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Lost Memphis

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bailey Wilkinson and the OSO Club

Posted By on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Bailey Wilkinson
  • Bailey Wilkerson
If you can bear it, look carefully at the drug-addled, LSD-selling hippie in this photo.

Not exactly the kind of person you want your kids hanging around, is it? Not with his tangled, shoulder-length hair, menacing tattoos, and weirdo Carnaby Street fashions! And Lord only knows the eardrum-bursting psychedelic music he played on that guitar, cranked up to "11". Why, he makes Marilyn Manson look like a choir boy!

Wait a minute. Something's not right here. This is Bailey Wilkinson, one of the nicest fellows you could hope to meet, a clean-cut fellow with short hair and — good grief, I think he's even wearing white socks with his penny loafers!

But in the mid-1960s, when he opened his oddly named OSO club for teenagers on North Highland, just a few blocks from Treadwell High School, you would have thought that Satan himself had moved into the community. The OSO was the first of the so-called "coffeehouses" that opened around Memphis, and neighbors (meaning = adults) were NOT happy. They fretted about the music, the musicians, the food, even the decor of the OSO and other clubs that followed: The Bitter Lemon, the Pastime, the Roaring 60s. They were especially concerned because so many of these places were — horrors! — painted black inside. Good children, it seems, didn't hang out in places with black walls.

Even ones, like the OSO, that clearly posted NO DRINKING signs on the front doors.

But this was Memphis in the 1960s — or trying to catch up to the 1960s — and the OSO and the other little clubs around town provided a new kind of place for teens to hang out, and managed to attract an astonishing number of talented performers: The Box-Tops, The Groupe, The Tribesmen, The Hombres, Even the all-girl band, The Goodees.

Then, before you could play "Purple Haze" on air guitar, the whole "beatnik/hippie/club scene" kind of faded away here. All these old places have been demolished or converted into other businesses.

And Wilkinson himself? I was told he died in a car wreck, sometime in the 1970s, long after the OSO closes. Does anybody know for sure?


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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Visit LAKELAND on the next "Southern Routes"

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2010 at 9:18 PM

In the late 1950s, a fellow named Louis Garner visited Ruby Falls, near Chattanooga, and came back to Memphis convinced that he could build an entertainment complex so vast that it would gain fame as “The Disneyland of the Mid-South."

So Garner bought 1,200 acres along Canada Road, just north of the new I-40 expressway, built a massive dam, dug artesian wells, and in no time at all had the largest lake in Shelby County. Seeing as he had a nice lake and plenty of land, he called his new venture Lakeland, and then proceeded to piece together what he would describe as “The World’s Largest Playground.” He brought in a skyride from the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, an old timey steam railroad called the "Huff n Puff," and lots of midway-type rides and games. Then he added a racetrack, dance pavilion, and all sorts of other entertainment — some of it rather bizarre.

Lakeland opened to the public on June 1, 1961, and it was quite a place — for a while. But there's really not a trace of it today — except for the lake, of course, and patches of the old racetrack in the woods.

What happened to Lakeland? You can hear the whole amazing story on the next episode of the WKNO series "Southern Routes." It airs Thursday, May 6 at 8 p.m., repeating on Saturday, May 8 at 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 9 at 12 noon. It also airs on WKNO-2 on Saturday, May 8 at 9 p.m.

Don't miss it, or you will have to sit quietly in the corner at the next party, when everybody you know is chatting about the marvels and mysteries of Lakeland, and you won't have a single thing to say.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pancho's in the 1950s

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 at 10:36 PM

Panchos on South Bellevue
  • Pancho's on South Bellevue
My pal Bonnie Kourvelas recently sent me two wonderful images (originally Kodachrome color slides taken by her parents, Jerry and Edna Daws) showing the exterior and interior of the old Pancho's Mexican Restaurant that was located on South Bellevue. That's the Daws family in the pictures, but don't ask me to identify all of them. It was a private affair, and I wasn't invited.

To tell you the truth (as I am prone to do, from time to time, mainly when I am drunk), I wasn't familiar with this location. I knew Panchos' had (and still has) a restaurant on the outskirts of West Memphis, and I knew there was also a branch at Union and McLean, and later at Poplar and White Station.

But sure enough, from about 1959 until about 1972 (those dates are guesses, based on city directory listings, which are not complete, for some reason), Pancho's was located at 1670 South Bellevue, just across the street from the entrance to Forest Hill Cemetery. That building is gone now, so I'm glad to see these photos. I especially like the wonderful mural, and the terrific neon sign. And I'd certainly like to have some of those fine cars out front. And below is a shot of the interior. It's rather dark, and I certainly don't know WHAT the photographer was aiming at, but you can get a sense of the "authentic" Mexican clutter inside.

Continue reading »

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Krack Drugs — The Name Says It All

Posted By on Sun, Apr 18, 2010 at 11:19 PM

I found this ad in the back of a 1924 musical program being presented by Christian Brothers College.

Perhaps if I bought my crack cocaine from licensed pharmacists like this one, I wouldn't suffer so many ill effects afterwards.

It's hard to say, really.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Roller Skating on WKNO's "Southern Routes"!

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 12:10 AM

Mr. Lauderdale with his bicycle skates
  • Mr. Lauderdale with his "bicycle" skates
On the April edition of WKNO's fine program, Southern Routes, I journey back to the glory days of Skateland, Skatehaven, Rainbow Lake, and many of the other roller-skating palaces that were hugely popular with Memphians in the early to mid-1900s.

Not to give too much away, but back in those days, there was a whole lot more to roller-skating than just strapping on some skates and rolling around a wooden track. Rinks put on pageants, plays, races — even full-scale weddings. And skating wasn't just for ma, pa, teens, and the little kiddies. They made special skates for dogs, monkeys, and even BEARS.

The show will even feature rare photos of me (such as the one here), taken in my younger days, when I was a veritable Flash at rinks around the Mid-South. Why, it took servants almost a day just to polish all the trophies I earned. Or were those bowling trophies? I can't remember, since the Lauderdales were pretty much good at everything.

Tune into Southern Routes or you'll be very sorry (and so will I). The show will air Thursday, April 8th at 8 p.m., and then it will repeat on Saturday, April 10 at 2:30 p.m., and again on Sunday, April 11 at 12 noon. It also airs on WKNO-2 Saturday, April 10 at 9 p.m., so I really don't want to hear any pitiful excuses about, "Uh, I missed it."

And I'll be quite candid with you. Either watch the show, and admire the hard work done by my WKNO pals Kip Cole and Bonnie Kourvelas, or face the dire prospect of being cut out of my will. It's that simple.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fairgrounds Casino: The Showplace of the South

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 3:24 PM

The Fairgrounds Casino in 1933
  • The Fairgrounds Casino in 1933
Years ago, Memphians didn't have to drive all the way to Tunica to enjoy a grand casino. And when they paid their 40 cents admission to the sprawling wooden building on East Parkway, they were dazzled by the lights flashing from — no, not slot machines — a glittering crystal ball suspended over the largest dance floor in the city.

The Fairgrounds Casino was built by a fellow named Lynn Welcher in 1930 for $100,000 — an enormous sum in those days. The high cost came from innovative features like a teak and rosewood floor mounted on felt, which gave it the perfect "bounce" for dancing, and a remote-controlled $15,000 lighting system that flashed as many as 96 colored spotlights off the spinning ball. The lights were operated by a keyboard from the elevated orchestra stand.

Louis Armstrong, Kay Starr, the Alabama Crimsons, Ted Weems, and other big names performed here, which hosted public dances every Friday and Saturday night. The Casino thrived for two decades. In the 1950s, when big bands were losing their audiences, it was handed over to the Memphis Park Commission for just $12,000. The new manager, Dick Morton, began a new policy — no alcohol. "We believe there are lots of people of all ages," he told the Memphis Press-Scimitar, "who don't drink but do dance, and would love to have a place where they won't be bumped around by a bunch of drunks."

Although he didn't mention the Lauderdales by name, we knew he was talking about our family.

People gradually lost interest in the old Casino; I don't really know why. The music stopped, and the park commission turned the place into a public basketball arena. Finally, the fire marshall decided the ramshackle structure was a fire hazard. The Showplace of the South, as it was called, was torn down in the summer of 1963.

These vintage postcards (click on each image to enlarge it) show how the place looked in 1933, according to a date scribbled on the back of one of the cards. The hand-coloring on these things is rarely accurate, but gosh-a-mighty just look at that wonderful interior. Whoever called the Fairgrounds Casino "The South's Most Beautiful Ballroom" may have been right.

And I wonder what happened to that giant crystal ball?


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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).

Continue reading »

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Southern Bowling Lanes — Memphis' "Bowling Palace"

Posted By on Thu, Mar 11, 2010 at 10:17 AM

Southern Bowling Lanes
  • Southern Bowling Lanes
The owners of Southern Bowling Lanes, which opened in 1941 at 299 North Cleveland, called the place "The Bowling Palace of America."

Wow, that's really saying something, isn't it? But back then, you have to understand that bowling was a sport often undertaken in converted buildings and basements, with poor lighting, no air conditioning, and more inconveniences than a medieval torture chamber. Or so I gather from the glowing press releases about this establishment.

Thank goodness the Southern, built for a whopping $150,000, changed all that. Not only were its 24 gleaming hardwood lanes well-lighted and air-conditioned, it boasted the unheard of luxury of "having no posts to mar the beauty of the alleys." Despite a rather traditional Colonial Revival exterior (as shown on this old matchbook), the interior featured "the latest streamlined effects," including such marvels as spacious dressing rooms for men and women bowlers, a restaurant, a ladies powder room, and a gadget called a "teliscore" for keeping track of the games.

The Southern Bowling Lanes' grand opening took place on August 11, 1941, with "dignitaries of the city, sports world, and other walks of life" singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." That was just to open the show. These various celebrities — who included the president of the Memphis Bowling League, the president of the American Bowling Congress, and a fellow named Jim Kelly, identified as "the South's oldest bowler" — then dedicated each alley, one at a time (all 24 of them!) with grandiose speeches and ribbon-cuttings.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Vault Club

Posted By on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 12:19 AM

The Vault Club in 1960
  • The Vault Club in 1960
Memphians with a tendency towards claustrophobia — in other words, Memphians like me — were probably reluctant to join a private club that opened downtown in April 1960. The Vault Club was a members-only dining club inside a massive bank vault tucked away in the basement of the 81 Madison Building.

"A door estimated to cost $75,000 — probably one of the most expensive doors in the world — opens onto a room in one of the most unusual clubs ever formed in Memphis," said the Memphis Press-Scimitar, without bothering to mention that a similar door guarded the main vaults at the Lauderdale Mansion. "Nobody seems to know quite how long the vault has been there. It's been in the building for decades. Its brass still shines, but it looks venerable and expensive."

Oh, please. There was really no mystery to it. The vault was presumably installed when the building was constructed in 1907, since 81 Madison was originally home to the Tennessee Trust Company and later Union Planters Bank. Developer Philip Belz bought the 15-story property in 1958, one of the first steel-frame skyscrapers in the city, and converted it into offices.

The Vault Club, he told reporters, "would offer Memphis businessmen the same sort of fine surroundings in which to dine, relax, and talk business which they might find in New York." Assuming they liked to dine, relax, and talk business while locked away in a big bank vault, that is. Luncheon would be offered during the week, and there would be piano music on weekends, "but it is not envisioned as a place where there will be dancing and partying."

No, obviously not. Mainly because staying more than 10 minutes inside this thing gave people the heebie-jeebies. Or maybe that was just me?

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Putt-Putt on Perkins

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 10:37 PM

Putt-Putt in 1961
  • Putt-Putt in 1961
Mention Putt-Putt to most Memphians today, and they think of the miniature golf complex way out east, at Summer and Bartlett Road. And a fine place it is, too, with all sorts of entertainment available. I'm especially fond of the go-kart track, where you can find me most Saturday nights.

But back in the 1950s and 1960s, miniature-golf courses were considerably more basic. Just a few twists and turns in the course, maybe a few hoops to get the ball through. And you played golf, and that was it. No driving ranges or arcades or water slides or anything like that. And one of those early Putt-Putts was located on Perkins, close to Southern and the railroad tracks — pretty much where CK's Coffee Shop stands today.

I remember this place, mainly for the bright-orange borders along the astroturf "fairways," but I wasn't able to find a photo of it until now, when I was leafing through a White Station High School yearbook from the early 1960s. Not a very clear picture, but it's all I've got. Notice that the caption says this was "the best course in Memphis" and the Spartans shown here seem to be having one heckuva good time.

Then one day it was gone, replaced over the years with an International House of Pancakes (or some kind of pancake joint), a Johnny Rockets, maybe some other establishments. I wonder what they did with that neat "PUTT PUTT" sign that served as the obstacle on the last hole?

It's certainly a far cry from places like Goofy Golf, which had opened about this time down in Panama City, Florida, where miniature golfers wandered through a jungle maze, their putting skills challenged by giant dinosaurs, apes, whales, and other creatures. But hey, this wasn't the Miracle Strip — this was Memphis, where you played a hot game of golf and then cooled off with a milkshake at Shoney's. Well, I sure did, anyway.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Mid-South Fair Time Capsule — Missing!

Posted By on Sun, Feb 14, 2010 at 9:19 PM

Time Capsule Grave Today
  • Time Capsule "Grave" Today
Over the years, I've written about the unusual time capsule buried at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, close to the main entrance off East Parkway. I even mentioned it in a recent Flyer story called "Secrets of the City."

Buried in 1956, the "capsule" was basically a large glass jar crammed with all sorts of things that fair officials thought Memphians of the future would enjoy when (or IF) they dug the thing up 100 years later — in 2056. I can't remember the exact contents, though I'm sure it was all very interesting stufff.

But what really made this time capsule unusual was the fact that, according to newspaper accounts at the time, the jar was sealed with a "radioactive substance."

Uh, oh.

Well, now my pal Angela Freeman Parks tells me that the time capsule has gone missing:
"Vance, THE TIME CAPSULE IS GONE!!! My husband just drove by the old fairgrounds ... not only is the Pippin gone. But the time capsule buried on that site in 1956 and to be opened in 2056, containing a glimpse into the world from the opening of the fair in 1856 to 1956. All that remains is fresh concrete."

Sure enough, as you can see from the photo I took of the area today, she's right.

Hmmm, this just might be a problem. I don't know who took it, or where it is right now. But I sure hope the culprits wore lead gloves and kept a geiger counter handy while they were doing it.

The picture below shows the nice monument that marked the spot until recently.

The same spot last year
  • The same spot last year


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Warner Theatre and Main Street at Night in 1961

Posted By on Sun, Feb 7, 2010 at 10:32 PM

South Main Street - 1961
  • South Main Street - 1961
I've written before about the grand old Warner Theatre. Erected on Main Street in 1921, and originally called the Pantages Theatre, this 1,900-seat showplace was one of the most popular movie palaces in town. It was demolished in 1968 to make way for NBC's (and now SunTrust's) Commerce Square.

This nighttime view of South Main Street — taken by an unknown photographer and discovered in a box of Kodachrome slides tucked away in the Lauderdale Library — shows the Warner Theatre in 1961. I know the date because that's when the movie Parrish, promoted on the theatre's stunning marquee, was showing. The drama starred Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, and Claudette Colbert, and lobby cards proclaimed that it depicted "More Than a Boy ... But Not Yet a Man!"

Oh, how many times that same phrase has been used to describe ME — usually by my team of psychiatrists. The pills they gave me just do no good at all.

There's wasn't much traffic on Main Street on this evening. Though the Warner is long gone, the old Lawrence Furniture building next door (originally constructed in the late 1800s as the Lemmon & Gale Building) is still standing on Main Street, as are many of the other structures dimly visible in the old photograph.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Silver Horseshoe Motel - Summer Avenue

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Silver Horseshoe Motel
  • Silver Horseshoe Motel
I've never gone to the trouble to actually count the number of motels along Summer or Poplar, but in years past Summer was always considered the "gateway" to Memphis for tourists and business travelers coming into our city from the east. Kemmons Wilson certainly realized that, when he erected the world's first Holiday Inn on Summer, just east of Mendenhall.

A few miles to the west, an older tourist court was already standing on the north side of Summer, just west of Perkins. It had gone by many names since it opened in the 1940s, but most Memphians remember it as the Silver Horseshoe. I'm not sure how it got such a distinctive name, since no part of it was painted silver, and the rows of cottages nestled under the old trees were (as far as I can tell) not arranged in a horseshoe shape. It was just a basic little motel, which managed to stay in business for four decades or more, until the bulldozers finally pushed it all down in the late 1980s to make way for a shopping center.

What WAS distinctive about the whole complex was the oddly designed little diner that stood next door to the Silver Horseshoe office. Called — what else? — the Horseshoe Diner, this tiny cafe was all jutting rooflines and weird struts, painted a nice green and white.

I managed to take a few photos of the Silver Horseshoe and Horseshoe Diner just days before they came tumbling down, so here you go. Enjoy.

Horseshoe Diner
  • Horseshoe Diner

Silver Horseshoe Motel
  • Silver Horseshoe Motel

Silver Horseshoe Motel
  • Silver Horseshoe Motel

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Here's a $275 Radio — in 1925. Fancy, Isn't It?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 10:24 PM

When I mentioned an old radio ad that was published in the 1925 Lyceum Theatre program (see below), somebody wondered what a $275 radio could possibly look like.

Well, here's the ad, and here's the radio. Fancy, isn't it?

The Garod Neutrodyne is described as "the most beautiful receiving set in America. The cabinet is mahogany, highly finished, with sloping panel." And just look — it comes complete with three three big knobs (for "selectivity, tone, and volume") and a tiny dial. And not much else, apparently.

Keep in mind this is what you got for $195. If you wanted tubes, batteries, and a speaker (and you'd certainly want all three if you expected to listen to that radio), you paid a whopping $275.

By comparison, in the 1920s you could buy a CAR for $750, and a complete house for around $1,000. Makes you appreciate that little iPod a bit more, no?

The 1925 Garod Neutrodyne
  • The 1925 Garod Neutrodyne


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lyceum Theatre Program from 1924

Posted By on Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 10:13 PM

Lyceum Theatre Program, 1924/25
  • Lyceum Theatre Program, 1924/25
Today I purchased a 1925 Central High School yearbook at an estate sale, and while I was flipping through the pages, a 1924/25 program for the Lyceum Theatre fell out. The yearbook was quite interesting, but the old theatre program was more fascinating for several reasons.

First of all, it was packed with ads for long-gone Memphis businesses and products. The Buckingham-Ensley-Carrigan Company (whew, they need a shorter name) was offering the new Garod Neutrodyne radio, "a five-tube receiver of the latest design, using the famous Hazeltine circuit." This thing cost $195 — an enormous sum in those days. And if you wanted tubes, batteries, and a speaker (you know, all the things that would actually make it WORK), you'd have to pay $275. (By comparison, a ticket to a box seat at the Lyceum cost only $1.)

Elsewhere around town, Hull-Dobbs announced, "Our service floor and shop are open all night for adjustments and repairs on Ford cars." The Romie Beauty Shoppe offered "marceling, permanent waving, and the latest cuts in shingles and bobs." Roy Grinding Company (apparently a very specialized business) urged, "Ladies, bring us your scissors to grind and we will make them cut like new." Cassie McNulty's Hat Shop (oh, what a great name!) promoted their "beautiful line of Spring hats." The Laird School of Dancing offered classes in "plain and fancy ballroom dancing." And Permo Service Station advised readers that their car could be "called for and PERMANIZED within three hours." Permanized?

Continue reading »

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