For more than 60 years, a ramshackle fruit stand — just bare wooden shelves protected by a striped canvas awning — stood on the northeast corner of Main and Beale, enduring heat and humidity in the summer, sleet and hail in the winter, and rain throughout the seasons. Tony’s Fruit Stand, as the little place was called, became a Memphis institution, where businessmen and -women would pick up apples, bananas, chewing gum, cigarettes, soft drinks, and candy on their way to work. Then one day, all it took was a piece of paper to knock it down.
An Italian truck farmer named Tony Bova opened his little stand in 1905. I’ve seen photos that show it was originally located in Court Square, but then he moved to Beale Street, renting space from the owner of the building behind him. The overhead sign spelled his name “Toney” but since he had it painted for free, so the story goes, he didn’t bother to change it.
Bova died in 1954, and his nephew, Joe Cianciola (that’s him in the photo above), who had begun working at the stand when he was just 11, took over the business. “A lot of people call me Tony,” he once told a reporter, “and that’s all right.”
Brothers Arnold and Walter Klyce opened Memphis’ only Studebaker dealership on South Cleveland in 1945. Newspapers praised the building’s clean design, created by Memphis architect Zeno Yeates, and proclaimed it “one of the most modern and attractive dealerships in the South.”
This photo, taken in 1950, shows a pair of what appear to be 1949 Studebaker Commander models parked at the curb (the gentlemen in the photo were not identified). These two cars probably weren’t sold to customers, since each one has the company name and address painted rather prominently on the doors, along with with catchy slogan, “They’re Nice at Klyce.”
Nowadays, Memphians in search of a new or used car have their choice of about a billion vehicles for sale on Covington Pike, or they can visit other fine dealerships on Stage Road, Poplar, Mt. Moriah, Mendenhall, and other locations throughout the county. But in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Union Avenue was Automobile Row, and one of the nicest establishments along that row was Douthit-Sanchez Pontiac.
Troy Douthit and Belmont Sanchez must have been terrific businessmen. Just a few months after they opened their automobile dealership at 1011 Union, America was thrust into World War II. Not many people seem aware of this, but you simply could not purchase a brand-new car from 1942 through 1945 in this country, as every aspect of Detroit car production was diverted to produce tanks, bombers, and other equipment needed for the war effort.
In the meantime, Douthit-Sanchez managed to survive by selling used vehicles, and by 1956, when this photo was taken of their elaborate showroom, not only were they bragging in their ads that they were “Memphis’ Oldest Pontiac Dealer,” but — according to the huge signs painted in the window — they were even able to give away a FREE car to customers who won the “Lucky Key” contest.
Last week, I posted a photo of a fine-looking old Pure Oil Station, and invited readers to guess the location (see the previous post). After some of you placed it all over town — and even as far away as Collierville — I’m glad to say that the mystery has finally been solved. Robert Stacey and WREG meteorologist Todd Demers determined that this building was once located at the southwest corner of Madison and McLean — pretty much where the patio for Neil’s stands today. I’ve enclosed a recent photo of that corner, so you can get a then-and-now feel. And yes, those tracks in the foreground carried the streetcars down Madison, then south on Cooper and east on Young to the Fairgrounds.
I haven’t been able to dig up much information on this establishment, except to determine that in the late 1930s and early 1940s it was called the Ben-Jep Tire and Battery Company. Old telephone books list the company president as James Hoyle and the vice-president as Thad P. Hicks, so I don’t have the slightest idea who Ben or “Jep” were. Does anyone?
Those half-dozen of you who read this blog, or my column in Memphis magazine, on a regular basis know that I have recently talked about a couple of old Pure Oil Stations in Memphis. One was on Madison; the other on South Front Street. Both were built in the 1930s in the company’s distinctive “English Cottage” style. You should also know, if you had been paying attention, that the Lauderdale Library recently purchased the photo archives of all the Pure Oil Stations erected in Memphis from the 1930s through the 1960s.
So what I want to know is: Where was this station?
You can see that it’s the same “cottage” style architecture, but it’s considerably larger than the other Pure stations I’ve discussed. For one thing, it has TWO garage bays instead of one, and it has old “clock-face” gas pumps on two sides of the station, instead of just one grouping in the front. There is no overhead canopy, like the station on Madison. Look very closely at the photo, and you’ll see that someone has inked in lines around the window and door at the far right, and they also put three “X’s” across the pumps in front — possibly indicating changes to the existing building.
Other clues: a large two-story house in the background, and — most intriguing of all — some kind of railroad or trolley tracks in the foreground.
This much I’ll tell you. On the back of the photo is a scribbled notation: “Constructed March 1935.” There’s also the address. So yes, I know where this place is.
But the question is: Do you?
Memphians lining the streets of downtown Memphis to watch the 1954 Thanksgiving Day parade probably gawked at the “space ship” (below) lumbering down Main. But the words “Mars Patrol” emblazoned on the side of the unusual float reassured them that no aliens were in their midst that day, for that was the title of a popular TV show hosted by a young Memphis State College student named Winston Conrad Martindale.
“Wink” Martindale, as he is better known today, was described by a reporter that year as an “atomically energized young man,” and that wasn’t just hype. He worked at three radio shows in his native Jackson, Tennessee, before moving to Memphis to take an announcer job with WHBQ — all this before he was 20. In 1955, he became captain of Mars Patrol, which showcased Flash Gordon films in between interviews with local kiddies.
Two years later, Wink became the popular host of a show called the Top Ten Dance Party (later renamed Talent Party and hosted by George Klein). Along the way, he recorded a handful of hit records, and his album Deck of Cards, a collection of religious and inspirational songs, sold close to a million copies.
Hard to believe, but in the early 1930s, a Texas businessman named B. Lee Torrance visited Memphis and told a reporter, “[Your city] has the most careful drivers I ever saw. They sure obey the speed limit, too.”
Based on that observation, I think we can safely say that: 1) Mr. Torrance was insane, or 2) Memphis drivers have sure changed a heckuva lot since the early 1930s.
At any rate, for other reasons that we may never know, Torrance decided that the Bluff City seemed to be a “good business town,” and so he decided Memphis should be the next link in his nationwide chain of Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts. After all, as he explained, “If people are speeding through town, they won’t be able to see my tourist courts.”