly remember Dowdle Sporting Goods. That's where the Lauderdales bought our custom-made bowling shoes, hand-crafted badminton racquets, and designer fencing outfits.

But for some reason, though I am usually as keen-eyed as a hawk, I have no memory of the store's wonderful neon sign, as shown here in an ad that ran in the 1977 Bartlett High School yearbook.

Too bad it's in black-and-white, but you can see a basketball and football, and look carefully and you can see neon tubes that —¬†when lighted in sequence — would have shown the basketball bouncing and the football arcing through the air. Definitely a very cool sign, made here in Memphis by the Balton Sign Company.

I called the nice folks at Dowdle, who told me that a customer backed into the pole one day, sometime in the late 1970s, and knocked the whole thing down. All that neon was far too expensive to repair, and from what I understand the city (at least back then) was beginning to express concern about moving signs that distracted drivers, so the old neon sign wasn't replaced.

Too bad. But at least we still have a picture. Close your eyes and imagine how it might have looked. But NOT while you are driving!

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Visiting Memphis in 1940? Then Use This Guide.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Tourists visiting Memphis in 1940 probably picked up this brochure at local hotels, or maybe it was mailed to them by the Chamber of Commerce. It's a handy guide to the main attractions in and around our city.

Some of today's top draws aren't listed of course, such as Graceland or The Dixon Gallery and Gardens or FedExForum.

But many of the "old classics" are there, including the Memphis Zoo, the Mississippi River, various parks, and other sights-to-see.

What's interesting, at least to me though, are all the things listed in this 70-year-old brochure that have vanished. Among them: the Municipal Auditorium ("built at a cost of $2,000,000") , the Cossitt Library, the Goodwyn Institute Library, Sienna College (when it was still on Vance), and the Fairgrounds Casino Ballroom ("dancing in season three nights a week").

Then there's the whole paragraph on downtown movie theaters: "There are 30 theaters in Memphis with a total seating capacity of 43,959. Modern community theaters with the very latest equipment may be found in the suburban communities of the city. A list of the downtown theaters":
Loew's State (152 South Main)
Orpheum Theater (197 South Main)
Malco Palace Theater (81 Union Avenue)
Strand Theater (138 South Main)
Warner Theater (52 South Main).

Did you notice those names? The present-day Orpheum was called the Orpheum before it became the Malco. Boy, is that confusing! And, if this brochure is correct, Loew's Palace (currently the site of Parking Can Be Fun) was originally called the Malco Palace.

continued ...

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh-Boy! — Flavored Drinks and Popsicles

Posted By on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 10:47 PM

I have pounded on my big head with my little fists, and I STILL don't remember this enticing product, with the snappy name "Oh-Boy!"

But the company that produced it was doing well enough in the late 1940s and early 1950s to run large ads like this one in Hutchison School yearbooks.

It was obviously something like packaged Kool-Aid. Just pour the flavored powder into a two-quart pitcher of water, and you have a tasty drink. Or pour it into ice trays (remember what those are, children?), put a stick in each "square," and you have a frozen treat. More specifically, a frozen sucker.

I notice that the grape and strawberry versions are "artificially flavored" but the orange variety is apparently all natural. Oh, sure ...

And look at the price! Five cents! What can you buy today for a nickel?? Why, I charge a dime just for a handshake, and a quarter for a hug.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mulford Jewelers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 2:16 PM

How many of my half-dozen readers remember Mulford Jewelers — a Memphis institution for more than half a century?

Well, I certainly do, because that's where the Lauderdales purchased the gold, silver, and platinum baubles and beads that made the Mansion glitter like a comet flashing through the night. Of course, that sparkle lost most of its luster when the Lauderdale bankruptcy proceedings — which made front-page news in every newspaper in the northern hemisphere except South Dakota — took away just about everything but the tattered clothes on our backs.

But that wasn't the fault of John N. Mulford (the dapper gentleman shown here), who owned and operated one of this city's oldest and finest jewelry stores. Born in London, Mulford came to this country in the 1870s. He loved to hunt and fish and roamed America in search of a place where he could pursue those interests, eventually settling in Memphis. If he hadn't done that, you wouldn't be reading about him now. Not here, anyway.

In 1880, he opened Mulford Jewelers at 6 South Main Street in a building known as the Marble Block — possibly because it was made of marble, but maybe that was the owner's name; I just don't know. The store remained at that location until 1942, when it moved a few doors down, to 26 South Main. At least, I think it did. You have to remember that Memphis changed (and standardized) its street numbering system in the late 1800s, so it's possible this was the same building, with a different address. See how complicated my job can be?

Anyway ...

Continue reading »

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bergville Cafe - Remember It?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 2:10 PM

One day, I was rooting through the old photo files in the Memphis Room, and came across this image of a quaint little cafe called Bergville.

It was quite a handsome little establishment, and even the signs painted on the windows proclaimed it "A Clean Place to Eat." But I was perplexed by what I could see in the background — rows of storage tanks of some sort (barely visible in the left background). If not for the "Poland Photo Memphis" logo at the bottom, I wouldn't have thought this was a Memphis establishment.

But it certainly was located here, a tiny restaurant that opened in 1932 at 459 Union Avenue. The proprietor was Alex Guigou, who with his wife Helen had previously operated the curiously named Orange Palace Cafe on Summer. Those mysterious tanks in the background belonged to the Beacon Filling Station next door, and in fact, in those days that section of Union was fairly industrial, in a car-related way.

In the same block, you could find McCreery Used Cars, the Automobile Piston Company, Charles Ham Auto Service, and Farber Brothers Auto Tops. Just a few doors down was the old building — originally the Ford Motor Company — that housed The Commercial Appeal.

I have no idea why Alex and Helen Guigou called their little eatery Bergville. It didn't last long. Old city directories show a different manager running the joint every year until 1936, when the owners renamed it the Spick & Span Restaurant. In the 1940s, it became the Blue and White Spot Restaurant. Does anybody remember any of these places?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the tiny building housed a used-car dealership, joining many others in that area, back in the days when Union Avenue was considered "Automobile Row." But all that is changed now, and the little place called Bergville is long gone.


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Al's Golfdom on WKNO's "Southern Routes"

Posted By on Sun, Dec 12, 2010 at 4:44 PM

Al and Susie Fister
  • Al and Susie Fister
Back in the 1960s and '70s, one of the most popular places in town was an amusement center on South Perkins called Al's Golfdom. Don't let the name fool you. There was a heckuva lot more than just golf here. In addition to the fine driving range and a pair of fancy 18-hole miniature golf courses (complete with odd critters), Al's had baseball batting cages, go-karts, a giant slide, a concession stand, picnic tables, rides for the little kids, and more. During the winter, Al's even sold Christmas trees. Maybe some of you bought yours there?

The sprawling place on South Perkins (just about where the Mall of Memphis stood for years) was so popular that owners Al and Susie Fister opened another one on Raines Road, called Al's Golfhaven.

I've previously told the story of Al's Golfdom in the pages of Memphis magazine, and I sure hope you read that. But now you can learn even more about Al's, and see tons of vintage photos and old TV commercial's, on the December edition of the WKNO-TV (Channel 10) show Southern Routes, hosted by my good pal, Bonnie Kourvelas.

It airs Monday, December 13th, at 6:30 pm on Channel 10. If you miss it (or just want to watch it again and again) the show repeats on Saturday, December 18th, at 2:30 pm and again on Sunday, December 19th at 12 noon.

Here are a few shots of Al and Susie, taken in the 1980s at Al's Golfhaven. It was quite a place.

Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s

The Golfhaven Snack Bar
  • The Golfhaven Snack Bar

The go-kart track at Als Golfhaven
  • The go-kart track at Al's Golfhaven

Als Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al's Golfhaven in the 1980s


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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Burkle's Bakery

Posted By on Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 11:21 AM

In 1936, Herman Burkle moved his little bakery from downtown to Madison and Cooper, at the time a busy intersection in "East" Memphis. (Right across the street was an Esso gas station called the "East Memphis Motor Company.") He found space in a narrow building that formerly housed the Idle Hour Billiard Parlor, squeezed into a row of businesses that included Purdy (later Purdy-Jester) Drugs, Piggly Wiggly #35, and La Vogue Beauty Salon. And there Burkle's Bakery would remain for the next four decades.

Herman Jr. and his sister, Ruth Lee (shown here), took over the business in the 1950s. They added "restaurant" to the name, and 2125 Madison Avenue soon became a Memphis institution — a breakfast, lunch, and gathering place for everyone from bankers grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to the office to scruffy art students munching bearclaws after class.

"Burkle's never tried to expand, to spice its menu with exotic dishes, or to move to a more populous or affluent neighborhood," noted the Memphis Press-Scimitar. "It was satisfied to offer well-prepared bakery foods, meats, and vegetables without costly frills. And that is what has satisfied its customers, whether they are family groups or young people from the surrounding Overton Square."

Continue reading »

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Lu Lynch's Orchid Shop

Posted By on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 9:23 PM

Quite a few people, it seems, remember Lu Lynch and the nice florist shop that she owned and operated at 640 South Highland. The actual name of the place was Lu Lynch's Orchid Shop, but she sold all sorts of flowers and floral arrangements.

She opened the place in 1960, tucked in between the Trent Wood Record Shop and the Hi-Park Coin Laundry.

Lula (that was her full name) and her husband, Lester, a supervisor with the U.S. Postal Service, were founding members of the Memphis Orchid Society, and according to an old Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper account, they grew more than 15,000 flowers — most of them orchids, of course — in a nice pair of greenhouses they built behind their home at 851 Brower.

I know what you're thinking. So yes, I used Bing and Google to "fly" over their old house, and it looks like those big greenhouses are still there, though I don't know if any orchids are still growing in them.

"The orchids are like a family," Lu told a reporter in 1967. "We have a special feeding program for them. We watch the temperamental ones. We make sure we do not pamper them, but develop strength, sturdiness, and dependability." Just as Mother and Father did with me, and look at me today!

Lu Lynch's Orchid Shop remained in business until 1975, when the Lynches retired. For many years, the store operated as a pawn shop. I don't know what's there today.

"Orchids are a real therapy," Lu once told the Press-Scimitar. "If I am tired, I go into the greenhouse, and suddenly I am serene again." Perhaps we should all try to grow some. A little serenity would go a long way these days.


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Welcome Wagon Building's Spinning Globe

Posted By on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Years ago, I wrote about the Welcome Wagon company, which had been founded in Memphis by a fellow named Thomas Briggs (below). He built a stunning, four-story building (also below) overlooking Court Square, and several newspaper articles mentioned that Briggs planned to mount a giant neon globe on top of his headquarters. I expressed some doubts that this globe was ever installed, because I've seen lots of pictures of downtown, and had never seen such a thing.

Well, I was looking in the wrong places. Because in the front of a 1966 Kingsbury High School yearbook is a nice color shot of downtown (shown here and below), and right in front is the globe! Wow. What a fantastic thing to put on a building here — it reminds me of the globe they had on the "Daily Planet" building in all the Superman comics.

The question now, of course, is: WHAT HAPPENED TO IT? Does anybody know?

The story of Thomas Briggs and Welcome Wagon is a pretty interesting one, and since I've got some time here before I take my usual two-hour lunch, followed by my two-hour nap, I'll sum it up for you.

Years ago, you see, when you moved to a new city, a Welcome Wagon hostess would appear on your doorstep, bestowing nice gifts and free samples from the merchants of your city. It may seem a strange concept today, especially as people barricade themselves behind security doors, call blocking, caller ID, and other devices that would stump the most aggressive Welcome Wagon employee, but it was a huge success at the time, and it made Thomas Briggs into one of the wealthiest men in Memphis.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Burger Chef in 1968

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Since I'm posting old photos of high-school hangouts (such as Beal's Dixie Kream, below) I thought I'd share an ad for Burger Chef that I found in a 1968 yearbook for Immaculate Conception High School.

The food at these places was pretty good, I recall, but what was more memorable was the bizarre architecture, with that weird segmented arch erected over most, if not all, the Burger Chefs in town.

The address shown in the ad is wrong, since that would place it across the street from the Children's Museum. According to old city directories, in the late 1960s, the Burger Chefs in Memphis were located at:
3562 Walker (since demolished)
4382 Highway 51 South (building still standing and used as another restaurant)
682 N. Mendenhall (demolished)
3701 Lamar (demolished)
2450 Central (demolished; a Dollar General stands on the site)
153 North Cleveland (the building is still standing, but vacant).

Burger Chef was founded in Indianapolis in 1954 and the chain spread quickly throughout the country. It eventually became purchased by Hardee's, I believe, and the last Burger Chef closed in 1996.

Does anybody remember the girls (or the Burger Chef employee) shown in this ad?

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Overton Park's Little Log Cabin

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 2:26 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I enthralled my half-dozen readers (yes, I'm talking about you) with photos and a few words about the odd Japanese Garden that once stood in Overton Park. Surely you remember what I said? If not, scroll down and read it again. Better yet, gather your children around you as you do so; reading the inspiring story aloud to them may deter them from a life of crime. It certainly can't hurt.

Anyway, I was rummaging through my old postcards archived in the Lauderdale Library, searching for other images of that garden, when I came across these two cards, and thought I'd share them with you. Why? Because they actually pay me to do this. Hard to believe, but it's true.

After they — and I don't know who, exactly, "they" were, since I wasn't around at the time — but as I was saying, after "they" demolished the Japanese Garden after the attack on Pearl Harbor, "they" were left with a little empty island in the middle of the lake, so "they" put a rather bleak little fountain there. And here's an image of it, below. Oh, I could stare at it for hours!

But at some point, "they" erected a cute little log cabin on the island, as you can see in the top image. I have no idea how large (or small) this structure was; somebody should have stood beside it when they snapped the photograph, to provide a sense of scale. What were you thinking, cameraman? And I also don't know what purpose it served, or where it came from, or what happened to it, so please don't ask me about any of that.

What I DO know is that this is not the present-day Rainbow Lake in Overton Park. This lake, as I've said before, was filled in when they constructed the Memphis Academy of Arts complex.

And that concludes today's history lesson on Overton Park.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Wilson Field and Amelia Earhart

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Harry Wilson and chief pilot R.S. Weaver at Wilson Field in 1950
  • Harry Wilson and chief pilot R.S. Weaver at Wilson Field in 1950
Six years after Amelia Earhart vanished in the Pacific, her airplane crashed and burned at a little-known airport in Memphis.

If that sounds like an episode from The Twilight Zone, let me explain. A Lockheed Vega was one of the first airplanes that Earhart purchased, but she replaced it with a larger plane before attempting her doomed flight around the world in 1937. The Vega crashed upon takeoff at Wilson Field on August 26, 1943, while it was being ferried across the country by a new owner. Blurry pictures taken right after the crash (such as the one below) are filed away in the Memphis Room at the main library.

The wreckage remained visible for years, joining a fleet of other demolished and dismantled aircraft that caught the eye of anyone driving past the cluster of hangars and dirt runways at the northeast corner of Ridgeway and Raines Road.

Wilson Field was owned and operated by Harry T. Wilson. A self-taught pilot since 1915, Wilson had flown in the Signal Corps during World War I and teamed up with Vernon Omlie, one of this area's first aviators, in the 1920s. He took over Omlie's Mid-South Airways Corporation after the older pilot died in a plane crash near St. Louis in 1938.

Wilson moved the company to Memphis Municipal Airport, but had to relocate several miles east when the U.S. Army commandeered the city's main airfield during World War II. During the war, he supervised pilot training for the military. In later years, he provided flight classes, aircraft maintenance, and other services, and slowly built up a sprawling "boneyard" of vintage airplanes and parts.

In the 1960s, a reporter visited Wilson Field "in the quiet countryside" and noted that "airplanes remain on the field from World War II training days. Weeds and young trees grow through their fuselages. Wilson says one man wants one of the old planes as a plaything for his children."

It was certainly an odd place. Many years ago, I confess to a bit of trespassing, when I went with some friends to explore it at night. At the time, there was even a big old DC-3 parked there, and we climbed through a door, roamed through the cluttered cabin, and sat in the cockpit. Suddenly, a light flashed on in the hangar across the field — we didn't know anyone stayed there at night! — so we got spooked and scurried away, half-expecting to get shot before we reached our cars.

Wilson, hailed by the Memphis Press-Scimitar as "a pioneer figure in aviation in Memphis," died in 1975. I don't really know what became of all the wrecked airplanes, but rows of houses now stand atop the old grass runways of Wilson Field.


Amelia Earharts former plane
  • Amelia Earhart's former plane

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Al's Golfdom & Al's Golfhaven

Posted By on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Al and Susie Fister in the 1980s
  • Al and Susie Fister in the 1980s
For years and years, the place to "hang out" in East Memphis was Al's Golfdom, and in Whitehaven it was Al's Golfhaven, both owned and operated by Al and Susie Fister (shown here).

The Fisters moved to Memphis in 1960, hoping to open a driving range, since (hard to believe) our city didn't have one. They scouted around and purchased a cotton field on South Perkins and opened the Golfdom complex. It was slow going at first, but within a few years, they had expanded — adding a pair of nice miniature golf courses, snack bar, batting cages, go-karts, and a giant slide. Al's became so popular that it stayed open 24 hours a day. During the winter, they even sold Christmas trees. When celebrities came to town — Lee Trevino, Bob Hope, and others — they headed out to Al's to practice their swing.

In 1965, Al expanded his operation, buying up 20 acres of farmland on Raines Road, right by the expressway, and opening Al's Golfhaven, a somewhat larger version of the place on Perkins.

Remember the red tractor that picked up the golf balls? The driver was protected by a cage, but he became a moving target whenever he ventured out into the big field.

I could tell you more about both places here, but I won't. Instead, you must go out and purchase the October issue of Memphis magazine, where you can read the whole thrilling story, beginning on page 58. You'll be glad you did, I assure you.



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Monday, October 4, 2010

The "Hollywood" Showboat - 1933

Posted By on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Back in the early 1930s, Memphians could go downtown to the various theaters, which were gradually being converted from vaudeville and stage shows into "moving picture" theaters, but we also had another entertainment option that's no longer available: showboats.

Poring over a November 1933 issue of The Commercial Appeal, I noticed this ad for a production of "St. Elmo" aboard the Hollywood showboat.

Reserved seats were 40 cents, which seems a bit steep for the time, but maybe this was a classy boat, and a good production that was well worth the price of admission.

What's interesting is where the boat was docked — near "Second Street and the Wolf River Bridge." I would have thought they would have just tied up at the cobblestones, about where the Memphis Queen Line is located today. But back in the 1930s, the riverfront was considerably busier than it is now, so maybe this was the only place the boat could stay for extended periods of time. I really don't know. Do you?

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