Sunday, November 29, 2009

Howards's Radio Taxi Service

Posted By on Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 7:09 PM

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Back in the days when the Lauderdales were described in the Encyclopedia Britannica as "captains of industry" we rarely worried about competition. If some scalawag dared to open his own dirigible factory, we just burned it down. It was all very simple.

Even so, I've always been intrigued by the methods (more legal ones, I mean) that smaller businesses employed to stay a step ahead of their competition. And a good case in point is Howard's Radio Taxi Service, which operated in Memphis in the 1940s and 1950s. Anyone in need of a taxi probably figured that all cabs were alike, and that's why Howard G. Washington, who operated his company out of his home on Neptune, equipped his with radios.

In case you were wondering, radios were NOT standard equipment in cars in the 1940s.

As the ads said, that way his passengers could "get your music while you ride." At the same time, Washington took pains to point out that his taxicabs — for reasons that were never explained — offered "a dignified ride." And mighty spiffy-looking cars they were, too.

I found this interesting old ad in the back of a 1949 city directory. I don't know how long Howard Washington stayed in business, but today 754 Neptune is a vacant lot.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Memphis Riverfront in the Early 1900s

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 9:45 PM

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With all this talk lately about what to do with the riverfront and cobblestones, I'd thought I'd share a great old photo I found, taken by J.C. Coovert, a professional photographer based in Memphis who captured many scenes in this region in the early 1900s. Judging from the buildings seen in the background, this shot was taken sometime between 1907 and 1910.

First of all, you can't help noticing all the cotton, in bales and bags, just piled outside. I guess this is a stupid question, but wouldn't that stuff just swell up like a balloon if it rained?

There are lots of interesting details in the background (and just to be helpful, I've enlarged portions of the photograph below; you'll have to scroll down or go to the next page). First of all, the big white building with the twin towers (one of them, if you squint, has two clock faces), is the old U.S. Customs House, later a post office, and currently being converted into the law school for the University of Memphis. Next to it is the rounded extension of the original Cossitt Library, one of the finest buildings ever constructed in this city. Look carefully, and you can see the red-sandstone turret (it's kind of hidden behind an extremely tall telegraph/telephone pole.)

The two tall white buildings in the distance are (I believe) the Tennessee Bank and Trust Building (erected 1904-1907), and to the right of it, the Memphis Trust Company building (erected in 1904). That second building was expanded in 1914 by simply doubling the width of it; it's still standing today on Main Street as the Commerce Title Building, and if you stand in front of it, you can see the vertical seam where the addition was slapped on.

Now what's really interesting is the cute little square building, right in the top center of the main photo (and shown in detail below). It's hard to see in the scan, but wording around the edge of the roof tells everyone this was the office of "S.W. Green — Wharfmaster" and it was his job to keep track of all the boats and wagons and carts that you see here. He must have been a busy man.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anybody Recognize This Place?

Posted By on Sun, Nov 22, 2009 at 6:48 PM

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I recently found, and purchased, a packet of 8x10 color photos at a local estate sale. The original owner/photographer must have been an architect, because most of them showed residential interiors. And then there was this one.

Does anyone recognize the place?

My first thought was that — finally! — I had turned up an interior shot of the Luau, but I've already had a few people (those lucky souls invited to the Lauderdale Mansion on the weekends for our badminton tournaments) who said this was NOT the Luau.

I'm not entirely sure it was even taken in Memphis, though everything else at this particular sale was Memphis-related. Was there another Polynesian/Tropical-themed restaurant in this area?

Inquiring minds want to know. And so do I.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New "Ask Vance" Calendar NOW AVAILABLE!

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 at 11:01 PM

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Everyone reading this blog surely knows that last year I compiled 100 of the best images that have appeared here and in my "Ask Vance" column in Memphis magazine and produced a very handsome wall calendar. (If you don't know that, then there is nothing I, or any doctor, can do for you.)

Well, I've done it again. Remember Hart's Bakery, Anderton's, Shifty Logan, the Bitter Lemon, the original Skateland, the notorious Whirlaway Club and their sexy dancers, and other people and places from the past? They're all featured in the 2010 Ask Vance Calendar, along with dozens and dozens of other rare images of our city. Just look at the cover! Fancy, huh?

Now I know you'd like to hang on to that old calendar forever. But it really won't do you much good after the end of the year, so it's time to buy a new one — AND GET A 12-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION TO MEMPHIS MAGAZINE AT THE SAME TIME. A tremendous bargain, if I do say so, for just $12. Heck, that's only half what we used to charge for tours of the Lauderdale Mansion, and all you saw was the basement, crawlspace, and cesspool (where I spent so many happy, happy hours).

You can also order a gift subscription for your friends, while you're at it. Remember, if you like reading "Ask Vance" and also enjoy the weird posts I put on this blog, you'd better keep those subscriptions coming in, or Vance Lauderdale hits the streets, looking for another job. One with dignity, I mean.

And just think of the poor children! No — not MY children. Just bratty children in general.

So call 901-575-9470 or go HERE to order a calendar and keep me employed. It's a win-win situation for all of us.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Old Signs from the TROPICAL FREEZE! Wow!

Posted By on Sun, Nov 8, 2009 at 5:27 PM

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As anyone who reads this blog knows, I consider the Tropical Freeze — the distinctive tropical-themed ice cream joint at Poplar and White Station — sort of the "holy grail" of Memphis roadside attractions. Mainly because so little of the place seems to have survived. I've posted some grainy photos from high school yearbooks, but that's it. I've never seen a decent color photo of the Tropical Freeze, one of the most colorful places in town.

And then a few days ago, a reader who identified himself only as skipchip, sent me this message:
The owner of the Tropical Freeze, Eleanora Waddell, died January 15, 2007 in Memphis. Several items from the shop were recently stored in Memphis. I have photos of some of the menu boards.

I immediately wrote back and asked for photos of the signs, and here you go (more images below). Notice that he also has a few decorative panels as well, with brightly painted palm tree designs.

Looking over the menus, the selection at the Tropical Freeze wasn't really very unusual, but you'll notice they did offer such oddities as "Tropical Sundaes" (just 35 cents), a Papaya Juice Pina Colada (25 cents), and even an ice cream flavor they called (what else?) "Tropical Freeze" ( a whole pint for just 30 cents).

Also, their "Tropical Shakes" were "made with our own Tropical Freeze — a delightful blend — of island-grown products." What's more, they were "nature's most healthful, non-fattening and refreshing flavors."

Many, many thanks for sharing all these pictures, Chip. If you want to sell any of these to the Lauderdale Library, well, you know how to reach me. (See more photos on the next page.)

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Ripley's "Tiny Knee" Stadium

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 2:54 PM

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I found myself in Ripley, Tennessee, a while back, with no memory of how I got there. But I finally peeled off the duct tape, wrestled free of the shackles around my wrists and ankles, and hitchhiked back to Memphis.

Whew. That must have been some party!

But while I was in that lovely town, I wandered past this football stadium. It wasn't a very large place, so I imagine it must have been for a local high school. What I most recall, though — in fact, it was the only thing I can remember about Ripley — was the curious sign on the place.

It's called Tiny Knee Stadium.

Does anybody know why?

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

School Memory Books

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 9:03 PM

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Nowadays I suppose students remember their classmates by the oh-so-clever posts they write on their friends' Facebook pages, or with Twitter "tweets" and other so-called "social networking" devices.

Things were different when I was growing up. We bought fancy little autograph books, and passed them around, collecting the signatures and sayings of our dearest friends. Sometimes these turn up at estate sales or on eBay, and I thought I'd share one with you because — well, that's what I'm paid to do.

This much-worn little booklet was once owned by Robert Hugh Murphy, who was age 10 and in the fifth grade. I know this because he wrote it inside the book. A few of his friends wrote "Bloomfield, Missouri" at the top of their pages, so that tells you where the book came from. Now how it ended up in Memphis, I can't say.

What's interesting is that in a book whose cover is labeled "My Schooldays Autographs" you didn't just collect autographs, but you gathered witty sayings from your classmates. Apparently everyone picked out a clever poem or phrase, memorized it as their own, and wrote that in every book they were handed; they didn't stand there and try to think of something on the spot.

So here are a few of the inscriptions. You'll notice a certain trend with some of them.

And yes, by our standards they are corny, but you bet they were the bee's knees back in 1932, which is the date of most of these:

Continue reading »

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vandalism of Nude Art at Brooks Art Gallery!

Posted By on Sun, Nov 1, 2009 at 10:32 PM

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In the November issue of Memphis magazine, we tell the dramatic story of the strange events that took place at the Memphis Academy of Arts from 1969 to 1971, when certain people here objected rather strongly to the school's use of nudes, and an exhibition of nude photography. The result was death threats, car bombs, even a kidnapping. It's on newsstands now. Buy a copy. I mean it.

But the art academy (now known as Memphis College of Art) wasn't the only victim of this outrageous behavior. You know the graceful statue of the three female swimmers that stands as the centerpiece of the garden by the west entrance to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art? (The actual location is called the North Holly Court.) Lovely, isn't it?

Well, sometime during the evening of August 9, 1976, somebody must have thought otherwise, because they hacked the thing to pieces.

Here's the photo of the ruined sculpture that ran in the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Quite a mess. The newspaper reported, "The statue has a history of controversy. When it was first put in place, critics objected so strongly to the nude figures that the sculptor, Frances Mallory Morgan, was required to put a suggestion of bathing suits on the figures."

Apparently that was not enough. Luckily, the artist was able to repair the damage, and it's hard to tell the piece ever looked like this.

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Estate Sales Can Be Creepy

Posted By on Sun, Nov 1, 2009 at 8:52 PM

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I go to estate sales from time to time because I like to root though the old books and clothes and papers and photographs. And also because I like to roam through the homes of other people, peeking in their closets and attics and basements. Legally, I mean.

But sometimes you just come across things that are a bit unnerving. Like THIS display in the living room of a sale last weekend. Man, that gave me the shivers. I snapped the picture and scampered out of the room in a hurry, because if that unusually lifelike doll — if it WAS a doll — moved even a fraction of inch, I knew my heart would stop, and that would be the end of "Ask Vance."

In fact, as I turned to leave, I'd swear the little creature whispered, "Mister, can you please find my Mama"? but I don't want to think about it anymore.

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