38 STORIES, THOUSANDS OF STORIES. I remember when the big hulk was a big deal, its unimaginative gray mass full of imagination and local color.
On our first date in 1967, I took Nora to the Top Of The 100. I’ll never forget when she leaned over the table, her blue eyes wide, and said, “You eat parsley?” The building was two years old and Top Of The 100 was a private club occupying the top three floors with its own set of elevators and a revolving bar on the top, a panorama 38 stories high served straight up above everything else in town.
A couple of years later, Memphis would pass liquor by the drink and private dinner clubs would start to pass into history. Top Of The 100 would close and the venerable Tennessee Club would move in for its last throes. In their billiards room I once offered to throw Cybill Shepherd’s little brother through a window, prompting his response – I’m not kidding – “You’ll never work in this town again.”
My first job out of college was with Brick Muller, Swearingen & Dorrity Advertising, three Southern-fried Mad Men with offices in the city’s hottest address – 100 North Main. Brick Muller thought he was Leo Burnett and so did I. Dave Swearingen taught me a great many things, many of them very funny and space and taste limit my getting into them right now. Ed Dorrity wore aviator sunglasses and walked with a limp, the right to both earned Airborne over Europe.
An agency client managed the building, Percy Galbreath & Son, run by Son, the crusty Billy Galbreath who, prohibited from smoking cigars, chewed several to death every day keeping something handy to spit the pieces into. Mr. Galbreath once charged one of his rising stars – Henry Turley – with the task of moving into the Lowenstein Tower and clearing it of hookers. Henry learned early on that Downtown is just more interesting.
I remember the lobby escalators, Cooper’s Cafeteria, and the worst parking garage ever conceived sober or drunk. I remember elevators full of lawyers in briefs, bond daddies in double-knit, sugar daddies in leisure suits, trophies in micro-minis – and the doors opening onto the last days of Memphis doing the moving and shaking of all of its assets Downtown.
Now a young developer would bring the dinosaur back to life, not as it once was and could never be again, but as something new and reimagined.
Maybe he can, maybe not, but we should applaud the effort.
Remember the abandoned Pyramid and the long-abandoned Chisca. The condemned Lowenstein’s/Rhodes Jennings building and dying neighbor, the Lincoln-American Tower. The abandoned Goldsmith’s and the forgotten Gayoso Hotel swallowed by it.
The Sears Crosstown and the lonely echoes of a million-and-a-half empty square feet. And more. All new and reimagined.
If we don’t look for people with vision, all we’ll see are ghosts of an abandoned past.
I’m a Memphian, and while I remember, I’m still looking forward to tomorrow.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.