Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gailor Hall

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 12:17 AM

Gailor Hall in the 1940s
  • Gailor Hall in the 1940s
On a March afternoon in 1939, a Juvenile Court judge came to the Church of the Good Shepherd, then located on North Fourth Street, and asked the rector if he could take care of three boys whose parents had neglected them. So began what Memphis newspapers called "one of the finest kinds of Christian ventures that has ever been started in Memphis." That would be in addition to the countless charitable endeavors of the Lauderdale family, of course, including our well-known Home for Unwed Cheerleaders.

The Reverend Vernon Lane not only took in those three boys, but converted the attic of the church rectory into a dormitory for more than a dozen others over the next few months. He named their humble abode Gailor Hall, after the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Memphis.

Lane and his wards quickly outgrew the space provided by the Church of the Good Shepherd. In 1940, he took a position with St. James Episcopal Church at Poplar and Claybrook, and moved Gailor Hall — boys and all — into the stunning nineteenth-century mansion at 1055 Poplar shown here (I'm sorry the image is so grainy, but it's all I have at the moment).

"A strenuous effort is made to keep Gailor Hall from becoming an 'institution' in the accepted use of the term," reads an old promotional brochure. "We strive to keep it always 'Just a House Full of Boys.'"

A newspaper article explained that the place is "open not to 'bad' boys, but to normal boys who have had a 'bad break' such as loss of a parent or loss of affection and parental guidance through a broken home." No boy would ever be turned away from Gailor Hall, Father Lane insisted, nor would anyone be required to stay there if he wished to leave. It would eventually become home to more than 150 boys.

Lane retired in 1949, and Gailor Hall didn't last long without him. According to diocese officials, in the early 1950s the establishment he founded merged with Memphis Boys Town, located in Ellendale, which later evolved into Youth Villages.

And the fate of Gailor Hall's magnificent building on Poplar? Like so many other once-grand homes in Memphis, it's now a parking lot by the VA hospital.

Paul Beck, a former resident of Gailor Hall, has produced a nice website devoted to the place, with photos, stories from former alumni, and other interesting bits of information. Go here to learn more about it.

PHOTO COURTESY BENJAMIN HOOKS CENTRAL LIBRARY AND INFORMATION CENTER

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