The boundary between East Memphis and Midtown has always been rather vague. Some Memphians insist that East Parkway serves as the border between the two neighborhoods; others say it’s Highland — which these days is still many miles west of the development that you might call “East Memphis” today.
Heck, you might as well consider the I-240 loop as the boundary, while you’re at it.
But in the 1940s, a gas station could be called the East Memphis Motor Company, and no one questioned the location — even though it stood right in the heart of today’s Midtown, at the northeast corner of Cooper and Madison, today’s Overton Square.
I found an old photo at the main library that shows the brand-new Esso station on opening day — November 5, 1940. A row of neatly wrapped Atlas tires stand in front of the gleaming-white service bay, and pyramids of stacked oil cans fill the windows. Judging from the signs, patrons could pick up a free “Session Electric” clock or they could order the new Philco auto radios for just $19.99. An ad in the telephone directory that year shows this establishment did everything a car owner might require: “Automobile repairing, painting, seat covers, gasoline, oils, and accessories.”
At the time, the intersection was home to a variety of small businesses. Across Madison stood a Weona Food Store, Burkle’s Bakery, and Purdy-Jester Drug Store, among others. But in the 1970s, developers converted the area into one of our city’s first entertainment districts, transforming many of the buildings into clubs and shops. The old gas station became a swinging nightspot called Godfathers, then Solomon Alfred’s. The little building was eventually torn down to make way for the French Quarter Suites Hotel.
PHOTO COURTESY BENJAMIN HOOKS PUBLIC LIBRARY AND INFORMATION CENTER