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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another View of the Japanese Gardens - 1920

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Postcard view of Japanese Garden
  • Postcard view of Japanese Garden
Okay, it took a while, but I finally turned up an old postcard showing the Japanese Gardens in Overton Park. The card is postmarked 1920 or maybe 1928 (the date is hard to read).

Compare it with group of Robert Ferguson photos that I've already posted. (I re-posted one of them below so you really won't have to go to any trouble whatsoever.) You'll note that the odd white "mountain" appears to be the same in both views, as does the bridge (reflected in the water in the old photographs). And you can see a stone lantern that looks just like the ones in the photos.

But what you DON'T see are the crazy trees, the dog statue, and the weird rock-covered iron grate that the woman was sitting on (though maybe that's too small to show up in the postcard).

The Japanese Gardens were in Overton Park for some 40 years. My theory is that this place, like so many others around town, changed over the years. Certain features were added or removed.

But it's pretty definitely the same "mountain," if you ask me.

Photo taken in the 1920s
  • Photo taken in the 1920s

Monday, August 30, 2010

Memories of "Monkey Mountain"

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 2:30 PM

In the July issue of Memphis magazine, I wrote about the "neighborhood of the future" that was to be constructed in the area of East Memphis bounded by Park, White Station, Estate, and Quince. Perhaps "Country Club Estates" was ahead of its time, but such a concept never left the drawing board. Developers eventually constructed Sea Isle School and lots of nice homes instead, but one large area in particular — several acres just to the northeast of the school property — was left wild and undeveloped for years.

Everyone called it "Monkey Mountain."

Today, it's a nicely manicured park with soccer fields and a walking path. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this area was a vast wasteland, rutted with deep ravines and vine-covered trees. Naturally, it was a magnet for any child living in the neighborhood, who could play "army" or Tarzan or anything they wanted in this jungle. Not too long ago, I made a rare public appearance before the Sea Isle Park Neighborhood Association, and my visit prompted long-ago memories of just what, exactly, Monkey Mountain actually was.

Danny Milam, whose family lived in the area in the 1950s and '60s, remembers it this way:
"I read with interest your article in the July edition, "Estate Planning." I lived in that area when I was young (on White Station Road, just north of Sea Isle Road) and never knew about the grand plans for the area. Pity it never came to fruition. It would have been cool.

"But then again, if it had, my family probably couldn't have afforded to live there.

"The undeveloped area around Sea Isle School was enormous. Even with the development of a park with a lighted baseball field, there was still a hefty tract of unimproved acreage that just sat there for years. In the area slightly northeast of where a lake was proposed was an odd land formation featuring many deep rills and ditches that couldn't be explained. If it had been on a steep hill, one could understand all the rills and crevasses, but it was flat. (This is Memphis, after all.) Now that I've read your article, I wonder if perhaps some preliminary earthwork was done and then abandoned when the grandiose plans for Country Club Estates fell through.

[It IS possible, I suppose, that this "land formation" was leftover fill from the developers scooping out the lake proposed for the area. — Vance]

"It looked like an area used for WWI-era trench warfare. In fact, that's how we used it, employing dirt clods instead of rifles to fend off the enemy combatants. Yes, the ditches were deep enough to crouch in and seek cover from an assault.

"Everyone in the neighborhood called this tract of odd topography "Monkey Mountains." No one knew how it got that name, or why, because there was certainly nothing there that brought up images of mountains. A better name would have been "Monkey Canyon." 

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Owl Lunch Service and Tourist Court

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 3:29 PM

A Big Boy Cone, Anyone?
  • A Big Boy Cone, Anyone?
A weary traveler driving into Memphis along Summer Avenue would find it hard to resist turning into the Owl Lunch Service and Tourist Court for a tasty meal and a good night's sleep.

First of all, it's impossible to miss the big billboard-sized sign, adorned with a giant painted owl. If that didn't get their attention, a smaller sign was placed right at the curb, facing the oncoming drivers, and telling them to STOP, EAT, and DRINK.

And why not? Just look at the neat rows of white cottages, with their eye-catching red roofs and brick pillars holding up the front porches — all the comforts of home. Over to one side (at the left in the card) was some kind of octagonal (or at least hexagonal) concession stand, its arched windows decorated with yellow awnings and colorful flower boxes.

Then there's the main building, presumably housing the cozy cafe, which offered Clover Farms Ice Cream, Clover Farms Malted Milk (just 20 cents), and something called the Big Boy Cone — that was just a dime (and decades before any Shoney's Big Boy made an appearance in town). The joint also sold Clover Farms Bottled Milk Chocolate, according to the great sign.

Summer Avenue, officially designated U.S. Highway 70, was also called the Bristol Highway because it supposedly stretched all the way across the state to the city of Bristol in the northeastern corner of Tennessee. I say "supposedly" because I've never actually journeyed that far on it. But because it was such an important traffic artery for tourists and business travelers, it certainly attracted some of the most memorable "roadside" attractions in Memphis, including the Silver Horseshoe Motel, Leahy's Trailer Court, the Crescent Lake Tourist Court, and — most famous of all — the world's first Holiday Inn.

I have no idea where the Owl Lunch Service was actually located on Summer, but it's a safe bet that what's there now doesn't have half the charm of this old place.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Miniature Golf in Memphis — An Update

Posted By on Sat, Aug 7, 2010 at 10:41 PM

Over the past year or so, I've posted a photo or two of miniature golf courses in Memphis, which have generated a lot of comments and discussion from readers. The Putt Putt on Perkins certainly caused some dispute, since nobody could agree, it seems, precisely where it was located.

Well, Audrey Smith, the former owner of that establishment, and — at one time or another — all the other Putt Putt golf places in town, has contacted me to set the record straight. Here's what he had to say:

"The Putt Putt was at 555 Perkins Extended and was owned by R.D. Buie of Hickory, North Carolina. [This would have been on the WEST side of Perkins, at Southern — Vance] They lost their lease in 1963 and I purchased the entire course on October 1, 1963, and ran it for one month before closing it. That winter I negotiated a lease across the street at 560 Perkins Extended where Chili's now sits. That winter and spring I moved everything including the sod (weeds) across the street and rebuilt the Putt Putt, which opened that June of 1964. It remained there for seven years. That Putt Putt sign (above) was at that Putt Putt. In 1966 I also built the Putt Putt at 5484 Summer Ave that is still there to this day in 2010, though remodeled several times."

Aubrey then sent additional information, about all the other miniature golf courses that were built in Memphis over the years. See if you remember some (or all) of these:

"My previous comment should clarify the 560 Perkins Extended and 5484 Summer Ave locations, but the Mt. Moriah location was built around 1975 and was closed in the late '90s, when I sold the property. The waterslide was at the Golf and Games location at 5484 Summer Ave in the early 1970s and was there for four years. It sat exactly where the bumper boats are now. The waterslide was owned by Dan Wilkinson, Milton Knowlton, and Richard Kramer, who leased the spot from me. I never owned the waterslide, but was only the landlord. The unfortunate accident occurred in the first year of operation during a private party for Libertyland employees. About 14 [people] fell 40 feet through girders and concrete and miraculously NO ONE DIED. There were a few broken bones and one serious injury to a young lady who was paralyzed. The next year the slide was purchased by David Martin, who ran it for three years.

"As for other miniature golf courses that I remember in Memphis in past years, in the 1950s there were at least two on Lamar: Fran-Ricks and Pla-mor. In the 1960s and 70's Cherokee Bowling Lanes had an indoor Putt Putt. Cloverleaf briefly had a miniature golf. Summer Ave. had one in the 50's, where Imperial Lanes now is. Libertyland had one. Of course both Als locations had courses. Putt-n-Stuff was at Perkins and I-240 for a few years.

"Imperial Bowling Lanes had an indoor course for awhile. More recently there were Bogey's and Celebration Station, both recently closed. The Putting Edge at Peabody Place may still be open, I'm not sure, but it would be the only miniature golf course now in Memphis besides my Golf and Games Family Park Putt Putt and Incredible Pizza. — Aubrey Smith, owner, builder and operator of Golf and Games Family Park at 5484 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN"

Thanks for the information and memories, Aubrey!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sno Cream Castle

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM

You really have to admire someone who opens a humble little building like this, at the corner of Willow and Getwell of all places, and decides to call it a "castle."

And the "queen" of the Sno Cream Castle was a Memphian named Edith Humber, who opened her tiny ice-cream eatery and sno-cone shop back in 1964. Despite our steamy summers (some things never change), it was slow-going at first for the fledgling business. In a story about the place that we published in the May 1994 issue of Memphis magazine, written by my pal Dawne Massey, Humber said she made only $30 a day the first few weeks. It wasn't long, though, before sales increased by $10,000 each year for the next decade or so.

The reason for her success? "Because I put my whole life and soul into it, I guess," she said. "The first thing is a good product — you've got to have good food. And you've got to be friendly, and you've got to show the people that you appreciate them."

Humber added hot dogs, hamburgers, and foot-long pronto pups to her menu, but she told us that she never changed her ice-cream recipes over the years. Customers knew better than to even ask for low-fat ice cream or yogurt: "The biggest reason I don't want to change is because people have always asked me why mine tastes better than anybody else's, and I say, 'If you've got something going good, why change?' And it's low butterfat, so it's not real fattening anyway."

Humber said she rarely, if ever, advertised. People flocked to her "castle" because they heard about it from their friends and family. "The kids would save their lunch money at school to come here," she said. "Then they'd go home and tell their parents, 'We had a Rainbow [one of her popular sno-cone flavors]. Then on the weekends the parents would come up and say, 'Do you have something called a Rainbow?' and it would spread like wildfire."

Ill health forced Humber to close the Sno Cream Castle a few years after our 1994 interview. When she passed away in 1997 at the age of 71, the business died with her. It's now a vacant lot. When you drive by there, it's depressing to see what a tiny amount of space it occupied, but boy what a lot of memories it still holds for so many people in Memphis.

Sno Cream Castle Menu Board
  • Sno Cream Castle Menu Board

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Miss McKellar Lake

Posted By on Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Miss McKellar Lake Finalists
  • Miss McKellar Lake Finalists
Does anyone still go to McKellar Lake anymore?

At one time, it was a magnet for Memphians trying to beat the heat. The Lauderdales kept their cabin cruiser, The Lady Lauderdale, berthed there, alongside radio/tv pioneer Hoyt Wooten's magnificent yacht, the Elbaroda ("adorable," spelled backwards). In the 1950s and 1960s, the lake — actually a former oxbow of the Mississippi River — was always packed with ski boats, house boats, rowboats, and just about anything that could float.

But it gradually lost its allure, perhaps because of places like Sardis and Pickwick. What's more, expressways (and airplanes) brought the beaches of the Gulf Coast within easier reach. That's just a theory.

McKellar was such an important part of the Memphis community, and our social life, that every year we held a Miss McKellar Lake contest, and the prettiest women in the region would compete. The event was sponsored by the Memphis Park Commission, Memphis Ski Club, and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. I'm not sure what the "talent" portion of this competition entailed; I suspect how the contestants looked in a swimsuit was the key element of the judging, since that's all the newspapers ever showed.

Here's an undated photo taken of the finalists, all of them (according to the original newspaper caption) just 16 or 17 years old. From left to right: Lynda Cummings, Micki Slover, Micki Dollar, Rita Raney, and Cynthia Cowgill. Some of those names sound made up, to me. I mean, what are the chances that two different girls named "Micki" would end up as finalists?

I'm a little confused. The newspaper clipping that accompanied this photo has a date of "August 1989" stamped on it, but the photo itself was dated 1964. I'm no expert on women's swimsuits or hairstyles, though of course I know you would certainly assume I would be, but I can't tell WHAT year this is from. What do you think?

And I'm sorry to say that I don't know who won this particular contest. Does anyone remember any of these ladies?



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tony's Pizza Man — Mystery Solved?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Is this fellow Tony?
  • Is this fellow Tony?
Precisely one year ago, I posted this photograph of an odd-looking fiberglass statue I had discovered at a Midtown estate sale. Who was this vaguely scary-looking creature, I wondered, and where did he (or it) come from?

Several readers thought it was a promotion for a pizza parlor in Memphis, and suggested Pasquale's, Shakey's, Coletta's, and others. I didn't think that was right.

Then other readers — among them peterwertz, bp1952, and pwgriffith (hmmm, something tells me that is NOT their real names) — thought it came from the old Tony's Pizza on Central, a building now occupied by Central Barbecue.

I wasn't able to prove, or disprove, their theories. Until now. Looking through some old newspapers yesterday, as I seem to do Monday through Friday, and most Saturdays and Sundays, I noticed a 1968 ad for Tony's Pizza, shown below. You'll have to click on it to enlarge it, but I think you'll agree that there is a definite resemblance. The fiberglass guy wears eyeglasses, while the Tony's guy doesn't, but the chef's hat and the moustache are pretty similar, and the real giveaway, if you ask me, are the checkered pants.

So, I think the little fellow came from Tony's. What do YOU think?

Tonys Pizza ad from 1968
  • Tony's Pizza ad from 1968

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 3:00 PM

In the summer of 1961, anyone looking for a job might have noticed these tiny newspaper ads for two competing ice-cream companies.

You could go to 741 S. Cox and knock on the door of Mr. Johnstone and apply for work driving a truck for Ice Cream Circus — a company I no longer remember.

Or — a better option, if you ask me — you could pay a visit to 3065 Broad and apply for a coveted position as a Merrymobile driver. Not only would you be driving a real, honest-to-goodness Merrymobile around the streets of Memphis, but look, you could earn more than $100 a week.

I'd go for the Merrymobile job. Just think of all the stories you could tell your kids. And what an ice-breaker at parties: "I remember that time I was a Merrymobile driver ..." Not many people can say THAT.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Street Cars For Sale — 1961

Posted By on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 10:12 PM

So I'm looking through old bound volumes of Memphis newspapers, just like everybody else in town does on their Thursday nights in the Home, and this ad catches my eye. It's from a July 1959 copy of The Commercial Appeal.

Street cars for sale! These were the old electrified buses, which had a complicated apparatus on top that made contact with high-voltage lines and just rained down sparks whenever the buses crossed an intersection. For some reason I was terrified of them as a child — probably because I wasn't allowed out much, and since the mansion lacked electricity, I wasn't used to seeing it in action.

Anyway, just look at the business potential you had here. Why, just pick up one of these things — with tires or without — and you've got yourself a roomy fishing cabin, sleeping quarters (my, wouldn't THAT be lovely!), field offices, storage facility, tool room, and even a food stand. The sky was really the limit.

I don't know how many of these ratty old things this company sold, but I sure don't remember seeing any of them parked around town, serving as "sleeping quarters" or "food stands."

I'm just glad Father didn't see this ad, or that might have been my bedroom. Yikes.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Clarence Saunders' Amazing KEEDOOZLE Stores

Posted By on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 11:13 PM

Clarence Saunders Keedoozle
  • Clarence Saunders' Keedoozle
Most people reading this blog probably know quite a bit about Memphis history, and that means they also know quite a bit about Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly, the world's first (well, maybe) supermarket. But for some reason, their knowledge of grocery-store history often doesn't extend much farther than that (I did my dissertation on it at Heidelberg), and what some of you may NOT know is that, after Clarence lost his Piggly Wiggly stores, and his fortune, and his Pink Palace, he started over with something entirely different.

In the late 1930s, he came up with the world's first fully-automated grocery stores. No carts or baskets, no lugging heavy groceries around the store. You just carried a "key" and picked out your items, which were then whisked by conveyor belts, bagged and tabulated, to the front of the store.

He called the new stores "KEEDOOZLE" and you can learn the whole amazing story by watching the July episode of WKNO's "Southern Routes." The show airs Thursday, July 9, at 8 pm, and repeats Saturday, July 10 at 2:30 pm, and again on Sunday, July 12, at 12 noon. For all you folks with more channels than I have, it also airs on WKNO-2 on Saturday, July 10, at 9 pm.

It's a truly fascinating Memphis business story. That episode also includes a nice feature on my pal Tad Pierson, owner and operator of the American Dream Safari, and a piece on a local piano prodigy (the kid's only 6 years old). Don't miss it, or you will hurt my feelings.


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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jack Pirtle's Fantastic Neon Sign

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Jack Pirtle in 1965
  • Jack Pirtle in 1965
While thumbing through an old Central High School yearbook from 1965, I noticed this interesting ad for Jack Pirtle Fried Chicken, with a tiny photo of the establishment at 1370 Poplar, just east of Cleveland. I'm sorry it's not a better image, but don't blame me; blame the yearbook people.

Nevertheless, if you squint and scrutinize the ad carefully, you'll see something that surprised me. Namely, was Jack Pirtle allowed to call itself "KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN"? Apparently so, because even though it's hard to tell, there's Colonel Harlan Sanders' big head on the left-hand edge of the sign, and the sign itself and the yearbook ad say it.

But what's a real shame about this ad is that it doesn't show the sign more clearly, because let me tell you, folks, this was one of the Grade A, First-Class, and Most Fantastic neon signs in the history of Memphis. And, yes, that's really saying something, but let me describe the action, which used to mesmerize me as a child:

Neon chickens, their wings flapping wildly, scamper along the top of the billboard. As they reach the left side, they spring onto a diving board, and then leap happily into a BOILING BUCKET OF GREASE. In a matter of seconds, drumsticks — NEON drumsticks — poke their legs out of the bucket. Yum!

The sign, of course, doesn't bother to explain what happens to all the guts and brains and beaks and claws, but gosh it sure made chicken-cooking look fun! And the chickens didn't seem to mind one bit!

There's still a Jack Pirtle at this location, but the great sign was pulled down in the 1980s (maybe sooner — I can't exactly recall). What a shame.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Where Was This LOEB's — With The Big Pig Sign?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 10:37 AM

Where was this Loebs Bar-B-Q?
  • Where was this Loeb's Bar-B-Q?
I always thought that Loeb's was an unusual company, since it operated both laundries and barbecue joints. But maybe it was a brilliant move, since people who slopped barbecue sauce all over their white shirts might take them to a Loeb's Laundry to be cleaned.

At any rate, Loeb's made some pretty tasty barbecue, and by the 1960s it seems there was a Loeb's Bar-B-Q on just about every corner. They're all gone now, after the company decided to focus on their commercial real estate business.

Which brings me to this week's mystery.

Most of the Loeb's Bar-B-Q shops that I visited had a pole-mounted sign, in the shape of a standing pig, outside on the street or sidewalk. The silhouette was quite distinctive, and you can still find many of these around town, painted over to reflect the name of whatever new business has moved into the old building.

But while leafing through a 1964 Snowden Junior High School annual, I noticed this little ad for a Loeb's with an entirely different — and much larger — rooftop sign. Boy, that is one Big Pig!

So the obvious question is: Where was this particular establishment, and what stands there now?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hi-Hat "Jockey Club" Powder - Made in Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Since so many of you seemed (or at least pretended) to enjoy my thrilling tale of Penetro (see below), I thought I'd share with you another exciting product Made in Memphis. I recently acquired a vintage, unopened, unused box of "Jockey Club" face powder, manufactured — or at least distributed — here in the 1930s by the Hi-Hat Company.

I'm too consumed with terminal ennui to bother looking into the history of this company — where it was located and all that — but thought I'd just chatter on, in my mindless way, about the product itself, which I picked up at a local estate sale.

First of all, I love the wonderful graphics on the box, showing a pair of rather spooky-looking identical triplets arranged within a sawtooth-edged white circle, which is within a light-blue circle, which itself is placed inside a dark-blue square with a bright-red border. And just look at the cool font they used for "Hi-Hat."

The back of the box (see below) tells you pretty much all anyone would want to know about this product. It's not just "smart" face powder, but it's also "purse-sized" for your convenience. And gosh-a-mighty, look at all the shades available. Yes, there was the basic white and pink and "flesh." Even something rather mysteriously called "Rachel." But depending on your mood, you could apply "High Brown" or "Copper Bronze." Feeling a bit frisky? Then I'd go with "Teezum Brown" or "Teezum Red." And for a truly special evening, then you'd most certainly want to wear "Parisian Lavender Nite."

Note that even though it's not listed, this particular box contains "Toasted Chestnut."

And don't just search for this product in the local stores. Stomp your foot and DEMAND it: "Insist on Hi-Hat Jockey Club Face Powder — Sold Only Through Hi-Hat Agents."

A bargain, I'd say, for just 10 cents.

And yes, I know what you are wondering. I DID brush it on, and my goodness that Toasted Chestnut really brings out my skintones. I mean, I have always looked fabulous, as have all the Lauderdales, but the phrase "Roman God" now comes to mind whenever I glance in the mirror (pretty much all day long).

The back of the box
  • The back of the box — click to enlarge

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Amazing "Penetro" — Made in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Maybe it's just me, but "Penetro" isn't a very pleasant-sounding name for a medicine that you swallow, rub on your body, or squirt in your nose. Without going into any details, it just sounds to me like you'd stick it somewhere else in your body.

Despite the name, it was a hugely successful product, manufactured here in Memphis by the Plough Chemical Company (better known today as Schering-Plough). Though company records are a bit vague, I believe you could still find Penetro on drug-store shelves as late as the 1950s.

I discovered this old booklet tucked away in the Lauderdale Library, and I have to admit I like the way the product is marketed. Just look at that nice old woman! "Grandma created it," says the booklet, and "medical science perfected it." As a result, "NOW MILLIONS USE IT." And wouldn't you, if Grandma said it was good for you?

So what did they use it for, exactly? Well, just about anything. The makers of Penetro claimed it could cure "sprains, bronchial irritation, cuts and scratches, tired and sore muscles, head cold discomfort, superficial burns and scalds, irritated feet, sunburn, bruises, and abrasions."

Why, it could even treat frostbite!

The secret ingredient behind this miracle product? Mutton suet. Yes, that's right — globs of FAT extracted from SHEEP. Hard to believe (downright impossible, I'd say), but Plough claimed this "is one of the earliest of all home remedies. Your grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother placed their faith in mutton suet."

Really? I'm pretty sure my mother's family was all Methodists, and if they had any faith in mutton suet, they never mentioned it around me. Is it in the Bible somewhere?

Continue reading »

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Another Look at the Riviera Grill

Posted By on Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 12:56 PM

The Riviera Grill
  • The Riviera Grill
Two years ago — gosh, has it really been that long? — I wrote about a fancy restaurant on Jackson called the Riviera Grill, owned and operated by John George Morris, who had previously opened the oddly named "The Old Master Says" restaurant on Poplar.

The Riviera stood at Jackson and Watkins. Go here to read the whole exciting, spine-tingling story.

At the time, I had posted several black-and-white photographs of the Riviera, but I recently found a great old postcard that shows how the place looked in color.

Wow! Certainly some of the best neon in Memphis, I'd say. The building itself is still standing, though almost unrecognizable, and all the neon tubing is long gone. What a shame. That glowing tower would have looked grand on the Lauderdale Mansion — and the Mausoleum.

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