Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jolly Royal Moderne

One of my favorite Memphis buildings is the Jolly Royal Furniture building, a cool example of streamline moderne at the corner of Main and Gayoso.

Jolly Royal Corner

Jolly Royal Corner

Jolly Royal Corner
Along with its black & white tiles, glass bricks and industrial windows, I have also liked the gallery which runs its Main Street length.

Jolly Royal Corner

Jolly Royal Corner

Jolly Royal Corner
It's deep, a space in its own right. It's covered, giving protection from both sun and rain. And it's continuous with the sidewalk, a private space that opens to the public.

It's a distinctive outdoors private/public space. Given the right use, it could be a place.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In pace requiescat, Jimmy Gimme Sheltie

Jimmy Gimme Sheltie waits out the rainMy good pal and walking buddy, Jimmy Gimme Sheltie, Meatloaf King of Memphis, Doofus Nephew of Lassie, passed away last week. That's right, my dog died.

While writing about the boring minutiae of life is a blog perk, it's not completely off-topic here, as Jimmy was a dog who was place-based. He knew Tom Lee Park and the Overton Park Greensward, walked up and down Main Street and the Bluff Walk, and all over Shelby Forest.

He was a dog of accidental adventures. When we lived briefly in northern New York, Jimmy loved barking at the waves crashing on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. So idiotically enthusiastically that one late March afternoon he lost his footing on the icy bank and fell in the river. Then my wife fell in trying to fish him out. The St. Lawrence is a great river like the Mississippi, but not as punishing -- except for hypothermia. Fortunately she was able to grab Jimmy and get both of them out quickly before disaster struck. I was so mad that she had risked her life for Jimmy that I angrily told her she should have let him float away. A Quebecois family could have fished him out with an ice hook when he floated past Montreal.

Jimmy loved sending out Christmas cardsAnother time, on a off-leash walk in Overton Park, he lost sight of us and decided we went home without him. He took off in that direction, not hearing our yells behind him. While home was very close, it was also across Poplar (a crossing equal to any of Lassie's). He ran and we ran, but he ran faster and we lost sight of him quickly. As we got near the Poplar entrance, out of breath, we saw a dogcatcher leaning against his animal shelter truck, enjoying a smoke break by the side of the road. Figuring a professional would have noticed a stray dog walking by, we asked him if he had seem Jimmy. "Does he look like this?" the dogcatcher asked and popped open his cage on wheels. And there was caged Jimmy, smiling, saved in the nick of time from a Poplar crossing by a kindly smoking dogcatcher.

He lived a goofy and charmed life and sometimes the charm worked for us as well.

Jimmy thinks about jumping over treeDriving home with Jimmy after a Bluff Walk walk, I got a flat turning off of Beale. By the time I pulled to a stop a dude was running behind us yelling "it's okay, it's okay!" Okay because he was going to fix my flat, whether I wanted him to or not. I did not -- I could change it myself. But he persisted, insisted, very helpful and friendly -- until I offered him the only money I had in my wallet, $2 dollars. "It's okay" changed immediately to "that's not gonna be enough" and "I want more", with vague threats and pressure to go an ATM to give him a bigger gratuity. I wasn't going to do it, no way in hell I was going to do that, secure in the presence of Jimmy riding shotgun in the front seat, door open. Jimmy (probably) wouldn't have done anything but the guy didn't know that and I believe he was put off by the dog. It would have been a much scarier encounter if Jimmy hadn't been there.

Once and only once I walked Jimmy down Beale Street. While I was worrying that Jimmy would drop a load in front of Wet Willie's, ruining the experience for everyone, a drunken frat pack approached us. "Hey mister", their blurry-eyed leader said, pointing at Jimmy, "how much to **** your dog?" He and his buddies laughed big and dumb at their indecent proposal but Jimmy and I just kept on walking.

We kept walking until early this summer when he began losing a lot of weight. He had lymphoma. In short order, Jimmy lost the ability to climb stairs, stand up on his own, walk and finally keep his balance.

A week ago Sunday, I made a pallet in my son's Radio Flyer wagon, and I pulled Jimmy on a final long walk through Central Gardens. Although he was skin and bones underneath, he still had his beautiful coat and several people we passed thought he was a puppy.

The next day he died.

Jimmy Gimme Sheltie in Overton Park
Jimmy, keep walking toward the meat palace in the sky.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Mix, Mash, Mod Architecture

building on Madison composed of 4 square and commercial storefrontI hope that the real cutting-edge, progressive architecture of the future will not be starchitecture but mashups and remixes -- building into, around and on top of the existing, with the least destruction. Creating new space not from scratch, but out of pre-existing building blocks, with infill and onfill -- buildings that grow out of other buildings. No more painting over the canvas, no more unsustainable churn. Architects will become hackers and hackers will become architects.

The benefit to under-urbanized Memphis: formation of a dense, sustainable and creative urban texture. Churn is the enemy of a vital Memphis.

Grahams Lighting Fixtures, created out of 3 bungalows and 1 or 2 commercial buildings

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SkateLife Memphis Meetings and Fundraisers

A couple of notes from Skatelife Memphis.
  1. They're having a couple of fundraisers to help build wooden ramps at community centers in Memphis:
    Skatelife Memphis founder, Aaron Shafer, is holding a recycling fundraiser. He needs as many people to get involved as possible. Aaron is collecting aluminum cans and will use the proceeds to buy materials for constructing wooden skate board ramps. These ramps will be given and used by inner-city Memphis kids at various community centers and in lower-income locations. To get involved, simply save your cans between now and October 18. Wash and Crush them. Aaron and other youth who skateboard will collect the cans at a central location that will be announced as the date draw near. For more information please email him at or call him at 901 481 5615. "
    Join the Cork Brigade!!

    For all those who want to shrink our landfills for a great cause, here is your chance! No one recycles corks in Memphis until now.....

    We have partnered with Terracycle- a New Jersey Plant fertilizer company that makes plant fertilizer out of worm poop! We will serve as the Memphis depot for wine corks. We will receive 2 cents for each cork in return for supplying them the corks. Terracycle has a great story so check them out sometime!

    Even though Parks and Recreation will be building our first concrete park, it won't be open until sometime in 2010 so in the meantime there's a lot to be done!

    We will be using the cork funds to help build wooden ramps and even some concrete structures in inner city areas of Memphis where Memphis kids have never had an opportunity to skate.

    Specifically, funds from the Cork Brigade will go towards our current project that we are working on in South Memphis.

  2. If you'd like to get involved in Skatelife Memphis, they're having a meeting next week
    Meeting this Wednesday (August 27)

    August We need your artistic talents to design our T-shirts. Winner takes home a new skate board deck and accessories. We will also be launching a major recycling fundraising drive soon so come for the details and for developing a strategy.

    The meeting will be Wednesday August 27 at Cafe Eclectic (603 N McLean Blvd Memphis, TN 38107
    (901) 725-1718).

    Please RSVP (if you can come) so I can copy enough hand-outs for everyone attending.

    Hope to see you soon!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Climbing the C&I Bank Building

Trolley Stop Mosaic in the space between the C&I Bank Building and Autozone ParkArchitects and architecture lovers presented lots of great ideas at last week's meeting to save the C&I Bank Building (an example), and a few that Memphis Heritage and friends have begun work on.

While the best idea will be the idea that saves the building from the worst idea, which is the Regional Chamber's plan to sell the building for kindling, until then I declare my idea the best and hope those with an interest will consider making it the best in fact.

Make it the home of The Junkyard Memphis.


It fits the Mission of Junkyard:
The primary purpose of The JunkYard is to engage the efforts of local artists and art students in the construction of their own museum. Once open, the exhibits will feature large climbable structures that can be enjoyed by everyone of all ages. This tactile nature of the new museum will be a useful learning tool for kids of all ages, as well as a method for creating an emotional link with adults and their city.
The C&I has a large 4 story glass atrium, with balconies open to it, that seems perfect for the climbable structures that Junkyard Memphis wants.

(While it's not mentioned on the Junkyard website, I've always heard that the City Museum of St. Louis is a model. A few photos from that museum can help you envision the types of climbing structures possible.)

The stupendous views from that atrium out at downtown Memphis are a huge part of that emotional link to their city.

Since the C&I Bank Building has already been gutted, its interior is a tabula rasa for the imaginations of the artists and art students.


it's a wonderful piece of architecture-as-advertisement, an iconic Fun House beckoning over the right field wall of Autozone Park for the multitudes of kids and adults who go to Redbirds games every year.

Autozone Park

And because of the glass atrium, the favor is returned to the Redbirds.

If they exploit this spatial and visual connection, each could help the other be much more than they are by themself.

Along the same lines, it's would form the 3rd vertex in the fun and education triangle of Downtown Elementary and Autozone Park. See:

It could be a tangible, visible, climbable lesson in recycling and creativity.

C&I Bank Building

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quote of the Week: Talent in the City

So much more often than not, what we fail to do, whether it's Chattanooga or any city, is to recognize the assets we have existing.

If we don't offer the opportunity for our young people and for the people who have been here for awhile, to maximize their potential, while they're here, in offering them the opportunities to engage civically, to engage creatively, then what do we have to offer someone who is going to relocate here?
Helen Johnson
Createhere Creative Strategist
speaking to Carol Coletta on Smart City Radio
about Createhere's talent philosophy.

Summer Walk 2008

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Ascent of King Edward

A forlorn beauty when I passed it a year ago,

The King Edward Hotel, Downtown Jackson
Jackson's King Edward Hotel was in the middle of a vibrant restoration when I passed by again last week.

The Restoration of the King Edward Hotel
The King Edward has been empty since 1967, for 40 years before its restoration began late last year. In comparison, our own great Hotel Chisca closed as a hotel in the early 1970s, but was occupied as headquarters by the Church of God in Christ until the early 1990s.

Let's wish the developers, who include Deuce McAllister, the greatest success on their work. Afterwards we can invite them to take the train up to Memphis, for a visit to Main and Linden.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Meeting Wednesday about the C&I Bank Building

From Memphis Heritage:
Important Meeting Regarding the Future of The C & I Bank Building 200 Madison Francis Gassner, Architect Built 1974

C&I Bank BuildingThere will be a meeting for all those concerned about the future of the Gassner Building, 200 Madison Ave., at Memphis Heritage's Headquarters, Howard Hall at 2282 Madison Ave. at Edgewood on Wednesday, August 13 @ 12 noon. Please feel free to bring a sack lunch we will provide beverages. The meeting should be over by 1:30.

The building is presently owned by the Memphis Chamber of Commerce and is for sale. To date all of the parties interested in buying the property have plans to demolish the mid century modern Memphis Landmark (in one case to build a surface parking lot). This meeting will be to assist everyone in knowing the latest plans for the property and to discuss alternatives to it's demolition. Please email June West at if you can attend this meeting or if you are interested in getting follow up information on our plans. Thank you for your support of historic Memphis.

The C&I Bank Building was completed in 1974, designed by Francis Gassner, FAIA (1927-1977) of Gassner, Nathan, and Browne Architects. The innovative design used tubular truss framing and butt glazing to shape the building and enclose its atrium. When completed, the C&I Bank was applauded for its geometry and light-filled atrium. The C&I Bank was recognized by both state and local AIA Awards, and, in 1979, the Museum of Modern Art included the building in its exhibit of the 400 buildings that "have had a significant influence in the recent directions of architecture." In 2000, the C&I Bank building was recognized by the Memphis Chapter of the AIA as the Design of the Decade (1971-1980). The C&I Bank building was purchased in 2004 by the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation for use as its headquarters.

June Waddell West
Executive Director
Memphis Heritage
fax 901.272.0149

More background on the threat.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

I Have Seen the Future and it is Memphis Roller Derby

Roller Derby Crowd at the Fairgrounds
Last Sunday's Commercial Appeal carried a story about Memphis Roller Derby's business struggles at the Memphis Fairgrounds.

First, the Fairground's new facilities management group is giving MRD the business about their insurance, even though it's the same policy used by roller derby leagues around the country, and hiking their rent at the nearly abandoned Fairgrounds.

Second, Henry Turley, the new Fairgrounds master developer, while lauding the Derby's passion, posits a preemptive NIMBY reaction because of their tattoos and saucy clothing.
"I wouldn't be the one to say no," Turley said. "It would have to be the community stepping in and saying, 'Hey, everything you said you wanted to do with the fairgrounds, that doesn't fit.'"
What community would it be? The present community has embraced them. Perhaps the unbuilt Fairgrounds residential community, or the "the national youth sports events developers hope to attract to a planned indoor athletic facility". A repressive anti-tattoo community from the future vs the real, dynamic and open community that supports Memphis Roller Derby now.

The value added by Roller Derby's energy and creativity is far greater than anything a speculative and prudish tenant could bring. Memphis Roller Derby is the kind of vital, home grown enterprise that a new Memphis and a new Fairgrounds should embrace and build around.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Completing Main Street

View from the Lincoln-American Tower
When the Center City Commission asked the public about returning auto traffic to Main Street, the public came out strongly against the idea.

There have been many arguments for returning traffic to Main. The CCC's retail consultant made the argument. The NEA Director of Design, Maurice Cox recommended it. His predecessor at the NEA, Jeff Speck, made it one of his 12 suggestions for Memphis.

Even if public sentiment for the pedestrian over the car is technically flawed from an urban design point of view, such sentiment is still a good, progressive sign for Memphis. And I want to point out that Speck had also suggested fixing the South Main knuckle, the walking discontinuity formed by the Main/Beale parking lot, MLG&W's mega-berm and parking garage, and the empty Chisca. I believe that the knuckle is a much greater obstacle to Main Street revitality. It cuts Main Street off from the energy of both South Main and Beale Street (which is itself auto restricted yet prospers). I don't think returning traffic without fixing the knuckle will fix Main Street.

The CCC will decide later this month what it will do. They could still open Main to traffic. At the very least, I hope the public's opposition will keep them from the more invasive, multi-million dollar projects. Maybe the opposition will lead the Commission to take Speck's specific advice and try a woonerf, a simple plan that would make the pedestrian and the car and the bike equals on Main.

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