VOL. 127 | NO. 41 | Wednesday, February 29, 2012
By Bill Dries
Covered in vines and behind a chain-link fence on the corner of Plum Avenue and North Thomas Street are several white posts that are the last remnant of what was once the Lazarov junkyard in North Memphis.
Piles of scrap metal are seen at Worley Brothers Scrap Iron & Metal, located near the Wolf River. (Photo: Brandon Dill)
The posts are rumored to be hand-me-downs that once marked an entrance of the old North Memphis Driving Park before the state banned betting on horse races in 1905, shutting down the racing industry statewide and the storied horse racing track there in particular.
The park became the ground on which much of the North Memphis heavy industrial footprint of the 1920s to 1970s was built.
The scrap and salvage business has long been a part of the North Thomas Street commercial and industrial corridor that runs south of the Wolf River to Chelsea Avenue. So has change.
“We’ve still got industrial mixed with churches next to houses next to schools,” said Eddie Hayes, executive director of the New Chicago Community Development Corp. “It’s still kind of a hodgepodge.”
There are new signs the scrap industry is about to enlarge its footprint on the northern end of the corridor by the Wolf River.
It began when Worley Brothers Scrap Iron & Metal moved into the old Armour-Dial Inc. building at 1554 N. Thomas St. last year and put a new coat of white paint with red trim on the worn-looking building in the process.
The Memphis City Council in February approved plans to turn the 68 acres of land around the building into a junk or salvage yard.
The business declined comment on its plans when contacted by The Daily News.
But Memphis City Council member Lee Harris talked with the owners when the application came to the council.
“I’m fully behind them,” he said. “This site, in particular, they want to make their premier site.”
Worley has a scrap yard across the street, on the west side of Thomas by the Wolf River flood wall. It also has a facility on Chelsea Avenue and another on Illinois Avenue.
“I think the Worleys have a very serious commitment to Memphis and a very serious commitment to being a good neighbor,” Harris said. “You look at the building – it’s got fresh paint. It’s got a new fence. It’s got a great landscaping plan. It looks good.”
To the north of the building is a large open lot that was once the sight of enormous industrial works for several companies that stretched from the east side of Thomas all the way back to a set of railroad tracks that curve to form the eastern as well as the northern border of the property.
All that remains on the otherwise open land is a brick gate behind another chain-link fence that was once the entrance to a matching brick building that was the start of the massive complex.
It was home to E.L. Bruce Co. Inc., Humko Products Division and the Kraft Foods Inc. plant. North of the cluster in the area’s prime was the PepsiCo Inc. bottling plant as well as a Levi Strauss & Co. plant and a Uniroyal factory and sales site.
Bruce opened in 1921 and within just a few years was the largest hardwood flooring manufacturer in the world.
Humko opened in 1930 making shortening and later other food products. The Firestone Co. plant, further east of Thomas Street, followed in 1937.
The brick gate will remain, according to Harris, along with a streetside landscaping cover that was being worked on this past weekend.
“The parcels they put together were for sale for a long time. They put together all those different pieces of property and they are going to use them,” Harris said. “They are a serious employer in this town. They run a pretty serious trucking operation and the business they do is real compatible with the steel industry.”
The Uptown Community Association originally opposed the special-use permit for Worley Brothers, asking the Land Use Control Board to deny it. That opposition was gone by the time the council took its vote on the permit.
Hayes said he has watched the changes with interest along with others who live along and travel the corridor every day.
“On the surface, I think we need as much commercial as possible,” Hayes said. “I’ve watched them growing. … Hopefully it will help attract some other stuff to the neighborhood. We need more jobs. That whole industrial area there could use some more stuff.”