Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Good Hallows Evening!

I love Sivad.

Because his looks scared in a way most vampires don't - more "London After Midnight" Lon Chaney (as John Beifuss noted after Sivad's passing last year) than "Plan-9" Bela Lugosi. Because his sense of humor only increased his menace. Because he drove around Overton Park in that beautiful horse-drawn hearse. That horse-drawn hearse. That music. Because I knew he was somewhere in Memphis.

Requiescat in pace, Sivad!

Demivictories Against Demolition

In the last few weeks Memphis has had a few stop-the wrecking-ball-for-now victories:
  • The Zippin Pippin. It's going to North Carolina. This probably doesn't look like even half a victory to some. I understand, because I'd like to see it stay in Memphis too. However, the move's still a better outcome than having it turned to firewood by a Memphis bulldozer, which seemed to be very much its fate if not moved. Memphis loses, but the Zippin Pippin lives!
  • The Chisca Hotel. According to the Memphis Business Journal, the development that had threatened the Chisca now appears capable of living happily next door. That's good, but until someone commits to saving the Chisca itself, it's still endangered.
  • Tennessee Brewery. The development that threatened to knock down 26% of the Tennessee Brewery has been dealt a setback when it didn't win a density variance from the Memphis and Shelby County Board of Adjustments. Notice, I said "didn't win" -- the vote was actually 4-2 in favor of the variance, but the developer needed 5 votes since the agency actually has 8 voters, 2 of which didn't show up for the vote.
  • Imperial Lanes on Summer Avenue. I didn't even know this was threatened until I read this thread on the Goner Records Memphis bulletin board. Threatened by a strip mall. As Goner board member Hemant comments, "a strip mall? Arent there enough vacant properties on Summer for a strip mall? " (That sentence could be a template of opposition for every stupid-ass demolition in the history of Memphis.) The Goner thread, which was dormant since July, recently came alive again last Friday when member sugardaddy announced, "the deal went south. Imperial Lanes to remain open!!! fur now."
Fur now is much better than fur never.

Cornerstone, First Congo Church


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Do We Live in a Cottage, or a Diorama?

Window Ornament, North Main
In Sunday's Commercial Appeal, David Williams' profile of Ardent Studios included the following paragraphs:
Consider that feat. Outside of, say, Three 6 Mafia and Justin Timberlake, Memphis' place in the world's music consciousness today is where it's probably been for a few decades now -- the memory banks. The music made here is undeniable, but so is this fact: Once an industry town, Memphis these days is a mostly a museum town.

But not at 2000 Madison Ave., the 11,000-square foot home of Ardent, with its gold and platinum record-lined walls and vibe-laden studios.
There's no doubt that John Fry and Ardent are as important as Williams and many others say they are; it's just unfortunate that Williams has to make that point by ignoring or devaluing the dynamic music ecosystem of Memphis today.

And I wonder: is that devaluation a part of the ancient stories told to reinforce hierarchy; or is it just a helpful way to make a point in an article and nothing more? And, even if it is a press release straight from the hierarchy -- who cares? Do In/Out, Up/Down, Known/Unknown really affect creative people? Maybe not, but I suspect they've affected the city for a long time.

It was probably a way to make a point.

It sure got me thinking though.

Just remember folks: inside The Gates of Memphis, the antonym of hierarchy isn't anarchy -- it's texture.

Window Ornament, North Main


Monday, October 23, 2006

When the Legend Becomes Fact, Broadcast the Legend

Dave Brown and Lance Russell subdue Andy Kaufmann
Joe Larkins ponders a local TV urban legend, and a legend responds.

I'd heard the legend from kids in my grade-school as though they'd seen it the night before, so I had always assumed it was true. Alas!

So I guess we won't be finding that in the WHBQ vault. But I still hold out hope there is a vault at our local TV stations, containing the treasures of the Golden Age of Memphis TV.

Like a commenter said on Mr. Larkins' blog, "only in Memphis did the top rated station have a rasslin commentator and magician doing the weather!"

The Colossus of Crosstown, Part 1

Sears Crosstown north wall detailA few days ago, Nick Davis of The World of Nick A. Davis, Detour Memphis and Save LibertyLand (now The Memphis Magnet) mentioned this blog. I'm happy to have readers, and readers who might find some value -- all the better. Thanks, Nick! (and many more thanks for the work he did to save Libertyland).

Regarding the background image I used, the Sears Tower in Crosstown, Nick added this link of which he said:
the link for Sears Tower goes to a Memphis Flyer article about a possible development in the crumbling Sears Tower located in Crosstown - a very declining and dangerous part of Midtown Memphis. The possible development never came through and the building is falling apart. A call to the land development board back in June said the deal was dead and no one was looking into doing anything at the site. Last week a man in the coin laundry nearby was robbed and stripped of his clothing. The area hasn't seen any goodtimes since the early 90s.
Obviously, Nick is a big fan of the building and other historic structures in Memphis. I just wanted to add a slight -- slight, I say! -- counterpoint to what he said.

Sears Crosstown south tower wallIf I can go on superficial visual evidence, I don't think the Sears Tower is crumbling. Decaying like all flesh, yes, but crumbling no. There are some broken windows and the rust on the fire escapes. The bricks and beautiful ornament look pretty good from all the views I got and there didn't seem to be any evidence of vagrants breaking in. Overall, I think it looks great, period, and awesomely great for a building that hasn't been used in 13 years. I'd wager that the Sears Tower will be standing in a thousand years if a bottomfeeder with dynamite doesn't show up in the next five.

Also, I don't think Crosstown is declining -- it has declined. The good times didn't disappear after the early 1990's; they started dripping out in the 1960's when our city fathers allowed Crosstown to be vivisected with I-240 and Midtown with the promise of I-40. Sears Crosstown warehouse south wallIf anything, the area, with the infill of the homes in the I-40 destruction zone, has more promise than anytime since the 1960's. There's no doubt that Crosstown is for the vigilant, but it's important to note that the Sears Tower is only 1/2 block from a stable neighborhood to the east and just across North Parkway from stable neighborhoods to the north and northeast. Visionary developers, retailers and citizens can build on those successes without going too far from the tried and true and profitable. Lookee:

Sears Crosstown south wall detailAnyway, minor quibbles. I want to write something longer about the Sears Tower and its possibilities, but for now I wanted to thank Nick and post these pictures of this Colossus of Crosstown.

By the way, if you want more and better views of this magnificent edifice, Alisa in Memphis has posted a great Flickr set.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Memphian Against Annexation

Why is Memphis still annexing? What can we gain from this? OK, short-term, we gain the taxes of the new Memphians, but how long will that last? While I suppose it's possible that those citizens moved to unincorporated Shelby County without knowing it was unincorporated Shelby County, most probably chose it because it was not Memphis. How many will stay once they are part of Memphis? And once they're gone, the city will still have to provide all of its services to those that remain. Forever. We'll have stretched our land-mass even further for a short-term gain in taxes and an immediate and eternal responsibility to the new parts of the city.

Further ramblings on the subject:
  • Memphis does not need Memphians who don't want to be Memphians. Unwilling Memphians easily become permanent Memphis trolls.
  • Memphis needs to grow, but it should grow up and in, not out. Anyway, given the population decline of Memphis over the past three decades, it appears that annexation hasn't even produced growth. Annexation is a failed, outdated and -- I would have hoped -- discredited policy from the 1960's.
  • The Memphis of the future has to be the creative Memphis of today, not the sprawl-addicted Memphis of yesterday. Annexation is more than a distraction from the problem-solving and idea-creating we have to do -- it's another problem.
  • Annexation will hurt Memphis.

Memphis the Good (minus the Vomit)

We went to the Mid-South Fair on the last day of this year's run. We had a great time. A really great time. It was hot, it was more crowded than I've ever seen it, but it was great. The lines were long, and you would think, given the heat, you would have seen some tempers flaring, but nothing*. Just lots of families enjoying themselves, waiting patiently to have fun.

But this post is not about the Fair, but this:

Memphis is a good place full of good people.

We have our problems -- primarily assholes with weapons. But the assholes with weapons roam the fringes of our lives and our imaginations. They do not define us. They have to lurk in the shadows because they are not who we are. They separated from us, the other 99.9%, when they picked up their weapons with an intent to do harm. They are the exception, not the rule. A very small exception. Of course, as 9/11 taught us, it just takes 17 assholes with weapons to strike terror in the minds of 250 million+. So Memphis, with a population of less than a million, is understandably scared with the recent upswing in crime.

We have to solve the problem, but let's not forget this -- crime is not who we are.

This is who we are:

* I know there was a shooting later that night. But it doesn't change my mind, about Memphis or the Fair. We'll be back next year if it's back next year.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another shell worth saving

Although the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church was completely destroyed in the fires Friday morning, the shell of the building was amazingly intact when I went to see what remained Saturday morning. I think all 4 sides of the building were still standing.

And I was heartened Sunday morning to read:
that though a crew would have to demolish pieces of the church's south wall in order to gain access to the destroyed area, "we're trying to save as much of the stone wall as we can".
I was less heartened when I went by Sunday afternoon and saw that "pieces" meant a substantial portion of that wall.

Still, the west, east, and north walls, the tower (minus the steeple), and some of the south wall appear to be still there, including much of their exterior ornament. Even the destroyed south wall is probably laying in a rubble pile on Poplar, pieces that could be partially restored.

I am not a structural engineer or an architect, but it seems that modern war, earthquakes and fire and even urban renewal in our own city have shown time and time again that the guts of buildings can be blown up/burned up/knocked down, but the exterior can be saved. At the very, very least, we should gently salvage their pieces and make them part of the new building, hoping that the old and new architectural DNA will fuse.

Memphis is not Dresden, but First Church should be Frauenkirche.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Titans of Memphis Culture: Matthews the Great

WREG-TV reporter Mike Matthews is the Graceland of local reporters -- a one-of-a-kind landmark. Not just Memphis' local reporters, but all local reporters, everywhere. How lucky are we to have this auteur gracing Memphis' airwaves and the streets of our city? Very.

His trademarks: idiosyncratic and heartfelt segues, dapper yet weird fashion style, and journalistic sparring with Mayor Herenton (and other Memphis politicians) reminiscent of Reagan and Donaldson. His report yesterday on the fires gave us 2 of these 3. An excerpt:
Memphis is often sort of like an old prize fighter of a city. It gets hit, gets up, gets hit again, sometimes it seems to be almost knocked out. But then the spirit of this city comes back.
When something bad happens in Memphis, there is an overwhelming, almost sea of goodness that comes from the average, everyday working folk to come and see what they can do to try and help. If you ever wonder why people stay in this city, that's the reason why. Good vs. bad -- it's not even close.

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial testimonial for the TV station Memphoids call Channel 3, you have to watch and listen to him. Memphis culture at its finest.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I can sadly imagine Memphis without the First United Methodist Church Building, the historic Rhodes Jenning building, the Court Square Annex, but the Lincoln American Tower? Let's hope, really, really, hope they can save it.

Let's be very thankful that no firefighters were harmed by the inferno.

Update: The Memphis Flyer reports:
Pickard [Chooch Pickard, architect for Court Square Center] said the tower and Lowenstein Building, also known as the Rhodes Jennings Building, could be saved but the Court Building would have to come down.
Although we have still lost the Court Building and First United Methodist Church structure, that they can save the Tower and the Rhodes Jennings/Lowenstein Buildings is some good news amid the bad.

Another Update: Paul Ryburn has posted pictures during and after the fire, and his first-hand account of the Court Square portion of the fire. (Via A Pulp Faction)

Not Really An Update: The Center City Commission's Jeff Sanford has released a statement [pdf alert!] on the fires (via the Memphis Flyer).

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Delusion Wrapped in a Non Sequitur

Fairground GateIf we don't question our cultural hierarchies, we're likely to become poobahs, rajahs, littlepondbigfish, nakedemperors, dictators, cabals, deliverancekids, sycophants, shills, bosses and kings. If we spend too much time questioning, we could become bitter, stunted trolls.

Artists are the freemen of the cultural polity.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Memphis in 3D

First Baptist Church on Beale StreetBecause I believe in the creative and persuasive power of visualization, I propose that we create a software repository for 3D models of Memphis architecture, destroyed, existing, proposed and imagined.

The content can be submitted by anyone and used by anyone, without fee or favor. Not just architects, not just professionals, not just Memphians -- anyone. The content should exist in the Commons. Possible users include:
  • urban planners.
  • architects.
  • neighborhood and community development associations.
  • developers.
  • game creators.
  • filmmakers.
  • entrepeneurs.
  • graphic artists.
  • economic development professionals.
  • tourism professionals.
  • law enforcement.
  • Google Earth junkies.
  • citizens.
High-quality tools to create and use such 3D content, like Google's SketchUp or Blender (my personal favorite), are freely available and, in most cases, easily used. The ability to create these models will depend on nothing more than a person's inclination.

As I mentioned above, we could categorize the architectural models like this:
  1. destroyed: architecture that once existed in Memphis but has been destroyed (the word "destroyed" isn't as painful to me as the word "demolished").
  2. existing: buildings that exist at the time the 3D models were created.
  3. proposed: future buildings that have an active financial sponsor.
  4. fantastic: future buildings that have no active financial sponsor, which were designed without any intention or reasonable chance of being built, which may indeed violate all physical laws. This is where we would put crackpot ideas like the Gates of Memphis, of course, but could, probably should, include more reasonable ideas.
Besides architecture, I believe we could include 3D models of Memphis signage, generally following the same categories listed above.

Wikipedia could be the place for it. A few weeks ago, Michael Tiemann of RedHat made a proposal on the Wikipedia Village Pump (sorry, cached version) about a standard format for 3D models of Wikipedia content. He proposed the COLLADA format as the standard for Wikipedia 3D content. There seemed to be some confusion on the Wikipedia mailing lists about the purpose of using Wikipedia for this -- they can enable the upload of this format, but why? There are not many/any viewers for this kind of content. The best answer: "Putting it on Commons". The questions I have about using Wikipedia for a 3D model repository:
  1. does it accept content from those with a financial interest in the content?
  2. Does it accept content about something that doesn't exist?
  3. Finally, does Wikipedia have a tagging mechanism that would allow this content, no matter whether it existed as part of the Memphis article, or the Frayser article, or the Mid-South Fair article, to be searchable and findable as a Memphis related piece of content?
If the Wikipedia proposal doesn't come to pass, then perhaps one of our local organizations can sponsor and host such a repository. For instance, the future Design Center, or Memphis Heritage, or the Urban Arts Commission.