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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lauderdale Factories in the Early Days

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 11:30 PM

Although I've posted quite a few images of the Lauderdale Mansion on these pages, I believe this is the first time I've bothered to show one of our factories.

This is an early, undated view of the main dirigible factory outside Itta Bena, Mississippi. During the peak production years, the aluminum-fabricating machinery and hydrogen-processing equipment operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Plus there was a gift shop.

I believe the empty buildings are now used to store old Facebook posts and the URLs of dead websites. Such a waste.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Elks Club and Elks Hotel

Posted By on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 8:26 PM

In the December issue of Memphis magazine, I told the compelling, thrilling, and ultimately heart-rending story of the Elks Club / Hotel, one of the finest such clubs in the entire country, and a downtown landmark that — by then known as the Hotel King Cotton — ultimately fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the Morgan Keegan Tower.

Did you get all that, or should I repeat myself? Whew, I get long-winded sometimes.

ANYWAYS. The University of Memphis Special Collections Department has a very fine booklet that was published to announce the opening of the new Elks Club, and it was just packed with nice photographs and illustrations showing off the rather magnificent facilities available to club members. And since I'm feeling curiously kind-hearted tonight (it must be the cheap liquor), I thought I'd share some of those images with you, so you can see what we have lost. And as you gaze upon these marvels, remember this: They were available to the men only. Since they weren't actually Elks, the only part of the club that the women could enjoy was the "Ladies Writing Room" on the top floor.

We ran a few of these images in the December issue. Here's the rest. Click on any image to enlarge it, and enjoy!











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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dowdle Sporting Goods' Great Neon Sign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 3:57 PM

I certainly remember Dowdle Sporting Goods. That's where the Lauderdales bought our custom-made bowling shoes, hand-crafted badminton racquets, and designer fencing outfits.

But for some reason, though I am usually as keen-eyed as a hawk, I have no memory of the store's wonderful neon sign, as shown here in an ad that ran in the 1977 Bartlett High School yearbook.

Too bad it's in black-and-white, but you can see a basketball and football, and look carefully and you can see neon tubes that —¬†when lighted in sequence — would have shown the basketball bouncing and the football arcing through the air. Definitely a very cool sign, made here in Memphis by the Balton Sign Company.

I called the nice folks at Dowdle, who told me that a customer backed into the pole one day, sometime in the late 1970s, and knocked the whole thing down. All that neon was far too expensive to repair, and from what I understand the city (at least back then) was beginning to express concern about moving signs that distracted drivers, so the old neon sign wasn't replaced.

Too bad. But at least we still have a picture. Close your eyes and imagine how it might have looked. But NOT while you are driving!

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Here's the Dempsey Hotel Today - in Macon, GA!

Posted By on Sun, Feb 20, 2011 at 5:00 PM

The Dempsey - NOW
  • The Dempsey - NOW
A couple of days ago I expressed my befuddlement over a matchbook cover showing an establishment in Memphis called the Dempsey Motor Hotel. I had never heard of such a place here, so asked readers to help me on my quest.

And by "help me" I meant: do all the work entirely.

And they did. My pal critter42 (that's not his name, but that's what I call him here) took about 30 seconds, it seems, to discover that there was/is indeed a Dempsey Hotel, but it was/is in Macon, Georgia — not Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, he even turned up an old postcard of the place that almost exactly matches the illustration on the matchbook (see below).

So I took about 30 more seconds to determine that: 1) he's right, and 2) the fine-looking old building is still standing in downtown Macon, with a few modifications, as you can see (above). In fact, according to their website, "this grand building was reborn in 1981 when it was transformed into 194 apartments, to create a comfortable and affordable environment for the elderly and disabled residents of middle Georgia."

But when critter42 says the matchbook was a misprint, well that's one heckuva misprint. I guess the matchbook printers probably felt pretty bad about the whole thing. But I simply can't sympathize with such incompetence, since I have never ever made the tiniest mistake in my book, column, blog, calendar, syndicated radio show, ventriloquist act, oboe recitals, and sno-cone business. The Lauderdales simply don't do such things, you see.

The Dempsey - THEN
  • The Dempsey - THEN

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where Was the Dempsey Motor Hotel in Memphis?

Posted By on Sat, Feb 19, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Lately, it seems I've been posting more questions than answers on this blog. And that's just the way I like it. Let somebody else go to the trouble of solving just some of the countless mysteries that readers send me each and every day. For example:

Somebody on eBay is selling a nice old matchbook cover for an establishment called the Dempsey Motor Hotel, and the description says the place is (or was) supposedly in downtown Memphis. Well, that's news to me. I've never heard of the joint. But you'll see that it is a rather large, modern-looking establishment, with convention facilities capable of handling groups from 10 to 1,000. It has "two fine restaurants, a tavern, and a tap room," and it's "located with a block of seven state highways." And it also has FREE attached inside parking.

All this is very interesting, but it would have been really helpful if they had actually listed the address of the hotel. Especially since (according to the matchbook) it has a "prestige" address.

The seller says the hotel name is short for Jack Dempsey, the world-famous heavyweight boxer, but if he ever had any connection with Memphis, nobody has ever told me about it. I think the Dempsey name just comes from something else, but I'm not sure what, exactly.

Because I'm not entirely sure this place ever existed. The illustration seems to show the building on South Main Street that is, was, and will forever be known as the Chisca Hotel. In the 1960s, the name (and hotel) was expanded to the snazzier-sounding Chisca Plaza Motor Lodge, and the general description on the matchbooks certainly describes the Chisca. But as far as I know (which isn't really very far these days), the place was never called the Dempsey.

Or was it? Does anybody know something about this place that I don't?

If you'd like to see the original eBay listing, and perhaps add this odd item to your collection, go here:

In the meantime, I'll look through old city directories and see if I can track down this establishment.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now THIS Was Some Party

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Anyone who reads this blog regularly (yes, I have a list of your names and addresses) probably knows that I have a tendency to stumble on great old photos at estate sales, yard sales, you name it. You call it luck; I call it skill.

I recently bought a couple of trays of 35mm Kodachrome slides, just filled with interesting photos of an unknown (unknown to ME, I mean) local family celebrating birthdays, Christmas, and other events, and I wanted to share a few of them here.

First of all, the photo here shows a couple of well-dressed ladies having WAY too much fun opening what seems to be a little basket filled with miniature whiskey bottles. Perhaps they've already gulped down a few of those bottles, and that explains their hilarity. It makes me thirsty for an ice- cold bottle of Kentucky Nip (full-size) just looking at this. (I LOVE this picture!)

Meanwhile, sitting across the room, Grandma (below) seems to be expressing considerable dismay at the proceedings.

These pictures were taken in the early 1950s. Grandmothers just don't look like that anymore, do they? What a shame.


More later ...

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

East Parkway Is "Knightdale Bypass"? Since When?

Posted By on Sun, Feb 13, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Okay, I'm spending WAY too much precious time on Google and Bing these days, "flying" over our city in response to recent questions.

And today I noticed this. Look closely at the street names.

Since when has East Parkway ever been called "Knightdale Bypass"??

And where the heck is Knightdale, anyway, and why are we bypassing it?

The mind reels ...


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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Epping Way Mystery

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 11:03 PM

Ah, Memphis is just full of mysterious places.

A friend of mine was driving along James Road in Raleigh and happened to turn south on a little road called Epping Way. The road ends after just a few blocks, and he came to a rather fancy gate, with stone pillars on either side. This gate is padlocked (I believe he told me that), and there is a rather prominent sign on one of those posts, proclaiming "NO TRESPASSING - PROPERTY OF MEMPHIS CITY SCHOOLS."

Now this, in itself, is intriguing because I never knew that Memphis had a school in that area. But it's only when you turn to Google or Bing for a good aerial view of the property that the mystery deepens. As you can see from these two images, taken from different angles, beyond that gate is a double driveway that curves back to some type of school-looking building, which seems to be rather unkempt and abandoned.

And then look to the side of it: not just one, but SIX overgrown tennis courts, side by side. There's even a nice little gazebo, if you look closely, all by the shore of a very nice lake.

I'll go ahead and tell you that if you go to Bing and rotate their birds-eye view option, looking at this site from various angles, at one point the building completely disappears, leaving only some kind of concrete foundation. So it's safe to say that this structure has been torn down, though various aerial views — apparently taken weeks or months apart — don't consistently show it.

But what was this place? Why all the tennis courts? And what does the Memphis City School system have to do with it?

Does it surprise you to learn that I sent these images to the good folks at the school system and asked them this very question, and they didn't even bother to respond? No, it didn't surprise me either. Either they don't know, or they don't want to say. And after my family gave them that fine Lauderdale School, too. So disrespectful!

If anybody know what this curious property is — or was — please tell me.


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Monday, February 7, 2011

Visiting Memphis in 1940? Then Use This Guide.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Tourists visiting Memphis in 1940 probably picked up this brochure at local hotels, or maybe it was mailed to them by the Chamber of Commerce. It's a handy guide to the main attractions in and around our city.

Some of today's top draws aren't listed of course, such as Graceland or The Dixon Gallery and Gardens or FedExForum.

But many of the "old classics" are there, including the Memphis Zoo, the Mississippi River, various parks, and other sights-to-see.

What's interesting, at least to me though, are all the things listed in this 70-year-old brochure that have vanished. Among them: the Municipal Auditorium ("built at a cost of $2,000,000") , the Cossitt Library, the Goodwyn Institute Library, Sienna College (when it was still on Vance), and the Fairgrounds Casino Ballroom ("dancing in season three nights a week").

Then there's the whole paragraph on downtown movie theaters: "There are 30 theaters in Memphis with a total seating capacity of 43,959. Modern community theaters with the very latest equipment may be found in the suburban communities of the city. A list of the downtown theaters":
Loew's State (152 South Main)
Orpheum Theater (197 South Main)
Malco Palace Theater (81 Union Avenue)
Strand Theater (138 South Main)
Warner Theater (52 South Main).

Did you notice those names? The present-day Orpheum was called the Orpheum before it became the Malco. Boy, is that confusing! And, if this brochure is correct, Loew's Palace (currently the site of Parking Can Be Fun) was originally called the Malco Palace.

continued ...

Continue reading »

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Well, I Just Don't Know What to Make of THIS

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 12:15 AM

I thought I'd share another VERY intriguing old photograph that I found tucked away (where it belongs!) in a set of books purchased at an estate sale.

The lovely lady is very pretty, as you can see, and she is certainly very stylishly dressed — down to the nice umbrella.

But what has she done with her dress? Or her pants? Or ... well, anything, really.

Look away, children! This is not meant for you.

There's nothing on the back to tell me who, what, when, where, or why. But if this is somebody's mother, well, they have some explaining to do.

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