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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Crescent Lake Tourist Court

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 3:20 PM

92b9/1246393499-crescentlaketouristcourtpc.jpg I thought I’d share two postcards today, just to show you how confusing it can be for historians when they are trying to find an accurate image of a long-lost Memphis establishment. Or maybe it’s only confusing for me.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the intersection of Summer and White Station was a major gateway to our city, so owners opened quite a variety of attractions there that were designed to appeal to motorists — well, and Memphians, too. Nestled close to that corner were the Skateland roller-skating rink, the original Summer Drive-In (before it moved east and became the Twin, then the Quartet), a handful of small restaurants, and a rather interesting motel called the Crescent Lake Tourist Court.

The owner of the Crescent Lake was a fellow named Frank Ingalls, and he erected a row of handsome cottages around a small crescent-shaped pond. I have two postcards, and each one brags that the Crescent Lake was “recommended by Duncan Hines” and is “one of America’s finest.” The place featured steam heat and 100% air-conditioning, “each cottage with tile bath,” “attached garage with overhead locked doors,” radio and telephone, and Beautyrest mattresses and box springs. What’s more, the Crescent Lake was supposedly just “20 minutes from Main Street” (traveling at 60 mph, I imagine) and there was a restaurant “within two blocks.”

And what a bargain: A single room was just $4, and doubles went for $5 and $6.

Okay, but what did the place LOOK like? Well, take a glance at the two postcards above and below (click on them and they will open on a separate page, just a bit larger).

The top card, because it mentions ceiling fans instead of air-conditioning, is apparently an earlier view of the Crescent Lake. At the top is a long row of attached cabins, each with a nice columned portico and in the distance, a white water tower. The lower half of the card shows a large Tudor-style house (perhaps the Ingalls’ residence), a somewhat smaller red-roofed office building, and a handsome red, black, and white sign that says Crescent Lake Tourist Court. The real attraction, though, seems to be the roadside windmill (used for what purpose, I can’t say), and the postcard even instructs travelers to “Look for the Windmill.” This card is not postmarked or mailed, so I can’t tell you the date.

The second card (below), postmarked 1955, clearly shows an older, and fancier, establishment. For one thing, it is now called the Crescent Lake Hotel Courts. The card focuses on one grouping of cottages, which have now acquired striped awnings, patio furniture, umbrellas, and other niceties. The trees have grown considerably taller, too. But look at the bottom photo. The original sign has been replaced with a spectacular neon sign, topped with a bellboy carrying a suitcase — not an image you normally associate with a motel or tourist court, where customers usually took care of their own belongings. There’s no mention of a windmill now; instead the card urges drivers to “Look for the Bell Boy” and he would be hard to miss.

The Crescent Lake, though probably forgotten by most Memphians today, was one of our city’s most handsome tourist courts. I don’t know the exact date it closed, but the site is unrecognizable today. In fact, it’s a field of asphalt that serves as the parking lot for Northern Tools. Not a trace of the lake, and I wonder what happened to that wonderful sign?


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