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VOL. 126 | NO. 146 | Thursday, July 28, 2011

TDN’s 125 Years Reflects Its Hometown

By Bill Dries

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It is the city’s original database, but The Daily News – which marks its 125th anniversary this year – began providing essential public information long before even the most primitive computer was built.

This is the second in a series of articles that commemorates the anniversary by looking at the past, present and future of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.

The newspaper you are reading began as The Daily Record in 1886, a time of much turmoil in the city.

Memphis had given up its charter following the worst of the Yellow Fever epidemics in 1878. The fever’s deadly toll devastated Memphis and pushed the city’s already precarious finances over the edge. One of the problems was that even the city’s wealthiest citizens didn’t feel obligated to pay their property taxes.

Memphis became a taxing district with a president of the district in place of a mayor.

By the time the city of Memphis returned as an official entity, The Daily News was recording the daily business of the city including property records and transactions.

The notices and listings have been an unfiltered look at the legal and business affairs of the city.

For its early years, the newspaper was a publication with a ledger-type format listing transactions and court matters.

Some of the primitive printing equipment used into the 20th century still survives including an “Edison Mimeograph” used to print The Daily News in 1909. It is a wooden case with a page-sized printing area that is a diaphragm mimeograph.

Edison was still alive with lots more patents on the way when The Daily News used it. Just 17 years earlier he had merged Edison General Electric Co. with another company to form the future corporate titan General Electric Corp.

One of the oldest surviving documents from the newspaper’s history is a November 1910 “Daily Abstract of Transfers” that includes a property transfer from N.J. Brownlee to Wayman Wilkerson involving 348 Beale Street.

The property was about where the Handy House Museum is now, just off the corner of Beale and Fourth streets.

The abstract indicates the newspaper was operating out of the then newly opened Shelby County Courthouse at Adams Avenue between Second and Third streets.

The publisher was Louise Berlin who in 1912 – when phone numbers were often represented as both numbers and words – could be reached at “2017-Hemlock.”

By the 1920s, The Daily Record and then The Daily Court Reporter had become The Daily News, the name it carries to this day.

A January 1926 edition carries the motto “Trade. Finance. Court.” on the masthead. Column inches had replaced the ledger style of the abstracts from a decade earlier. The newspaper had also been adopted by the Memphis Real Estate Association as its official organ because of the property listings that continue to be a part of not only today’s listing in The Daily News but of the related Chandler Reports service that has been owned by The Daily News Publishing Co. since 2004.

The front page also reflects the atmosphere of the Roaring 20s. There’s a front-page ad for a Charleston Revue at the Loew’s Palace Theater where the Parking Can Be Fun garage now stands on Union Avenue.

New arrivals at the hotels are just under the masthead in the middle of the seven columns on the page starting with The Peabody hotel, which was less than a year old and was already causing a building boom in the surrounding blocks according to a front-page article.

Among the arrivals was C. Helm Bruce of Louisville, Ky. Bruce was with Gardens Development Co. of Louisville, which had bought 164 acres for $358,252.50 in bankruptcy proceedings and planned to develop the land as a subdivision.

The land’s former owner had called it Cla-Le-Clare and construction had begun on a pink marble mansion that was left incomplete when he filed for bankruptcy.

The subdivision became Chickasaw Gardens. The former owner was Clarence Saunders, who is not mentioned in the article, and even at this early date, the incomplete house was being referred to as the “pink palace.”

The Shelby County Quarterly Court, the predecessor of the current Shelby County Commission, was about to approve the $100,000 purchase of a pipe organ for The Auditorium, a facility that opened where the Cannon Center now stands at Poplar Avenue and Front Street. The organ was necessary for free concerts on Sundays.

The Exchange Club was going to make the first payment since it had raised about $7,000 in donations. The article makes note of a political consideration that endures to this day.

“The cost of the organ probably will be divided between the city and county,” the article reads.

The Daily News’ slogan from 1926 had morphed a bit by 1970. In more conservative lettering on a smaller masthead it was now “Trade – Finance – Legal.”

Editor Douglas B. McCarthy in a Sept. 3, 1970, article touted Memphis as “Number 17, and Still Trying” in the headline for a story about a new chamber of commerce campaign to market Memphis as “a city of manageable size.”

An August 1995 edition debuting a now faded orange circle as The Daily News logo noted that the Crump Building, now home to the recently renamed Downtown Memphis Commission, might “be ideal for a law firm.”

The AutoZone headquarters Downtown was about to wrap up construction with a move from its location on Poplar near Chickasaw Gardens expected by October. And the city and county mayors – Willie Herenton and Jim Rout – had narrowed down to two their choices for a developer of the un-used space in The Pyramid. They didn’t pick them or anyone else.

PROPERTY SALES 56 94 12,852
MORTGAGES 23 50 8,053
BUILDING PERMITS 285 422 30,356
BANKRUPTCIES 23 67 6,131