Historic Memphis Hotels

 

From the 1920's, Memphis had a number of large, luxury hotels in the downtown area.  They flourished until the 60's, when urban decline began to make an impact on cities.   Memphis was also victim to the racial tension that plagued the nation, but it was escalated  by the City sanitation workers strike in 1968.  Dr. Martin Luther King, in Memphis to lead a march protesting the worker's condition, was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.  The riots and fires that followed, combined with the national trend toward "suburbanization", sent Downtown Memphis into a complete downward spiral from which it wouldn't recover for many years. By the 1970s, Downtown had all but died. Large areas fell victim to neglect; buildings on virtually every block were vacant; even the once-vibrant Beale Street had been boarded up; and all the major hotels had closed or were preparing to close their doors.  Today, of these original, major hotels, only the Peabody remains, although several of the hotel buildings were restored and renovated as Town Houses.  Most of the photos below are postcards of the hotels during early years. 

The original intent of this page was to cover only the Major Luxury hotels in Memphis from the 1920's up to the late 60s.  So many emails have been received mentioning other hotels that a 2nd page has been added.  Many additional large and small hotels from 1868 to 1918 have now been included.  A link to the 2nd page appears at the bottom.  This page will always be "under construction" and will change whenever new information or new photos become available.  Please check back often. 

 

 
 
Chisca Hotel - 272 S. Main 
 

The Chisca Hotel is 8 stories tall.  It may be an eyesore now but it was once a very impressive building and still has the potential to be one again.  It was owned by Church of God in Christ and although it has a 93 year history, its future restoration was in doubt, but as of 2014, it is is being renovated into apartments and shops. 

The Chisca was never on a level with the Peabody or Gayoso, but it does have some wonderful and interesting architectural elements and a distinct place in Memphis history.  Built in 1913, it stood as the largest hotel in its district, but it was always more utilitarian than luxury. 

 

Vintage Postcard

Chisca Lobby

Chisca Today...

Chisca Today, Sign still visible

 

1928

1918

1918

1918

 

Green Room Envelope

Vintage Letterhead

Vintage Silver Spoon

 

Chisca Key

Key

Fob

Fob

Matchbooks

Ashtray

 

The hotel's historic significance comes mainly from its connection to Elvis Presley.  From 1949-56, its mezzanine was the broadcast base for WHBQ radio's "Red, Hot, and Blue" program.  It was from there that Dewey Phillips broadcast Elvis' first record July 7, 1954.  And Elvis' first radio interview was also conducted in the hotel by Phillips. 

The Chisca building was donated by the Snowden family to the Church of God in Christ for $10 in 1971.  They acquired the hotel along with other downtown properties with the intention of creating a group of developments to be called Saint Center.  Their plans never materialized but they made the hotel their headquarters from the early 1980s to the late 1990s when it was abandoned.  The building has since been neglected and fallen into disrepair, with lower windows boarded up.  Various plans for the hotel have not yet materialized.  And Preservationists will only support a plan that includes restoration.
  In 2012 a local development group has a new life planned for the long-abandoned Chisca, that could see the building rise to prominence in its reenergized South Main Neighborhood.  The plan is to convert the 300,000 square foot 1913 hotel into 149 modern apartment units with an average size of 940 square feet as well as 5,400 square feet of space to lease for commercial tenants.  Below, are 3 recent photos of the interior of the Chisca which show they have their work cut out for them.  

 

Chisca Plate

Platter

Creamer

Plate

Ashtray

 

<  <  <      Chisca 1955 Coffee Shop Menu      >  >  >

1916 Ad

Chisca VERY RARE 1920 Menu

 

Vintage Postcard

Chisca 2012 - showing the severe decay - All photos by Alan Howell

 

Postcard 1920s

1953 Sundry Shop

Fountain

Pool

Luggage Tag

 

"WHBQ and Red Hot and Blue with Daddy O Dewey not only played Elvis for the first time but also Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B.King.  The Chisca was a nice business hotel and not a fancy one like the Peabody or Claridge".  - Walter Bolton

 
 


 
Claridge Hotel - 109 N.Main and Adams
 

The Claridge Hotel was built in 1924.  With 17 floors and 400 rooms, it was Memphis' tallest hotel.  And it served as the focal point of Memphis social life for 3 decades hosting such well-known performers as the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra - and later Elvis Presley in the famous Balinese Room and on the Roof Garden. 

A hotel had been on the corner of Main and Adams since the 1880s.  The first hotel was the Arlington Hotel.  It was demolished in the 1920's to make way for the more modern Claridge.  With its opulent lobby, ballrooms, and roof garden, the Claridge was built as an alternative to the ever-crowded Peabody Hotel 6 blocks away.  For nearly forty years it was a popular destination for Memphians and out-of-town visitors as well.  One could dine, drink, dance, and stay in one of the very first Memphis hotels with air-conditioned rooms.  With the big bands on the roofs of the Peabody and The Claridge, summer evening walks around downtown were alive with music in the air. 

 

Vintage Postcards

Claridge today 1952 Ad

1936 Postcard

 

Entrance

Balinese Room

Cocktail Napkin, c.1950

Matchbook

1941 News

Ashtray

 

Lobby

Mezzanine

Luggage Tag 1950s

Bell Tavern

 

1939

Vintage

1950

Photo Folder

 

Vintage Chisca Matchbooks

Stationary

Vintage Key

Vintage Key

 

Urban decline in the 1960's and 70's shuttered many of Memphis' once luxurious hotels, including the Peabody.  The Claridge closed its doors in December 1968 and sat vacant for nearly 15 years.  In 1980, the hotel was bought, extensively renovated, and reopened as Claridge House Apartments in 1984.  The concept was a hit and a great victory for those in the fight for urban renewal.  By 2004, the condominium market was exploding, and again the building was renovated to become Claridge House Condominiums.  The Claridge building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Vintage Cascades Roof Garden Program

Starlight Roof

 
 
 

Do not disturb  

Balanese Photo Cover

Claridge  Blanket

Claridge Soap
 
  Below:  A 1938 Claridge folder - 12 pages
 

Cover 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9-10

    Back

 
 


 
Gayoso Hotel - Main Street
 

The Gayoso was built by Robertson Topp, a wealthy planter.  He was involved in the development of South Memphis, an area of houses, commercial buildings, and a hotel designed to grace the young city with high architectural style.  He commissioned James Dakin to design the structure, which was constructed in 1842.  The hotel was named for Governor Manuel Luis Gayoso de Lemos, Spanish governor of the Natchez district.

The Gayoso House became a Memphis landmark, an oasis of luxury frequented by visitors of the city.  With its own waterworks, gasworks, bakeries, wine cellar, and sewer system, the hotel offered amenities far beyond those available to the rest of Memphis.  The indoor plumbing included marble tubs and silver faucets as well as flush toilets.  It's Greek Revival portico was easily recognizable from the river.   In the late 1850s, Topp continued his efforts to bring architectural distinction to Memphis, and hired the Cincinnati firm of Isaiah Rogers to build an addition that doubled the Gayoso's original 150 rooms.   The addition featured wrought iron balconies overlooking the Mississippi.  During the Civil War, the Gayoso served as the Union Headquarters during the Union's  occupation of Memphis. 

 

Original Gayoso  

Gayoso on Main

 

Front Street Gayoso

 

Vintage Postcard

Gayoso

1849

Burns 1899

Front Street Gayoso

 

1898

1920

1860

1886

 

1895

1904

1907

1908

 

1912

1940

Lobby

1906

 

In the mid-19th century, the Gayoso House was known up and down the Mississippi River for its elegance and hospitality.   But as years passed the famous landmark fell on hard times.  By 1876 it no longer attracted the best clientele.  The Gayoso House burned in 1899.  To replace it, James B. Cook designed a new hotel.  His U-shaped construction surrounded a courtyard screened from Front Street by a row of columns and opened in 1902.  Afterwards, there was an effort to return the Gayoso to its former glory, but it never quite achieved the fame of the previous Gayoso.

Goldsmith's Department Store, which was next door to the Gayoso, bought the hotel in 1948 and used it for offices and storage.  The Gayoso closed its doors in 1962.  Fifty years later, It has now been restored and used for downtown apartments, residences, restaurants, and offices.

 

Peabody-Gayoso

Dish 1937

Cup-Saucer 1937

Creamer

 

 

<     Vintage Keys and Fobs     >

 
 

Gayoso Apts today

1906 Calling Card Dish

1887 Grover Cleveland

Vintage Postcard

 

Gayoso Souvenir Spoons

Gayoso Spoon

Spoon

1890 Engraving Plate

Pens

Crystal Ink Well

 

Vintage Gayoso Matchbooks

1941 Card Luggage Tag 1918 card

Room 1900

 

Lobby

Lobby First Key Presentation Stock Coupons Gayoso Courtyard
 
 


 
Hotel King Cotton - 69 Jefferson at Front Street
 

Hotel King Cotton was a 12 story high-rise.  It was originally built in 1925 as "The Elks Club and Hotel", but in 1939 the name was changed to Hotel de Voy, in honor of Elks Ruler Clarence De Voy.  It advertised "safety and comfort without extravagance".  It later became the King Cotton.  In addition to its 150 rooms, the hotel was equipped with a gym, swimming pool, bowling alley, squash and handball court.  The King Cotton closed in 1972 and the building was imploded April 1984.

 

 Elks Club

Hotel De Voy

DeVoy 1931

King Cotton

King Cotton

Proposed Elks Club

 

King Cotton Lobby

Elks Lobby

King Cotton Lobby

King Cotton Dining Rm

 

DeVoy 1941

DeVoy 1935

Elks 1931

Matchbooks

King Cotton Dining Rm

 

Vintage King Cotton Menu

Luggage Tag

Matchbook

K. C. Decay

K. C. Implosion 1984

 

Ashtray

Glass

Opener

Ice Bucket

1935 King Cotton Menu

Vintage Key

 
 "...really brought back memories.  I well remember the DeVoy at Front and Jefferson, which was later the King Cotton.  I'm not sure which name it had in 1947 or '48 when Kemmons Wilson (later founder of Holiday Inns) treated me to lunch in the hotel coffee shop.  After he remardek that he felt that he had achieved success, I asked why and he replied, "Today, I owe One Million Dollars".  That represented loans on construction projects he had under way.  Not too many later, one of us was a multi-millionaire, but it was not I".  - Glenn Raby
 

"...As a child in the 30's, I spent 2 or 3 nights a week in the locker room of the Bowling Alley deep in the bowels of the DeVoy (King Cotton).  Mother and Daddy paid the rent winning 'a penny a pin and loser pays for the game'.  They both became City Champs and I learned to shine shoes..."  - Stanley Porter

 
 


 
Parkview Hotel Apartments  - 1914 Poplar Av 
 

 

Located at an entrance to Overton Park, The Parkview was at its zenith in the 1920's.  It was one of the finest hotels in the city.  But the location out of city center had an adverse effect on the property.  And yet, the hotel managed to make the transition from hotel to apartments to its current retirement community status. 

 

         1940 letter

Key Fob

Double Matchbook

Parkview Silver Creamer - 1923

 
 


 
Peabody Hotel - 149 Union Avenue
 

 Fransioli - 1920's

The original Peabody

The Peabody on Union

Peabody

Peabody

 

Early View of Lobby

Peabody Lobby today

Ballroom 1925

Ballroom today

Peabody Room - today

 

The Peabody is a luxury hotel.  No hotel in Memphis history has more "magic" associated with its name.  The original Peabody was built by Robert Campbell Brinkley in 1869.  He named the hotel in honor of George Peabody, who had contributed much to the South.   The building was located on the corner of Main and Monroe, and it was highly successful.  It was designed by Chicago architect Walter Ahlschlager in Italian Renaissance style and had 75 rooms with private bathrooms.  Guests paid $3 to $4 with meals included in the price.  This Peabody closed in 1923.

The current Peabody on Union Avenue, was built in 1925 on the site of the Fransioli Hotel (Above Photo).  The most recognizable features of the hotel are the large red neon "The Peabody" sign atop the Skyway Ballroom.  The top floor - the Skyway, offers stunning views of the city and the river.  During the Big Band era, the Skyway was the place to be at night.  All the major bands headlined at the Skyway.  The hotel was so associated with world-class glamour that most Memphis Schools wanted to hold their prom and/or Senior Banquet in one of the Peabody's grand ballrooms. (See Tech class photos below)

The famous ducks became part of the hotel in the 1930's.  Frank Schutt, the general manager of the hotel decided to use live duck decoys in the lobby as a promotion.  The idea was so popular that the ducks were trained to walk into the hotel, a tradition that continues today. 

Prior to the mid-60's, alcoholic beverages were sold in Tennessee only as sealed bottles in licensed liquor stores.  But The Peabody had a bar called "The Creel".  It was also possible to have drinks at The Skyway.  Patrons would bring a bottle, acquired elsewhere and the bartender would tag the bottle for later retrieval.  He would then mix drinks from the patron's bottle on request.  And for the patrons who didn't have their own bottle?  There was a licensed Liquor Store in the Peabody lobby.  Waiters would even go there and buy the bottles for patrons.  (See the receipt below from 1952).

The Peabody closed in early 1970's, generally an era of urban blight for many American cities.  The Jack Belz family purchased the hotel from the county in 1975 for $400,000 and spent the next several years and $25,000,000 renovating the landmark structure.  The grand reopening in 1981 is widely considered in Memphis as a major stimulus and inspiration for the downtown revitalization that followed.

Today, The Peabody continues to offer world class accommodations and is a historic icon in Memphis.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 
Below are some "memories" associated with  The Peabody...
 

1941 Room receipt

1952  rceipt

 Peabody 1891

Peabody on Main St 1920s

First Peabody

1909 Original Peabody

 

1949 Tech Banquet

1951 Tech Banquet

1925 Opening

 Roof Finial

1869 gaslight

 

Vintage Coat Hanger

Luggage  1930s

1883 Menu -Duck

Rip Van Rinkle

1906 Postcard

 

 Ladies Parlor

Check

Matches

 Skyway Memories

Shoehorn

1927 Brochure

 Sugar Cube 1951

 

Door DND

1929 Ad

1930 Ad

Vintage Silver Spoon

1930 Souvenir

 

Brass Bookmark

Matchbooks

Plantation Roof

Souvenir Mug

Beveled Mirror

Tie Clip 1930

 

Cards

Towel 2010

Peabody Mug

Vintage Card

1982 Ad

Spoon

Pen

Mezzanine Museum

 

Peabody Ladies

Rendezvous

Matchbook

Welcome Duck

Chuck Cabot

Private Dining Room

 

Calling Card Dish 1925 Ad Thimble Shot Glass Construction-CVR 1924

Peabody-Gayoso

 

1901 1901 1901 1889 1919
 

1942

1900 1910

1916

 

Vintage Silver Bowl 1900s Vintage Silver Bowl Oval Serving Dish Silver Plate Cover
 

Small Dish

Soup Dish, c. 1940's

Creamer

Berry Bowl

Cup and Saucer

 

Vintage Key

Fob 1930s

Fob 1930s

Fob

Vintage Key

1920s key

 

 1941 Peabody Menu - Collection Dave French

<  1941 Menu - Collection Stephen Miller >

1942 Peabody Menu

 

Cafe 1902

Match Striker Ash Tray Vase Foreclosure Vintage Room
 
     

Billhead 1874       1909 Envelope
 

"I'm the retired production manager of WREG-TV. When I first went to work for Channel 3, we were located in the basement of the Peabody, The radio station had been there since the hotel opened in 1925. The manager of the Peabody had seen radio stations in all the big New York hotels and asked Hoyt B Wooten who had his radio store in the Peabody to move his radio station from Whitehaven to the Peabody. It was in the Peabody for the next 52 years. All of WREC'S station Ids were WREC 600 on your radio with studios in Hotel Peabody the South's finest and one of Americas best hotels. Each night, WREC would do a live broadcast from the Skyway that was sent all over the country over the CBS radio network".  - Walter Bolton

"Notice the sign on top of Hotel Peabody?  Well my Step-Dad built that sign and erected it a LONG time ago" - Rex King

"My father was an employee of the Peabody for over fifty years, so I grew up hearing about the Peabody and going there often.  My birthday cakes were made at their bakery and our special occasions were celebrated there.  Daddy was personnel manager for the elevator/waiter staff.  I remember going to several dances in the ballroom where the kitchen staff would keep peeping in the door to see "what Mr. Barrett's daughter looked like."  I loved the Peabody and still do.  We had my father's 100th Birthday party at the Peabody in 1991.  He died in 1994 at 103 years old."  - Sarah Barrett Cave

"I can't remember the year, but it was when the made for TV movie "North & South was showing on WHBQ Channel 13.  I had a great friend at WMPS Radio station who was one of the DJ's and he called me and told me that Patrick Swayze was going to be at the Peabody Hotel to do a commercial to promote "North & South". So I went up there with a couple of my friends with my husband's camera, that I didn't know how to operate. When Patrick came into the lobby by the fountain, I was trying to get the camera focused and literally fell over a huge chair. Everyone was cracking up, and Patrick came over, helped me up and asked me if I was alright.  I guess you can tell how I was feeling! HA! He told me to get my camera ready and he would pose for a picture. I still have the photo and the memory."  -Trilby Duncan Tipler

"The Dave Clark Five was a band from the British Invasion of the 60's.  A friend and I heard they were holding a press conference at the Peabody with Disc Jockey Lance Russell (Memphis Wrestling Fame).  We left school and told him we were from the school newspaper and were there for the press conference.  He said there wasn't enough room.  Dejected, we walked into the lobby and heard that the band was staying on the 13th floor (Hmm...I didn't think tall buildings had a 13th floor).  Anyway, we took the elevator up and as we got off, we heard that they had just gone downstairs.  We just about killed ourselves running down 13 flights of stairs, but we found them in an alcove in the lobby, waiting to be ushered into the press room.  They kindly chatted with us and gave autographs.  A few minutes later we walked into the press conference with the band, and Lance Russell was grinning from ear to ear."  - Margo Frazier

 
 


 
Hotel Tennessee - 80 S. 3rd and Union
 

   

   

Matchbook

Hotel Tennessee - circa 1929           

Now, the Doubletree Memphis Downtown

 

Notice section of original hotel at back of lobby

Built in 1927, Hotel Tennessee had 200 rooms and baths.  Listed in the Memphis Directories up to 1948,  Part of the original hotel remains within the lobby of the New Doubletree at this location, including a portion of the front of the building.

       

 1941 Envelope          

Vintage Postcard

1963

Menu

 
 


 
Hotel William Len - 110 Monroe at Main St.
 

Vintage Wm Len Postcards

Late 1930s Wm Len Sign

1940s

 



Hotel William Len was built in 1930.  It had 250 Rooms and Suites - all with baths and with air conditioning.  Listed in the Memphis Directories up to 1948.  In 1968 it became the Viking Hotel.  Now it has been converted by Marriott to apartments and renamed Residence Inn.  When it was the William Len, it was noted for the good food in its Air Conditioned Coffee Shop and particularly for its classic Art Deco design - especially the famous elevator doors.  Marriott restored the building in 1980, and now it's on the National Register of Historic places.

             Art Deco Elevator Doors  
 

Historical Marker Wm Len Building Today Art Deco Building Art Deco

        Vintage Room Key

 

        Lobby...today Residence Inn... Room Key Matchbook Soap Coffee Shop Menu

Vintage Menu

 
       

1938 Envelope

       
 
 
 


 

Segregation was in effect during the "hey day" of Memphis' great hotels.  Black performers and black celebrities who came to Memphis had to find "other arrangements" for lodging.  There were a few hotels which catered to African Americans, but finding their history (and photos) has become increasingly more difficult each year.   The "colored hotels" are included on the 2nd page of the Hotel section with the "Smaller Hotels"

 


 
To more HISTORIC MEMPHIS Hotels - the smaller hotels:   Click Here
 

CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Joe Spake, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.

 

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