Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Fargason Mansion on Lamar

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 9:40 PM

cefc/1241750543-fargusonmansion.jpg At first glance, this somewhat grainy image appears to be a rare photo of the Lauderdale Mansion. But a close look reveals this building has a nice tile roof, and our mansion’s roof has been covered with flattened-out beer cans since at least 1956. No, this is the Fargason Mansion, and out of all the grand buildings demolished in Memphis, this one suffered a worse fate than most.

In the early 1900s, John T. Fargason amassed a fortune in the wholesale grocery business. A 1903 telephone directory advertisement for the J.T. Fargason Company, located at 115 South Front Street, notified customers that the firm offered “fancy and staple groceries, cigars, and tobacco” and was the sole distributor of Omega “Highest Patent” Flour, Santee Syrup, Heekins & Company roasted coffee, and even “Zebra and Whale” brand axle grease. That’s the kind I used on my hair, when I was a teenager, I recall. Good stuff!

Fargason had this monumental stone residence at 1318 Lamar built around 1905. (The architect’s name, along with other details about the grand home, has been lost to history, I’m afraid.) The Fargason family, prominent in Memphis social circles, lived and entertained here for three decades. In the mid-1930s, however, they sold the property. The next owner lived there only two years, then the old house stood vacant for several years.

In 1940, Phi Rho Sigma, a medical fraternity at the University of Tennessee, turned the home into its chapter house, thus beginning its inevitable decline. The fraternity, unable to maintain the mansion, moved out in the late 1950s, and again the home stood empty for several years.

In 1960, bulldozers pulled down the once-grand home. The Howard Johnson chain built a 145-room high-rise hotel on the spacious grounds, which became the Coach and Four Motor Lodge in the late 1970s. The property closed, and the derelict building remained a Midtown eyesore before it was finally demolished. Today the site is a vacant lot.

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