Tour Brings Memphis’ Historic Parking Lot District to Life

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Development as Metaphor
  • Development as Metaphor
Bing Hampton plants himself in what he describes as “the spiritual epicenter,” of Memphis’ Pinch district, in front of an iconic piece of architecture, and a humble sign reading, “PAY HERE IN ADVANCE.” Once settled, the activist turned entrepreneur begins a colorful, expletive-laden folk tale about a, “mighty pyramid-shaped fishing lure,” built by Memphis’ civic leaders to win favor with the professional sports franchise Gods. Growing more excited with every word he tells the stories of brave young men with bulldozers who flattened all the crappy antique buildings that once blighted that stretch of N. Main, and laid down a lush carpet of asphalt for overflow sports fans to park on. As the founder, CEO, and lone employee of $5-Parking Lot Tours, Hampton worries that new plans to redevelop Memphis's first commercial district will result in the loss of some of the city’s most historically important pavement.

Hampton's passionate about his topic and walks the lot like a minister, dropping knowledge as he goes. “Only the finest white and yellow pigment was used,” he shouts. “It’s widely accepted that Pinch-style striping set a new standard for affordable surface rental.”

Parking wasn't the only thing going on in the pinch in the 90's and early 2000's.“You could purchase all sorts of goods and services here,” Hampton says. “You could get your windows washed, pick up a loose cigarette, and maybe get a good deal on a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD. One time I bought a whole case of 60-watt light bulbs for $3.”

The urge to preserve is relatively new to Hampton. “I think I first started paying attention to what was going on in 2013 when they tore down the Taco Bell that had been built on top of the Taliesyn Ballroom where the Sex Pistols played on their disastrous 1978 American tour," he says. "Then they went built a brand new Taco Bell on top of all that. Where does that kind of madness end?”

Hampton’s a realist. “I don’t expect to save all these beautiful old parking lots,” he says, noting how empty, and quiet everything is nowadays — how clean the air is now that there’s no good reason to choke the district with automobiles. “It really is a paved-over paradise,” he says. “And I know they’ll never replace it with anything half as nice.”

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