VOL. 129 | NO. 71 | Friday, April 11, 2014
Feed the Imagination
By Dan Conaway
SHOPPING FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT. The courtyard you’re in was once stacked with wooden cases, the food trucks you see were once mule-drawn wagons waiting to load those cases, the locally-brewed beer you’re sipping the reincarnation of what filled them, the live music you hear covering the century-old echoes of the South’s once busiest brewery – the Tennessee Brewery.
Imagine what it was like in 1890 as you sit there now enjoying the inviting atmosphere of spring in Memphis. Imagine over Ghost River Golden Ale in 2014 what this giant ghost of a place was like at the end of its life in 1954 as the last cases of Goldcrest 51 left the building.
The bold imagination of a few Memphians – we have often depended on the bold imagination of a few Memphians – is bringing new life to the old Tennessee Brewery just for the spring, just to give us a new reason to visit an old friend who needs our attention. It’ll be an outdoor family party for about a month. Funky food. Movies. Local bands. Beer we made right here. All in the cool shadow of our past looking for a new way to look at ourselves.
If you’re like me looking in the mirror, you squint a little to see what was once there, and imagine a lot to remember when anything was possible.
Imagine a glass roof over that courtyard high above fresh produce far below, surrounded by the open balconies of several high-ceiling floors, all full of all that food’s about, each accessible by escalators and gently sloping ramps. Imagine all of that new behind old bricks, light from old windows turned into clerestories, a storied façade fronting a brand-new solution.
Imagine if Downtown got the full-service grocery store it craves, the store its booming population would embrace for grocery baskets of urban and urbane innovation. There’s a vacant lot waiting in front for parking, the salvage from the building’s center waiting to creatively set it off. Lots of big-brand, big-box retailers have stacked floors to fit urban constraints, using imagination to fit demand – Target and Publix in Atlanta’s Buckhead come to mind.
And speaking of Publix, if Kroger doesn’t have the imagination for this, we know where to shop it.
The cost of converting the brewery to modern mixed-use residential and commercial has kept it dark. So don’t convert it already. Save the historic face, prop up its personality, and build a brand-new building behind it, using the glorious wrought iron and columns as sculptural accent. There’s a huge propped-up wall on Beale Street that Silky Sullivan put a courtyard behind and tethered a good-luck goat. There’s the front of a church administration building propped up on Union that people are eating chicken behind even as I write this.
If you can’t imagine this, meet me for a beer in the courtyard when Tennessee Brewery Untapped kicks off in a week or so and we’ll talk.
I’m a Memphian, and we shouldn’t let the sell-by date on this one pass.
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.