Mention Whitehaven High School to most people, and within a few minutes anybody who attended that school will bring up fond memories of Chenault's, an extraordinarily popular drive-in on South Bellevue, just down the street from the school.
The Lauderdale Library contains a pair of postcards, showing this establishment from the inside and the outside. I can't tell you, exactly, when the place opened, because I just don't remember. And it's confusing because there were actually two different Chenault's, an old one and a new one. Most people seem to remember the new one (shown here).
I know this because I turned up a 1955 Press-Scimitar clipping announcing that Reginald “Rex” Chenault was planning to build a brand-new restaurant at 1400 South Bellevue, to replace his older and smaller establishment right next door. Calling it “an interesting modern building,” the newspaper observed that the new Chenault’s Drive-In “would include a public dining room of exposed brick and wood paneling, a private dining room, a tap room, and an upper level to be rented for private parties.”
Several weeks ago, I wrote about White Station, the little train depot at Poplar and Mendenhall. See "Elvis Presley's Mystery (Train) Station." According to various biographers, Elvis got off the train there after returning to Memphis after his 1956 appearance on the Steve Allen Show, and then strolled all the way to his home on Audubon Drive, just south of the park.
Now, at least one writer said that Elvis walked across "a big field" on his way home, and several people have pondered just where that was. I surmised it could have been any of the subdivisions under construction at the time.
But my pal Ed Frank, director of Special Collections at the University of Memphis Libraries, has studied maps and aerial images of that area taken in the early 1950s, and has decided that the "big field" was Audubon Park. He provided me with the great aerial photos shown here (click on them to enlarge them). Poplar Avenue is the big street running diagonally across the bottom of both pictures. The view is looking towards the southwest, and that other big street, at the left, running north and south, is Perkins. This was years before Perkins Extended was pushed across Poplar. That's present-day Cherry Road cutting across the park.
Elvis would have walked west (to the right in the photo) down Poplar, turned south at Perkins, and then crossed Audubon Park to get to his home, which would have been towards the top of the photo.
Several months ago — okay, maybe it was more than a year ago — time is but a blur these days — I was at an estate sale in Raleigh and wandered into the backyard, where I spotted this neglected creature, just standing by the fence, looking as if he had been there for years. He — or it — stands about four feet tall and is apparently a chef, sporting black-and-white checked pants, a blue apron, and even wearing wire-rimmed glasses, all (except the glasses) nicely crafted from fiberglass, carrying a tray that once held — what? I'm not sure why he has Shrek-like green skin, unless the sun discolored him that way.
The figure looks vaguely familiar, so I'm convinced that years ago he stood outside a Memphis restaurant. Some type of pizza parlor, perhaps?
Does anybody remember where this fellow originally came from?
And in case you're wondering: No, I didn't buy it, though the fellow would have looked quite fine on the front lawn of the Lauderdale Mansion, perhaps collecting mail or — even better — donations from visitors.
In recent weeks I've droned on and on about some of our city's "theme" restaurants — namely the Polynesian-themed Luau and the tropical-motif Tropical Freeze. Well, using a grant from the Lauderdale Foundation, I recently purchased an old menu from another eatery in town with a rather unique theme — the Ohman Ranch House, which modeled itself after the Old West, even to the point of having an old six-shooter as a front door handle.
William L. Ohman opened his first restaurant in the mid-1940s at 1358 Madison, just east of Cleveland. It was a pretty ordinary place, really, more like a drive-in, so in 1948, Ohman went all-out, building a rustic lodge behind the original restaurant. The menus proclaimed it was "a bit of Texas in Tennessee," and patrons found themselves in a rustic saloon, with rough-hewn walls, fake kerosene lanterns, and brands burned into the beams. The menu I purchased came from 1951, and it offered all sorts of "Wild West" concoctions, including Texas Shrimp ("big like Texas"), Chuck Wagon Chicken ("Pecos Bill went wild for this!"), Beef Tenderloin Steak ("It ain't bull, it's tender"), and a barbecue plate that used "only lazy, contented pigs."
(Something tells me those pigs weren't too contented about being slaughtered, but I digress.)
The cover of the menu (above) is especially interesting because it shows how Cleveland and Madison looked half a century ago. Look carefully, and on the north side of Madison you can see that a Doughty-Robinson Drug Store stood on the corner, and next to that was the Star Bowling Alley. You can see the original Ohman House #1, and behind it the Ranch House, complete with outdoor patio and a parking lot entrance adorned with a wagon wheel and the folksy message, "Y'all come back."
Across Madison, on the south side, was the Howard Graham Furniture Company, Johnnie's Shoe Repair, a beauty parlor, and Jenkin's Cafe, which apparently had a huge sign advertising Goldcrest 51 beer mounted on its roof. And across Cleveland was, then and now, Stewart Brothers Hardware.
My good friend Robert Lanier recently sent me an Associated Press clipping from a Washington, D.C., newspaper, which I filed away in the cobwebby recesses of my once-great mind, under the general category of “Can’t Possibly Be True.” But lately I’m discovering that quite a few things readers uncover — and share with me — turn out to be not only true, but even stranger than I expected.
Here is what Mr. Lanier’s AP story said. The headline was “NAZI IN FULL UNIFORM ARRESTED IN MEMPHIS” and it was dated August 14, 1945:
“A German paratrooper, wearing his military uniform complete with the swastika and German eagle, was arrested on Main Street yesterday. The prisoner gave his name as Sergeant Heintz Heimann and said he escaped from the prison-of-war camp at Crawfordsville, Arkansas. He said he wanted to see the city, but was afraid to discard his army clothes for fear he would be shot as a spy.”
Did such a thing really happen, or was this some kind of misguided prank or stunt? Well, here’s the full story from the August 14, 1945, Commercial Appeal, headlined “P.O.W. TAKES STROLL ON MAIN, WEARING SWASTIKA AND WINGS”:
Memphis had other roller-skating rinks before this one — Rainbow Lake and East End come to mind — but none of them had the visual impact of Skateland. And I'm talking about the original building, when it was located on the north side of Summer Avenue.
Drivers on Summer could hardly miss the clean lines of the massive building just east of Mendenhall, with a facade of rough stone that framed a wall of glass panels. "SKATELAND" was spelled out in red neon along the roof, and three winged shoes — complete with spinning neon wheels — provided a crowning touch. Anyone still not clear about what went on there could also read, in giant red neon letters, "Roller Skate for Health."
Inside, sweeping trusses of laminated wood supported a high wooden dome that arched over one of the largest rinks in town. A neon signboard mounted on the back wall gave skaters their instructions: "All Skate," "Trios," "Reverse," "Grand March," and when the session came to an end, "Skates Off."
Elmwood Cemetery has many fascinating and beautiful monuments, but few are as intriguing as the stunning granite obelisk dedicated to former Memphian Granville Garth. "Born in Memphis" it says, and then "Lost at Sea," and anyone who reads that inscription has to wonder what happened.
Since we're really not that close to the sea, you understand.
The carving at the base of the monument tells cemetery visitors that Granville was the son of Horace and Alice Garth. He was born in Memphis on August 11, 1863, and he met his fate 40 years later on Christmas Day, 1903.
So what happened to this poor fellow?
Once again, a photo from an old White Station High School yearbook has offered a glimpse into the past. Here is a 1964 view of Mt. Moriah, looking north towards Poplar (though it's not visible in the distance). Memphians still shop at this same building on Mt. Moriah, though today it houses an Easy Way Market. But in the mid-1960s, it housed one of our city's two Hi-Boy Drive-Ins. Not a very fancy place, that's for sure, but quite a popular one, as I recall, with very tasty milkshakes.
A couple of things about this photo caught my eye. First of all, I admired the little Nash Metropolitan parked out front, since the Lauderdales own an identical vehicle (though, unfortunately, not running). Next, you'll notice what looks like a shack next door, part of the old McKinney-Truse neighborhood, a cluster of houses that was demolished to make way for businesses.
I wish I could see the Hi-Boy sign better in this photo, but it's just too small here.
And finally, if you squint really hard, you may be able to make out the gleaming-white 1960s-era Texaco gas station way in the distance, where Mt. Moriah and old Mt. Moriah split apart. It's an empty lot today.
Just look at this thing! What were they thinking? Most architects try to make a building relate, in some way at least, to its environment. But boy, whoever planned this structure just decided that a soaring 20-story building would fit right in among its humble two-story neighbors.
The postcard doesn't give the proposed location for this building, but it looks like Main Street or Front Street to me. And there's no date, but the teeny-tiny horse-drawn cart and open roadster in the street (can you see them?) suggests it's from the early 1900s.
And what a strange design! Barely three bays (or windows) square, and with all that ornamentation around the upper floors, the building looks extremely top heavy to me. A strong wind, like we had here a few weeks ago, would possibly blow the thing down, so it's probably a good idea it was never built.
Though it would have looked very fine on the horizon, I guess.
Memphis has always been proud of its entrepreneurs: Fred Smith, Kemmons Wilson, Pitt Hyde, and most (but certainly not all) of the Lauderdales. And joining that exclusive club is the anonymous inventor of the Zip-Pin Diaper Pin Lubricator.
Now I have to confess that I never realized there was any need for such a device. Oh sure, I knew that diaper pins could stick a baby if you were careless — or drunk — while you were trying to jab those things through a thick diaper. Well, somebody decided that one way to prevent these accidents was with the Zip-Pin.
I found an ad for this intriguing product in a 1975 program for the Duration Club, a charitable organization that put on an annual fund-raiser, among other good deeds. As you can see, though it's not really clear HOW it accomplishes all these things, the Zip-Pin offered many benefits: "no more bent pins, eases pins thru diapers, reduces chances of sticking baby." It apparently was some kind of "special lubricant — non-toxic" which, I assume, you smeared on the pins. Good gosh, it even "prevents dangerous rust." And as if that weren't enough, it "keeps pins safe and handy," which is a pretty vague claim, if you ask me.
There's no address for the company, just a P.O. Box, and no name of the inventor, so that's all I can tell you. I wonder how long the Zip-Pin company stayed in business? And were they trying to play off the name of the Zippin Pippin roller coaster, or was that just a happy coincidence?
Even my team of psychiatrists has a hard time explaining my obsession with the Tropical Freeze, the frozen custard joint that stood at the southwest corner of Poplar and White Station in the 1960s. It was quite a place, with a thatched roof, a miniature dancing hula girl in the window, great neon signs, a shell-lined fountain in the parking lot, and a cluster of fake palm trees on the roof, illuminated by colored spotlights. A Starbucks stands on the site today.
And yet, I have never found a decent photograph of such an unusual business. Some years ago, I managed to find a nice color image of a group of White Station students sitting in their cars in the Tropical Freeze parking lot. That showed the fountain pretty well, but the photographer was aiming his camera away from the building itself, so that's all you saw.