Historic Memphis Hotels
...The Major Hotels of the City

 


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

 

1916

1918

1918

1918

 
 

1928

-

Green Room Envelope

Vintage Letterhead

 

Chisca Key

Key

Fob

Fob

Key & Fob

 

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 Collection

Platter

Creamer

Ash Tray

Plate

 
 

Butter Plate   Vintage Platter

Vintage Silver Spoon

 

 

 

<  <  <      Chisca 1955 Coffee Shop Menu      >  >  >

1916 Ad

Chisca VERY RARE 1920 Menu

 

The Black Cat Lunchroom photo, Table Talk cover,  and an article published in "Hotel Monthly" 1922

 

Vintage Postcard 1920s

Luggage Tag

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

 

Chisca Ashtray

1953 Sundry Shop

Fountain

Pool

Lobby

 

Elvis-1954

Elvis-Natalie 1956

"Table Talk" ... Chisca Publication - 1920s

Matches

Ashtray

     

"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

 
 

1926 1939 - 1950
 

 

Vintage

-

Vintage Hand Towel

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

Fork

Claridge Corkscrew

 

Do not disturb

Balanese Photo Cover

Claridge  Blanket

Claridge Soap

Claridge Soap

 
  Below:  A 1938 Claridge folder - 12 pages
 

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

    Back

 

Balanese Room 1940s

Vintage Card

Towel, C. 1968

Coffee Shop Menu -1940-s-1950s

Bell Tavern

 
 


 
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

 

1860

1886 1895

1897

       

1898

1904

1906

1907

 

1908

1908

1908

1910

 

1912

1917

1920

1940

 

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.

 

Plate 1939

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

Gravy Boat

Spoon

1890 Engraving Plate

Pens

Crystal Ink Well

 

Vintage Gayoso Matchbooks

Gayoso Soap Luggage Tag 1918 card

Room 1900

 

Lobby

Lobby  Key Presentation Stock Coupons Gayoso Courtyard
 

History Marker

Gayoso Lobby Peabody-Gayoso 1906 postcard        Letterhead 1910
 
 

Drawing Room

1850 Ad

 

1950 Menu

1950 Menu

 
  


 
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

Elks-Devoy 1932

 

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

 

Devoy 1943

Elks Club 1928

Elks details 1928

 

King Cotton ...Spoon

 
 "...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

 
       

       

Wedgewood Room

 
 


 
Peabody Hotel - 149 Union Avenue
 

* The Peabody Hotel is covered in-depth on a separate page of this website  > Click here

 

 Fransioli - 1920's

Original Peabody

The Peabody on Main

The Peabody

Peabody Lobby

 

The Peabody is a luxury hotel.  No hotel in Memphis history has more "magic" associated with its name.  The original Peabody was located on the corner of Main and Monroe, and it was highly successful.  It closed in 1923.  The current Peabody on Union Avenue, was built in 1925 on the site of the Fransioli Hotel (Above Photo). The top floor - the Skyway, offers stunning views of the city and the river.  The famous ducks became part of the hotel legend in the 1930's.  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.

 
 


 
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

Wm Len Liquor Store

1948 Envelope

 
 
 


 

Jim Crow Laws and Segregation were 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 that 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 2 - 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.

 

We do not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  We often find some great, un-credited photos and material on the Internet.  In addition we receive many unsolicited photos via email.  If we like the photos and material and they add to a particular page on this website, we do use them.  Should anyone write that we have a copyrighted photo or material posted, we will apologize for our mistake, and because the photo or material adds significantly to the page where it's located, we also ask to keep it in place and add credit for it, or if it's the owner's preference, we will remove it immediately.  We have only been asked to remove one, and that's because they wanted us to pay to use it.  We are 100 % non-profit volunteers and cannot pay.

Most Images displayed on this web site are the property of their respective photographers.  Please contact the photographer or owner, if you wish to obtain a reproduction of an image or if you wish to obtain permission to use an image elsewhere.

 

Please visit the website that sponsors this page

 

Historic Memphis Website