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Friday, October 31, 2008

Downtown's Japanese Garden

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 4:31 PM

0af6/1242251052-100northmain-japgarden.jpg Most Memphians know about the lovely Japanese Garden in Audubon Park, and the arched red bridge there may be one of the most photographed attractions in Memphis (especially popular with yearbook photographers). Those of us of a certain age may remember the older Japanese Garden in Overton Park, a lavish construction that was destroyed because of anti-Japanese sentiment following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

But few people, I’ll wager, remember the Japanese Garden that was constructed downtown — mainly because it was located in a rather unusual location: on the roof of the 100 North Main Building. I managed to find a photo of the garden (above), along with a trio of attractive visitors, in the old Press-Scimitar archives at the University of Memphis Special Collections Department.

Installed in late 1964 when the 38-story building opened, the garden featured Japanese stone lanterns, bamboo screens, rock arrangements, and what the newspapers described (and not very well, I might add) as “fir trees and flaming fountains.” Does that mean they actually spouted FIRE? It boggles the mind.

In Memphis: An Architectural Guide, authors Eugene J. Johnson and Robert D. Russell Jr. barely mention the 100 North Main Building (for so many years also known as the UP Bank Building), calling it “the tallest structure downtown and one of the least interesting.” Ouch. So maybe the Japanese Garden was an attempt to give the joint some pizzazz. At any rate, it didn’t last long.

The garden was actually part of the Top of the 100 Club that occupied the top floors. The club featured a swimming pool and sauna, but the garden closed around 1971, supposedly because people kept throwing things off the roof. That’s what I heard, anyway, and I imagine getting konked on the head with a flaming fountain as you strolled along Main Street Mall would be quite a shock. The last time I checked, that area of the building’s roof was cluttered with satellite dishes, antennas, and other electronic gizmos.

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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