Lost Memphis

Monday, January 11, 2010

Memphis' Most Exciting Postcard - Wow!

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 8:45 PM

Yes, its a telephone pole. Nice!
  • Yes, it's a telephone pole. Nice!
The Lauderdale Library contains hundreds and thousands of images of "Lost Memphis" in the form of photographs, drawings, architectural plans, 35mm slides, matchbook covers, Viewmaster wheels, stereopticon views, children's drawings, and stag movies.

And then, all by itself, we have a stunning full-color postcard of ... a telephone pole, standing at the corner of Perkins and Summer. Gaze at it in awe. Just think of purchasing cards like these by the dozen, and sending them to all your friends, with the clichéd postcard message, "Having a great time! Wish you were here."

This particular postcard was printed by the Dow Chemical Company (it says so on the back, you see), because they were so very proud of the coating they had applied to this particular pole. Maybe they had treated other poles in Memphis the same way, but this is the one they selected for their postcards.

And who can blame them? Just look at it! Nice-looking and quite tall, and fairly straight, with a stunning white base. It's carrying a pair of heavy cables AND a street light. Who among us, from day to day, can say we do as much?

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Russwood Park - A Nice Aerial View

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Medical Center - Late 1950s
  • Medical Center - Late 1950s
I was rooting through the basement of the Lauderdale Library the other day, seeing if I could turn up a dusty bottle of Kentucky Nip to ease my lumbago, when I came across a stash of nice old aerial photographs of Memphis.

So I might share some of them with you from time to time. This one is an especially clear view of Russwood Park, destroyed by fire in 1961 in one of our city's biggest blazes. So there's one clue to the date of the photo: before 1961.

That's Madison Avenue running diagonally across the top part of the photo — just about the only manmade object in this whole sweeping image that has survived, 40 years later. Across the street from the old baseball stadium is the original portion of the old Baptist Hospital. In the foreground you can see the incredible Italian Renaissance-designed Memphis Steam Laundry building, with one of the tallest smokestacks in town.

To the right are various older hospital buildings in our city's medical center, most of them replaced by The Med complex. And if you squint your eyes and look very carefully, you can barely make out the circular Duke Bowers Wading Pool in the corner of Forrest Park.

Not a trace remains of any of these things, not even the little neighborhood down in the bottom left corner, so it's a good thing somebody held onto these old photos after all these years, isn't it?

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WANTED: 1937 Central High School yearbook

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 12:50 AM

A reader named Elizabeth Kelley just sent me this email, so look in your closets and attics and libraries and see if you can help her out. I just assumed Central had a complete collection of their old yearbooks, but I guess I assumed wrong. The Lauderdale Library is lacking many volumes, too. But with so many Central alumni out there, somebody must have an old yearbook tucked away, even an old one like this.

Dear Vance: Luckily, I’ve stumbled upon your blog “Ask Vance”, and decided to give it a shot. I’m looking for a copy of a 1937 Central High School yearbook containing what I hope are the graduation photos of my parents. Can you suggest a resource in Memphis where I might find this item? I have contacted Central’s library and the Shelby County library. Both reply they have no yearbook for that year.

Thanks for your very interesting blog, and for any help you might give me.

Elizabeth Kelley


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The North Parkway Police Station?

Posted By on Sun, Jan 3, 2010 at 6:23 PM

Robert Harrell, one of my readers from Gadsden, Alabama — okay, he's probably the ONLY reader from Gadsden, Alabama — always writes in with intriguing questions. In a recent epistle, prompted by my compelling and heart-warming story of the old police station on South Barksdale, he remembers a small police station that once stood on the corner of North Parkway and North McLean.

Here's what he says:

"There was a police station located at the intersection of North Parkway and North McLean — southeast corner. We would drive past it at night and see officers inside the attractive building. The zoo fence was adjusted to provide room for the building, and today this same fence is still standing, with the location of the police building vacant, and no visible indication of a former building.

"Was this a substation for the Barksdale station? It was across North Parkway from Snowden School, and has been gone since 1934."

This is a mystery to me. I've never heard of such a place, but according to Mr. Harrell, it stood on the corner where the zoo now has its "Back to the Farm" complex. If anybody knows more about this, or — even better — has a photo of the building, please let me know.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Broadway Coal Company

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 12:09 AM

For all you bad boys and girls who got coal in their stockings this Christmas — and by that I mean pretty much everybody who reads this column — all I can say is, well that's a damn shame, but you probably deserved it.

But I recently turned up an interesting old sales postcard from the Broadway Coal Company, which will at least tell you the various kinds of coal you received from Santa, and quite frankly the names of this stuff just fascinated me. I mean, at the Mansion the Lauderdales certainly never sullied their hands by actually dealing with coal, or the vendors who supplied it, but gosh-a-mighty I never realized there were so many different types.

If I had to choose, I'd probably go with "Broadway Special Stoker" because it just sounds so, well, special (though a bit pricey at $8.20 a ton). I also like the "Lewis Creek Nut," "Arcola Egg," and "High Grade Pea and Slack" just for their names.

What's especially interesting — to me, anyway — is that Broadway, like so many other coal companies around town, also sold ice. Now coal and ice don't seem to have a lot in common, if you ask me, and this kind of thing bothers me as much as that business of funeral homes operating ambulance services. There's just something unnatural about it.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009


Posted By on Sun, Dec 27, 2009 at 11:42 PM

Sambos advertisement - 1977
  • Sambo's advertisement - 1977
With its racial overtones and the rather demeaning name of the main character, the children's book Little Black Sambo isn't very easy to find these days.

That's what makes it so hard to believe that, in the 1970s, Memphis had not just one, but three, restaurants in town called Sambo's, which used the jungle and animal imagery from the book as their decorating theme. As you can see from this ad, which I scanned from the back cover of a 1977 Duration Club program, you could take your pick from the Sambo's on Winchester, Summer, or Poplar.

What's interested, too, is that this particular ad didn't feature the little African child as the restaurant's "mascot" but instead the tiger, which — if I remember correctly — was turned into butter when Little Sambo made him run faster and faster around the tree where ... oh, you'll just have to read the book.

All the Sambo's restaurants in Memphis are gone now, in case you were wondering. And, despite the ad, I really doubt if everyone who dined there got balloons.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

"ALL OUT WHEN BELL RINGS" — Fairgrounds Pool

Posted By on Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 9:44 PM

The Fairgrounds Pool
  • The Fairgrounds Pool
With all this talk about what to do with the site of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, we tend to forget that it was, at one time, THE place in Memphis to go swimming.

Sometime in the 1930s — I could look up the exact date, but I'm pretty comfy in my chair here, and the book is all the way across the room — city leaders built Memphis' largest swimming pool. It was a huge, oval thing, surrounded by sand beaches. Maywood and Clearpool did the same thing. With sand, I mean.

On the west side was a low building (shown here) that housed showers, changing rooms, and showers. And across the front was a big sign, as you can plainly see, warning all swimmers "ALL OUT WHEN BELL RINGS." In other words, get out of the pool when the lifeguard rings a bell — either to signify that somebody might be drowning, or your swimming day was coming to a close. I don't recall what those tile-roofed buildings in the background were used for. I can only do so much, you know, and these days that's really not much at all.

Notice the old-fashioned lightpoles around the pool. I wonder: was this place open at night?

And yes, as I sit here shivering in the drafty Lauderdale Mansion, I realize it's not exactly the season for outdoor swimming, but I thought I'd share the old photo with you anyway. This place was known as the civic pool, and just like Rainbow Lake, Clearpool, and Maywood (and in more recent years, Adventure River), there's not a trace of it. Despite our unbearable summers, Memphis, it seems, just can't support a big outdoor swimming complex. It doesn't make sense, does it?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Jefferson Hotel

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 at 4:03 PM

Main & Washington - 1940s
  • Main & Washington - 1940s
Bad drivers, it seems, have always been a problem in our city. And in the 1940s, an anonymous photographer documenting an automobile accident captured an image of a downtown street scene that no longer exists.

The old photo shows the intersection of Main and Washington, looking southeast towards the Sterick Building looming in the distance. The three-story brick building on the corner, with the Canada Dry Spur sign ("It's a finer Cola" — wow, what a lame slogan!) painted on the side, is the Jefferson Hotel.

Constructed in 1915, the hotel occupied the second and third floors of the building, and originally offered patrons a range of rooms costing from 50 cents to $1.50 a night. The proprietor, a fellow named Abraham Alperin, operated a clothing store on the ground floor and lived in the rear of his shop.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Funeral Homes Running Ambulance Services

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 11:08 AM

In the past, I've expressed my dismay over the number of Memphis funeral homes that also operated ambulances back in the "good old days." When I wrote about Jack Ruby Ambulance Service a few months ago, I noted that Ruby — perhaps one of our city's best-known ambulance drivers — got his start by working as a funeral director and was also, in fact, a licensed embalmer.

Such expertise, I said, didn't provide much comfort to nervous patients in those ambulances, and if you ask me, it was almost a business conflict. Was it really in the best interest of the funeral home to get those patients to the hospital on time — and therefore lose a paying customer? After all, I imagine the costs for a funeral service would be considerably higher than the cost of an ambulance ride.

Anyway, I thought I'd present you here with a couple of eye-catching advertisements I found in a 1949 city directory. You'll note that Thompson Brothers bragged they had "the only crematorium in the South" right below their announcement of "Ambulance Service." Yikes! And Spencer-Sturla (below) squeezed their own "AMBULANCE SERVICE" notice in between the description of their "efficient and sympathetic" funeral service and their "burial insurance plan ... a fitting tribute to the departed."

This is just so wrong. It would be like morticians sitting in the emergency rooms, with an embalming kit in their laps!


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Friday, December 4, 2009

Joe Canepari and Southern Motors

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 2:49 PM

In the December issue of Memphis magazine (on newsstands NOW!), I listed some questions that I hadn't been able to answer — not without going to more trouble, I thought, than they were worth. One reader asked what I knew about the Southern Motors Cadillac dealership that was operated by a fellow named Joseph Canepari. I managed to turn up a photo of Canepari (and here's another one), but that was it.

Well, it turns out that information about Southern Motors really wouldn't have been that hard to obtain. All I needed to do was open up the pages of the telephone book, because Joseph Canapari Jr. — yes, the man's son — lives in Memphis, and he sent an email telling quite a bit about Southern Motors. Here's what he told me:

"As I remember it, Southern Motors was started sometime after the repeal of prohibition by my uncle, Lawrence Canepari, an immigrant from Bassignana, Italy. He made his money during prohibition by — guess what — the production and sale of illegal whiskey. The company sold Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and LaSalle automobiles. Lawrence died in the mid-fifties and my father, Joe Canepari, bought the dealership. At the time he had Oldsmobile and Cadillac, and later dropped Oldsmobile and became exclusively Cadillac.

"I have a company photograph from 1955 showing 88 employees. I remember when the new models were shown for the first time each year. The flower arrangements that accompanied them were breathtaking by anyone's standards. The company sold to a lot of the rock-and-rollers of the day: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mr. Sam Phillips from down at Sun Studios, but by far our most famous client was Elvis Presley. His 3:00 a.m. shopping sprees many times left the new car department empty, and likely as not you'd read a few days later where he gave them all away.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cabs for "Colored Patrons" Only

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 3:52 PM

I seem to be on a taxicab kick lately, but that's only because I stumbled across a nice collection of old advertisements in the back of a 1949 city directory.

It's hard to believe that there was a time in our city when whites rode only in "white" cabs, and African-American citizens could only ride in "colored" taxis, but here's the proof. A nice ad for the Nu-Way Taxi Company, which advertised "24-Hour Service for Colored Patrons." My oh my.

I can't say how long Nu-Way remained in business, but today the site of the cab company on Porter is occupied by New Mt. Olive Baptist Church.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Howards's Radio Taxi Service

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

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.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Memphis Riverfront in the Early 1900s

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

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 8, 2009

Old Signs from the TROPICAL FREEZE! Wow!

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

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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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fa-Mo Pickles! Yum! Made in Memphis, Too!

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 10:13 PM


As a Lauderdale, I'm familiar with most products made in Memphis, but this was a new one.

Fa-Mo Pickles! Is that short for "Famous" I wonder? And what, I also wonder, makes them so damn great? After all, they're not just good pickles. They are "The South's Most Delicious Product" and man, that's really saying something.

And are pickles really "made" in Memphis?

Yet another curious advertisement found in an old school yearbook, in this case, the 1927 Lantern of The Hutchison School.

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