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The blog of Vance Lauderdale

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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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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Lauderdales' Visit to Maywood

Posted By on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 11:44 PM

While looking through the dusty scrapbooks piled here and there in the Lauderdale Mansion, I chanced upon this grainy old photograph that was taken in the late 1930s or early 1940s, I believe, showing one of our family's many trips to Maywood.

Of course, we had our own Olympic-sized pool at the Mansion, but sometimes we hopped in the gleaming new Hispano-Suiza (shown here) and journeyed down "old" Highway 78, to spend the day at "The Beach Within Reach." I so clearly remember the gleaming white sand, the ice-cold water, and the adoring crowds that would surround our car as soon as we pulled up, hoping we would toss baskets of money their way.

As you can see, the Lauderdales were actually allowed to park on the beach itself, so we wouldn't have to push our way through the regular folks to get to our reserved spot.

I can't believe that woman in the foreground had the nerve to actually touch the Lauderdale limo, leaving her smeary fingerprints all over our chrome bumper! And look at the bold fellow in the back (a possible assassin, no doubt) reaching through the back window! It's a good thing the chauffeur didn't see these ruffians, or they would've been tossed into jail.

Oh, such happy, happy times!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh-Boy! — Flavored Drinks and Popsicles

Posted By on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 10:47 PM

I have pounded on my big head with my little fists, and I STILL don't remember this enticing product, with the snappy name "Oh-Boy!"

But the company that produced it was doing well enough in the late 1940s and early 1950s to run large ads like this one in Hutchison School yearbooks.

It was obviously something like packaged Kool-Aid. Just pour the flavored powder into a two-quart pitcher of water, and you have a tasty drink. Or pour it into ice trays (remember what those are, children?), put a stick in each "square," and you have a frozen treat. More specifically, a frozen sucker.

I notice that the grape and strawberry versions are "artificially flavored" but the orange variety is apparently all natural. Oh, sure ...

And look at the price! Five cents! What can you buy today for a nickel?? Why, I charge a dime just for a handshake, and a quarter for a hug.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Well, This Goes Without Saying ...

Posted By on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Yes, it happens to the best of us.

A tombstone (and family name) at Calvary Cemetery in Memphis.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Lauderdale Mausoleum at Elmwood

Posted By on Sun, Jan 23, 2011 at 12:07 AM

Work is progressing nicely, I think, on the Lauderdale Mausoleum at Elmwood.

We had a bit of a dispute, you may recall, with cemetery officials and the Land Use Control Board, over the amount of neon signage that would be allowed on the roof, spelling out "LAUDERDALE." Eventually we reached a compromise; the 12-foot-high neon letters would be acceptable as long as they didn't actually flash on and off.

When finished, the magnificent building — sheathed in the finest vinyl siding — will contain more bricks than the old Sears Crosstown, and will be large enough to hold precisely 156,784 people, expected to come from all corners of the globe to pay tribute to the Lauderdales and study the beautiful mosaic panels telling the story of our accomplishments in America. Plus, there will be punch and candy.

I'll post another photograph, next time in color, as the structure nears completion.

Oh, I can't wait to go there!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Audition - Who? Where? When?

Posted By on Sun, Jan 16, 2011 at 11:14 AM

This photo tumbled out of an old book I had purchased at a Memphis estate sale.

I love the composition. It perfectly captures the "moment" — an old-time audition, with a pretty girl on a fancy stage, dressed in a sexy costume, and singing her heart out, a piano in view in the bottom corner of the image. No bored piano player visible; that would have spoiled the effect.

The 5x7 photo has a rubber stamp on the back (see below), indicated it had been carefully inspected (I'll bet!) and approved by U.S. Army censors, so this must have been mailed to, or from, somebody in the armed forces during World War II.

But who is she? Where is she performing? When did this take place?

We'll probably never know. But I sure hope she got the part.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mulford Jewelers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 2:16 PM

How many of my half-dozen readers remember Mulford Jewelers — a Memphis institution for more than half a century?

Well, I certainly do, because that's where the Lauderdales purchased the gold, silver, and platinum baubles and beads that made the Mansion glitter like a comet flashing through the night. Of course, that sparkle lost most of its luster when the Lauderdale bankruptcy proceedings — which made front-page news in every newspaper in the northern hemisphere except South Dakota — took away just about everything but the tattered clothes on our backs.

But that wasn't the fault of John N. Mulford (the dapper gentleman shown here), who owned and operated one of this city's oldest and finest jewelry stores. Born in London, Mulford came to this country in the 1870s. He loved to hunt and fish and roamed America in search of a place where he could pursue those interests, eventually settling in Memphis. If he hadn't done that, you wouldn't be reading about him now. Not here, anyway.

In 1880, he opened Mulford Jewelers at 6 South Main Street in a building known as the Marble Block — possibly because it was made of marble, but maybe that was the owner's name; I just don't know. The store remained at that location until 1942, when it moved a few doors down, to 26 South Main. At least, I think it did. You have to remember that Memphis changed (and standardized) its street numbering system in the late 1800s, so it's possible this was the same building, with a different address. See how complicated my job can be?

Anyway ...

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Ask Vance" Book and Calendar Signing - Tonight!

Posted By on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 at 11:14 AM

The rumors are true. Tonight (Tuesday, January 11th), I will make a rare public appearance at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, to autograph copies of my brand-new 2011 "Ask Vance" wall calendar AND to inscribe copies of my sort-of-new book, Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert.

Here's the deal: If you buy a calendar for the amazingly low price of just $10, you also get a FREE one-year subscription to Memphis magazine.

If you've already bought the book, well I really think you should buy another, but if you don't want to do that, bring your old one in and I'll autograph it.

The whole shebang kicks off at 6 pm at Davis-Kidd, 387 Perkins Extended. All the snow has melted from the streets, so don't even think about using that as an excuse to stay home.

See you there!

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ripley's Tiny Knee Stadium — UPDATED

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

More than a year ago, I ran a photo of Tiny Knee Stadium in Ripley, Tennessee, and pondered why it had such an unusual name. A few readers chimed in, but I don't think they really had a definitive answer.

Well, I have the complete explanation now, since I recently received an email from Willard Rooks Helander of Libertyville, Illinois, who just happens to be the grandson of a rather remarkable fellow named Irvin Knee.

Here's what he tell us:

Coach Irvin Knee was a standout athlete at Wabash High School in his hometown of Wabash, Indiana, and then at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he excelled at football, track, and field events. He was called "Tiny" because he was a formidable figure, whose many Drake Relays records were unbroken during his life. He played against the University of Chicago football team wearing a leather helmet and slept under the stadium in the space where the creation of the atomic bomb later occurred.

Tiny Knee also coached college football in middle Tennessee and also played professional football for Clarence Saunders' Tigers. He moved to Ripley, Tennessee, to build the athletic program and teach science courses. At Ripley he recruited laborers to build a football field and cinder track described by Tennessee sportswriters as the finest track in West Tennessee.

Coach Knee developed standout track, field, and basketball programs, as well as coordinated building two public swimming pools for youth, Tiny Town kiddie park, and the Tiny Knee Shack where teens could "hang out" in the 1940s right through the '60s. He was a familiar sight in his green Willys jeep. Nearly every child in Ripley had a ride in Coach Knee's jeep and he was affectionately called Chief White Cloud by the Native American community in the area. When he died in 1968, a memorial service was held at Tiny Knee Field and the stands were filled with the many men and women who paid tribute to the man who taught them lessons on succeeding, not just in athletics and sportsmanship, but in life both on and off the field.

Tiny Knee was my grandfather.

— Willard Rooks Helander (Brownsville, Tennessee, native and Libertyville, Illinois, resident)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A Memphis Circus Family from the late 1800s

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM

This unusual photograph turned up on eBay recently, purporting to show a group of circus performers from the late 1800s. What made this photo especially interesting was that it was taken by a Memphis photographer named Day, who had a studio on Main Street.

Nothing more is known — not yet, anyway — about this interesting family (if they indeed are a family — where is their mother??). What was their act? Trapeze artists? Jugglers? Strong man, with assistants? It's hard to say from their outfits.

I really like the smaller boy's crazy-striped costume, and if you look closely, you'll see that the dapper man (the father?) is wearing a shirt with a rather curious design on the front, which is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the shirt worn by the older boy.

If anyone has any information about these performers, I'm sure you'll let me know.





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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Driving the Green Hornet's Famous "Black Beauty"

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 1:05 PM

Yesterday I journeyed with some of my colleagues at Memphis magazine to the Malco Paradiso for a rather unusual event — a chance to not only sit in but DRIVE the famous "Black Beauty" vehicle used in the upcoming Green Hornet movie, which opens across the country in January.

The picture here shows Frank Murtaugh, our managing editor, behind the wheel of the 400-horsepower behemoth (a 1965 Chrysler Imperial in an earlier life).

The ride certainly wasn't as cushy as the rich velvet seats in my Daimler-Benz, but I was mighty impressed with the dual, hood-mounted .50-caliber machineguns, and think I'll add those to my own vehicles.

The rocket launchers below the bumper are another nice touch, as is the flame-thrower mounted in the grill (visible in the photo below), but I think I'll keep those features in mind for the front entrance of the Lauderdale Mansion.

You can never be too careful.

Here's another view of the car, with my pal Hall Prewitt behind the wheel.



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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bergville Cafe - Remember It?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 2:10 PM

One day, I was rooting through the old photo files in the Memphis Room, and came across this image of a quaint little cafe called Bergville.

It was quite a handsome little establishment, and even the signs painted on the windows proclaimed it "A Clean Place to Eat." But I was perplexed by what I could see in the background — rows of storage tanks of some sort (barely visible in the left background). If not for the "Poland Photo Memphis" logo at the bottom, I wouldn't have thought this was a Memphis establishment.

But it certainly was located here, a tiny restaurant that opened in 1932 at 459 Union Avenue. The proprietor was Alex Guigou, who with his wife Helen had previously operated the curiously named Orange Palace Cafe on Summer. Those mysterious tanks in the background belonged to the Beacon Filling Station next door, and in fact, in those days that section of Union was fairly industrial, in a car-related way.

In the same block, you could find McCreery Used Cars, the Automobile Piston Company, Charles Ham Auto Service, and Farber Brothers Auto Tops. Just a few doors down was the old building — originally the Ford Motor Company — that housed The Commercial Appeal.

I have no idea why Alex and Helen Guigou called their little eatery Bergville. It didn't last long. Old city directories show a different manager running the joint every year until 1936, when the owners renamed it the Spick & Span Restaurant. In the 1940s, it became the Blue and White Spot Restaurant. Does anybody remember any of these places?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the tiny building housed a used-car dealership, joining many others in that area, back in the days when Union Avenue was considered "Automobile Row." But all that is changed now, and the little place called Bergville is long gone.


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Al's Golfdom on WKNO's "Southern Routes"

Posted By on Sun, Dec 12, 2010 at 4:44 PM

Al and Susie Fister
  • Al and Susie Fister
Back in the 1960s and '70s, one of the most popular places in town was an amusement center on South Perkins called Al's Golfdom. Don't let the name fool you. There was a heckuva lot more than just golf here. In addition to the fine driving range and a pair of fancy 18-hole miniature golf courses (complete with odd critters), Al's had baseball batting cages, go-karts, a giant slide, a concession stand, picnic tables, rides for the little kids, and more. During the winter, Al's even sold Christmas trees. Maybe some of you bought yours there?

The sprawling place on South Perkins (just about where the Mall of Memphis stood for years) was so popular that owners Al and Susie Fister opened another one on Raines Road, called Al's Golfhaven.

I've previously told the story of Al's Golfdom in the pages of Memphis magazine, and I sure hope you read that. But now you can learn even more about Al's, and see tons of vintage photos and old TV commercial's, on the December edition of the WKNO-TV (Channel 10) show Southern Routes, hosted by my good pal, Bonnie Kourvelas.

It airs Monday, December 13th, at 6:30 pm on Channel 10. If you miss it (or just want to watch it again and again) the show repeats on Saturday, December 18th, at 2:30 pm and again on Sunday, December 19th at 12 noon.

Here are a few shots of Al and Susie, taken in the 1980s at Al's Golfhaven. It was quite a place.

Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al Fister at Golfhaven in the 1980s

The Golfhaven Snack Bar
  • The Golfhaven Snack Bar

The go-kart track at Als Golfhaven
  • The go-kart track at Al's Golfhaven

Als Golfhaven in the 1980s
  • Al's Golfhaven in the 1980s


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