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Friday, September 12, 2008

Rainbow Lake and the Rainbow Rollerdrome

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2008 at 7:59 PM

2096/1242522160-rainbowlakedecal.png I recently purchased this colorful old decal on eBay, for a Memphis establishment called Rainbow Rollerdrome. Maybe that was the actual name of the roller-skating rink, but the entire complex on Lamar will forever be known as Rainbow Lake, which also included a huge outdoor swimming pool, fancy restaurant, picnic grounds, and more.

Rainbow Lake was opened way back in 1936 by Leo Pieraccini, when that stretch of Lamar (at Dunn) was on the outskirts of town. In the early years, it was mainly a place to swim; the skating rink wasn’t added until 1942. Memphis kids had a great time at Rainbow Lake over the years, but brother, the place was plagued by trouble. In 1947, it made all the newspapers when more than two dozen sailors from the Naval Air Station at Millington staged a bottle-throwing, drunk-punching, free-for-all with a group of civilians. It finally took a Naval Court of Inquiry to sort out all the mess and clear most of the charges.

In 1957, a rock-and-roll dance party held in Rainbow’s famous Terrace Room — and hosted by two of the most famous disk jockeys in Memphis history, Wink Martindale and Dewey Phillips — got out of hand when many of the kids (some of them just 15 years old), got rip-roaring drunk. Rainbow lost its beer license after that.

Then there were fires, robberies, and even an accidental drowning in the big pool. Rainbow Lake could never seem to get good press. In 1958, the owners announced they were turning the 14-acre complex into a private resort, to be called Rainbow Lake Country Club. They planned to build a 40-unit luxury motel, and even add a 500,000-gallon indoor swimming pool. None of that ever happened.

In 1963, a department store called Big M announced it had leased the site and would tear down all the buildings and fill in the swimming pool. For some reason, none of that ever happened either, and newspaper headlines announced, “Rainbow Lake To Stay Put.” Well, it did for six more years, anyway. Then the Memphis AFL-CIO Building Association purchased the property for $700,000. They turned the Terrace Room, once billed as “The South’s Finest,” into meeting space, and converted the old skating rink into offices. The swimming pool filled up with trash and rainwater.

Then came more bad press. A fire in 1975 did $300,000 damage, and in 1979 the building association went bankrupt. Finally, in December 1981, the Mexican food and restaurant chain Pancho’s bought the site for its headquarters and food-processing plant. But they moved out some years ago, and the last time I drove by there, the site was a scruffy vacant lot. It was the end of the Rainbow.

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