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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Poplar and Perkins in 1951 - From the Air!

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2009 at 3:55 PM

5107/1248815809-audubonpark1951small.jpg 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.

What's really interesting, if you study the detailed view (below), is all the little businesses and homes that once stood along Poplar that are long gone. Look closely and you'll see a tiny cottage-style gas station at the corner of Poplar and Perkins, a nursery company, and — this is a real mystery — a very large, four-columned, two-story house standing in the middle of a well-groomed lawn. Farther along the street is a smaller building that once held a fire station and a grocery store, then clusters of houses. I know this only because I checked old city directories, not because I have Superman vision and can tell what they are in the photo. And although Sienna College was in operation at the time, I can't make it out here; it may be hidden by the trees.

Way in the distance, in the top left, you can barely see the mansion that later became the administration building for Harding Academy. And dimly visible in the far right background are the rows of buildings that composed Kennedy Hospital.

But in the detailed view of Poplar and Perkins, as far as I can tell, not a single one of these buildings has survived. The same view today would show office buildings and Oak Court Mall.

Who, I wonder, lived in that big house? The city directories don't give much of a clue.

And here's an even bigger mystery. We know that in the 1950s, there was a train station at Mendenhall called White (or White's) Station. But I've turned up old train schedules and tickets that suggest there were other depots farther west, including Eudora Station, Cherry Station, and Goodlett Station. So why did Elvis get off at White Station if he could have left the train a few blocks later, and wouldn't have had to walk so far?

Here's a detail from the photo above:


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