Historic Memphis Buildings

        ... and notable Businesses


During the late 1960s and 1970s much of downtown Memphis was allowed to fall into a downward spiral.  After the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968, the city deteriorated further into desolate, abandoned storefronts on desolate abandoned streets, as citizens and businesses fled the downtown area.  Buildings were boarded up and left to die. Many historical buildings were demolished - only to be replaced by parking lots.  Eventually the preservationists came out in the 1980s.  It was almost too late.   The renovation and reopening of the  Peabody Hotel in 1981 marked the beginning of true revitalization - which is still a work in process.  Now Memphis appears to be turning around and many of the notable buildings have been renovated as apartment buildings.  People are actually moving in and businesses are returning to downtown.   But downtown is still a hodgepodge of the old and the new separated by empty lots.

This page pays homage to many of the city's fine historic buildings.  Some, like the theatres, churches, and department stores, have been covered on separate pages of this website.   In many cases, a notable business is associated with a particular building and those will also be covered here. 

What makes a building historic?  In a city that's not especially known for appreciating its past, simply surviving the demolition crew would seem to be the number one criteria.  In addition they must be largely unaltered, be associated with famous people or events, be the work of notable architects or craftsmen, be of a particular architectural style or have archeological value.   We were surprised to learn that Memphis is the #6 City in the nation for listings of properties on the National Register of Historic Places - behind Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and New Orleans.  We were even more surprised to learn that almost all the buildings on this page are still around - although not necessarily thriving, or completely out of danger. 

Click on small photos to see large photos:  There are MANY photos.  Please wait two minutes to load before clicking.


Armory Building .  2525 Central Av.

The old Armory Building was built in 1942 and was home to the Tennessee National Guard.  The concrete Art Deco building was designed by Walk C. Jones and was considered the finest armory in Tennessee.  In 1946 it became home to the famous bomber, The Memphis Belle, which was on display in front of the building, exposed to the elements and anyone who wanted a souvenir.  By the time the city moved her to Mud Island there wasn't much left and virtually no one was interested in contributing to renovation.  The U. S. Air Force took her back for eventual display at their museum in Dayton, Ohio.  By the 1970's the Armory Building has outlived its usefulness and as usual there was talk of demolition.  The Children's Museum came to the rescue and now leases the building for $1 a year.


Under construction

Under construction

Building Opens

The Memphis Belle

Children's Museum

Ballard and Ballard Obelisk Flour Building .  325 Wagner Pl

The Ballard and Ballard building dates from 1924.  Fittingly, it was designed in the Egyptian Revival style - one of the few buildings in Memphis with Egyptian motifs.  Located in an industrial area this is one of the more interesting buildings in the city.   The Ballard and Ballard building was added to the National Register in 1999.  The building still stands.  It is currently owned by Jerry and Kitty Sansing and houses H & S Printing.  Part of the building facing the Mississippi at Number 2 Vance is an Events Venue.


Ballard-Ballard Ballard-Details Ballard-Details Ballard - Details



Ballard & Ballard Ad

Vintage Ad Vintage Ad Vintage Ad Match Holder Ghost Sign

Brodnax Building .  20 S. Main
The Brodnax Building dates from 1915 and was built by George T. Brodnax, Inc .  The company was founded in 1897 and was considered the premiere jewelery store in Memphis.  The classically designed building has been beautifully restored.

Brodnax Building

    Brodnax Today     

1910 Catalog

1917 Ad

1910 Catalog

Brodnax Interior 1940

Brodnax interior 1909

G. T. Broadnax

G. T. Broadnax

Brodnax Ad 1905


1915 Catalog


 Ad 1910

Broadnax marker

1945 Receipt


Business Men's Club .  Chamber of Commerce  .  81 Monroe


The Memphis Business Men's Club was founded in 1899.  Their purpose was simply to promote the interests of Memphis.  Their building was designed by Shaw and Pfeil in 1910 and inspired by the designs of architect Louis Sullivan.  In 1913 the Business Men's Club changed their name to the Memphis Chamber of Commerce.   In 1980 the building was converted to office space.  The Chamber of Commerce  has now moved to the Falls Building on Front Street. 


The various names of the Chamber of Commerce since 1838:  Memphis Businessmen’s Club (1838) . Memphis Businessmen's Club Chamber of Commerce (1916) .  Memphis Chamber of Commerce (1917) .  Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce (1975) .  The Chamber – Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce (1982)  .  Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce (2002)  .  Greater Memphis Chamber (2007).



Building today


Pool Room

"For Memphis" 1930s

New Logo Marker Detail M B C Platter c. 1916 Vintage MBC Logo

Central Bank & Trust Building .  Goodwyn Building  .  121 - 127 Madison

The 18-Story Central Bank and Trust was built in 1911-12 and designed by James Gamble Rogers, who also designed Brooks Memorial Art Museum and the Shelby County Courthouse.  The building has been renovated into condos and is now named The Goodwyn Building.

Central Police Station .  130 Adams
Built in 1911 in a neo-classical style reminiscent of the nearby Shelby County Courthouse.   The structure was built on the site of an older police headquarters buildings.  There was a rock pile behind the previous station where offenders worked making small rocks out of big rocks.  The building has recently been renovated.





Churches *

* Memphis churches have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here

Columbian Mutual Tower  .  Lincoln American Tower 60 N. Main

The Columbian Mutual Tower was built in 1924 by notorious Memphis censor Lloyd T. Binford as a 1/3 version of New York City's Woolworth Building.  The style might be referred to as Late Gothic Revival.  It had a steel frame enclosed in concrete, covered by terra cotta. The building was the home of Columbian Mutual Insurance, which is now called Lincoln American Insurance.  The building's name has also been changed to "Lincoln American Tower".  It's now a mixed-use building with offices and apartments. 





Lincoln American Lincoln American Columbian Whet Stone Details Details

Commerce Title  Building.  10 S. Main

This building was developed in stages.  In 1904 the southern half of the neo-classic structure was built originally as the Memphis Trust Company Building.  10 years later, the north half was added as a mirror image of the southern half.  The vertical seam where the two sections meet is clearly visible.  Today the building contains over 150 apartment homes.


      Today Today

Commerce & Trust Bank  .  45 S. Second

The Neo-Classical Revival Style Bank of Commerce & Trust was built in 1929.  The building has now been renovated and in 1980 was added to the National Historic Places list.






Commercial Appeal .  Bank of Tennessee  . Welcome Wagon   30 N. 2nd

Built in 1907, this structure housed the Commercial Appeal from 1907 to 1933.  It featured a famous electronic sign that kept Memphians up to date with the latest headlines.  WMC, one of Memphis' first commercial radio stations, was established on the top floor of the building in 1923 .  The Commercial Appeal moved to a new location in 1933, and the building became headquarters for the Welcome Wagon organization, which was founded in Memphis in 1928.

Welcome Wagon      2012 2012 Flag Sign

Flag Sign-night

Cossitt Library One of the two most beautiful and distinctive buildings the city ever had.


* Cossitt Library has its own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here

Cotton Exchange (Old-New)     .   Front, NW corner Madison .   9 N Second at Court  .  65 Union at Front

The current Cotton Exchange building is located just one block from the Mississippi River on Memphis' Cotton Row.  The old Cotton Exchange building was built in 1883-85 and was located at Court and 2nd.  The architect was Mathias Harvey Baldwin who had previously built the great Lowenstein Building.  It was immediately considered a great commercial structure with its classically detailed facade that was very complex.  The interplay of curves and triangles gave an imposing look to the building.  What is not commonly known is that when this building opened in 1885, it had "Dual Names" - The Cotton and Merchants Exchange Building.  The Merchants Exchange was an early version of the Chamber of Commerce.  

The beautiful old Cotton Exchange building was demolished in 1910 to make way for the new skyscraper Exchange Building, where the Cotton Exchange would occupy space until their new Cotton Exchange Building was built in 1924-25 at the corner of Union and Front.   Today the Union-Front building has been renovated and the Memphis Cotton Museum occupies the lower floor and apartments occupy the upper floors. 

Old Cotton Exchange

Cotton Exchange from North

Interiors - 1903

Old and New Cotton Exchange Bldgs

 Opening day - 1890

 1882 Letter

1885 Drawing


1895 Photo

 Rare Photo


A recent discovery indicates there was an earlier Cotton Exchange on Front-NW Corner of Madison.  It has been verified at that location from 1874-84, and then it moved into the newly erected building at 2nd and Court.  We discovered this in a drawing on an old 1876 Map of Memphis.  We recognized the drawing as a prominent building and found a 1920s photo of it.


1876 Drawing

1920s photo



This extremely rare set of illustrations (below) was printed in 1885 as a souvenir to celebrate the opening of the Cotton-Merchants Exchange Building.  The illustrations were tied together with ribbons and were meant to be hung vertically on a wall as decoration (See #1).  When folded they could have been sent by mail.  This predated the actual postcard by quite a few years.                                                                                                                      -  Collection of the Janet Hendricks Harden Family        



#2 #3 #4 #5 #6


< =  This is the actual 1885 newspaper coverage of the opening of the Cotton Merchant's Exchange.


  1885  article        

Crump Building  .  110 Adams

Built in 1901, this was the North Memphis Savings Bank.  But in 1920 it became the home of the E. H. Crump Insurance Company and it was here that "Boss" Crump controlled the city and state through his political machine.  The building is currently home to the Center City Commission, now known as the Downtown Memphis Commission.  They also hold title to the building.

Customs House - Courthouse - Post Office - UM School of Law  .  1 S. Front Street


 Customs House

SSouvenir Vase 1900


Miniature Model

Souvenir Cup


The original building was built in 1876 as The Customs House.  It was one of the proudest structures in the city, with two large matching towers that stood out in the city's skyline from the river.  This was a grand building.  But in 1929 it was greatly enlarged when it became a post office.  Both towers were removed and wings were added at the north and south ends.  The entire building received a new outer wall of granite.  Not that this building was bad, it simply wasn't as notable as the old building.  In 2010, the building was totally renovated and became the University of Memphis, School of Law.

Post Office, postcard Today:  University of Memphis School of Law


Department Stores  *

* Department Stores have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here

Dermon Building  .  46 N. Third

The Dermon Building was constructed in 1925 as a home for the Dave Dermon Company and Dave Dermon Insurance.  It was designed by Charles Pfeil and George Awsumb.  Although the building was sold in the 1930s and has changed owners frequently, it is still known as the Dermon Building - something rare in Memphis.  It's an impressive 10 story structure of dark brown brick with Renaissance details in yellow, green, and white terra cotta.  The front and side facades are much richer in ornamentation than the rear.  After the more elaborate Kress Building, the Dermon Building exhibits the most colorful use of glazed architectural terra cotta in Memphis.  The Dermon was added to the National Register in 1984.


Dermon Building Details Details Details Details

Drug Stores and Drug Supply Houses *

* Drug Stores and Drug Supply Houses are covered on another section of this website >  Click here

Elks Building  .  69-71 Jefferson

This building dates from at least 1905 - a date that is verified with a listing in the Memphis Directories.  The structure remained the home of the Elks until 1926, when it was demolished - along with the entire block, to make room for the 12 story Elks Club Building-Hotel.  This new building became the Hotel DeVoy and later the better known Hotel King Cotton.   The DeVoy and the Hotel King Cotton are both covered on the "Hotel" section of this website.


Elks Club 1926

Elks Club 1906

Elks Club Interior

Elks Club Hotel

Exchange Building  .  9 N. Second Street


The 19 story Exchange Building was built in 1910 and for 20 years was the tallest building in Memphis, until surpassed by the Columbia Mutual Tower.  It was designed by Neander Montgomery Woods in the Beaux Arts style.  The Memphis Cotton Exchange had space here until moving to their own building at Front and Union in 1923.   For many years it was home to dentists, lawyers, and small businesses.   In 1995, the Exchange Building was renovated and is today apartments.  The building was added to the National Register in 1979.

The Exchange Building was built on the site of the beautiful old Memphis Cotton Exchange Building.  We've not been able to verify it, but it appears that the architect either incorporated the old lower floor design into the new building or built the new skyscraper on top of the lower floor of the old building.

Exchange 1911

Rare View



Equitable Building  .  Appeal Building  .  Bry's .  Lowenstein's 99 N. Main at Jefferson.

The Equitable Building, which was located on the corner of Main and Jefferson, dates back to 1889-1890.  This have been verified with listings in the Memphis Directories.  The structure was built primarily as an office building and it housed the old Appeal Newspaper and for a few years became known as the "Appeal Building".  When Bry's Department Store bought the building in the early 1900s, it was updated and the roof architectural accents were removed.  They eventually almost doubled the size of the building by enlarging the building next door.  Lowenstein's purchased Bry's in 1956.  Bry's closed in 1962 or 64 and Lowenstein's demolished the building and built Lowenstein's Tower at 99 N. Main, in 1969.     Lowenstein's closed and liquidated in 1981.  The Renaissance Apartments tower and its parking garage occupy this site today. 

Equitable Bldg 1904

Equitable - Vintage Equitable Ad 1899 Equitable Card 1907 Vintage Card Bry's 1918

Falls Building  .  20 - 22 North Front St

Featuring extra wide windows, the Falls Building was designed especially for cotton merchants.  It was built in 1902 and there was a nightclub called The Alaskan Roof Garden, because of the cool breeze on the roof.  This became Memphis' premier nightclub and W. C. Handy was the featured bandleader.  He introduced one of his most famous compositions, "St. Louis Blues" here in 1914.  In addition a group made the city's first radio transmission from the roof in 1913.  Today, the building is home to the Memphis Chamber of Commerce - now known as "Greater Memphis Chamber".


Farnsworth Bldg  . Three Sisters .  Business Journal 69 S. Main at Union


The 14 story Farnsworth Building at Main and Union is a notable Art Deco mid-rise co-designed by William Van Powell in 1927.   Powell went on to design Fairview Junior High - another Art Deco masterpiece.  Decorative detailing will become the signature of Powell's work.  In 1938 a ladies clothing store named "The Three Sisters" moved here and stayed a long time.  This building became known as the Three Sisters Building.  Much later  the Business Journal took over the building and added their sign on top.  They have since moved to Brinkley Plaza,, but their sign has remained.  The building was added to the National Register in 1983.

Farnsworth Elevators Elevator Door Ceiling Detail Three Sisters 1950

 Three Sisters-Farnsworth


Fire Station Number One  .  118 Adams

Fire Station Number One was built in 1910 and is located next door to the Central Police Station.  Both buildings show "Boss" Crump's intention to elevate the status of these departments and to build inspiring public buildings.  Today Station Number One has been renovated and houses the Fire Museum which contains numerous exhibits on fire safety and the history of firefighting in Memphis.

Gallina Exchange Building  .  Silky O'Sullivans  .  179-183 Beale Street

Judge Charles Gallina built the structure  in 1891.  Designed by B. C. Alsup, it was known as the Pride of Beale Street, housing a bustling saloon which was open 24-7, and a hotel favored by the Orpheum Theatre crowd.  Every room had a marble fireplace.  Judge Gallina lived on the top floor and held court on the 2nd.  After he died in 1914, the building was a pharmacy, clothing store, and dentist's office.  The steel girders were added in 1980 as a temporary measure after fire gutted the interior.  They are now an "art piece" and are  probably permanent.


Before the fire.

Gallina Today



Goodwyn Institute Building *  .  165 Madison

William Goodwyn was a successful Memphis cotton merchant. He bequeathed his entire fortune for a public library and an annual series of educational lectures. The Goodwyn Institute opened in 1907 and the beautiful 7-story Beaux-Arts building was notable for four large columns above the entrance and for lions heads in terra-cotta. The top floor held the library and the third floor was taken up by a 900 seat auditorium. It was a grand building.  The building was demolished in 1962 to make way for a bank.




Post Card

Goodwyn - Interior

Goodwyn - Library

* More information and photos will be found on the MOVIE-LEGITIMATE THEATRE page of the website.

Green Beetle Tavern  .  327 South Main

This Beaux Arts-style building was built before 1910.  It has ornate stone window arches and a decorative pressed metal cornice.  The building has been occupied by the Green Beetle Tavern  since 1939.  It was a popular speakeasy during Prohibition.  Legend has it that panels in the bar cover bullet holes in the wall made by Machine Gun Kelly - a native of Memphis.


Hart Building  .  48 S. Front

For many years this was one of the most impressive buildings on "Cotton Row".  It was designed by B. C. Alsup, built in 1899, and housed the cotton offices of Fulton & Sons. This building bears a strong resemblance to Beale Street's Gallina Building which was also designed by Alsup.

Haverty Building  .  Haverty's Furniture  . 157 S. Main Street

For many years, the Memphis building was associated with Haverty's Furniture.  Haverty's was founded in 1885 in Atalnta, and the business expanded in 1889 and went into partnership with Rhodes, a partnership that would be dissolved and then re-instated several times over the next 10 years.  The Havety Building, in Richardson Romanesque style, was built in Memphis in 1891 during one of their expansions.    It was listed on the National Register in 1980.  It has now been renovated.   Haverty's Furniture is still in business.

Haverty's 1951


Haverty's 1912





 Jewel Box Building Today Building Today 1923 Billhead

Helen of Memphis  .  1808-18 Union Avenue at Idlewild

Helen of Memphis was a landmark on Union Avenue for over 50 years and was considered the finest women's clothing store in Memphis.  The building was a wonderful old Gothic Revival structure built in the early 1900s.  The first Helen shop was opened by Helen Quinn at 1648 Union and sold antiques.  She soon purchased the property at 1808 Union in 1937 and named it "The Helen Shop" and started selling women's clothing.  It was later expanded and became "Helen of Memphis".  The business became THE shop for the fashionable women of Memphis.   By 1945 Helen was no longer actively involved but the business continued to flourish.  In 1988 the store closed and the building was demolished to erect a Rite-Aid pharmacy on the site.

A HELEN sign

The Helen Shop Helen of Memphis Cashmere-Mink Jacket 1979 Ad

Close up of a Hat Box   

EMAIL: "The building that eventually became the Helen of Memphis shop was the former home of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, founded in 1894, which built its first church home at Union and Idlewild in the early 1900s before it moved to a new location in 1912 at Peabody and LeMaster...When the Helen of Memphis shop was still open, you could walk inside and look up and see remnants of the old church structure." - Skip Howard, Church Archivist, First Baptist Church of Memphis, 3-23-2013


Homes *


* Memphis Homes have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here


Hotels *


Memphis Hotels have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here



Howard's Row  .  Union Avenue between Riverside and Front Street

This row of buildings, built by Wardlow Howard in 1848 was originally know as Howard's Row.  They are among the oldest buildings in Memphis and were an early cotton trading center.  In the 1850s it also housed the large slave market of Isaac Bolton.  Today, the building at 47 Union Avenue houses the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.  It served as a hospital during the Civil War.  The corner building at Union and Front, now housing the Front Street Deli, received a new Front Street facade in the 1920s, when several feet were chopped off to accommodate the widening of the street. 

1875 Advertising Civil War Hospital Woolen Bldg Woolen Building Marker

Hull Dobbs  .  Union Av

The Hull Dobbs Automotive was begun in 1921 and continued for 78 years.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the company was the largest seller of Ford vehicles in the U.S.  They were also the originators of the high-pressure auto sales techniques that folks loved to hate.  The downtown location on Union was choice property - next to the Peabody hotel.  The family sold the auto dealerships in 1999.  The building was demolished when  Peabody Place was built.  The Dobbs family  moved into the restaurant business - Dobbs House and Toddle House, airline catering, and beer distribution.

Knights of Columbus  .  Adams at Third

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization founded in 1882 to render financial aid to members and their families.  Mutual aid and assistance are also offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families.  The Memphis Knights of Columbus building was located across Adams from the St. Peters Catholic church and was built in 1920.  The building no longer exists but a demolition date has not been located.

Kress Building *


* The distinctive Kress Building is covered on the Department Store section of this website >  Click here

Lauderdale Courts  .  185 Winchester

In 1935, Memphis became the second city in the nation to establish a Federal Housing Authority.  The first project was to build two housing projects - Dixie Homes for blacks, and Lauderdale Courts - for whites.  Lauderdale Courts was Colonial Revival in style with brick exteriors and porches covered by metal roofs.  It became famous because Elvis Presley and his parents occupied apartment 328 from 1949 to 1953.  The complex closed in 2000 but was renovated and reopened in 2004 as Uptown Square.

Vintage Lauderdale Lauderdale Marker Presley Marker Lauderdale


Loeb's Laundry  .   Various locations

For almost 120 years, the Loeb family has operated businesses in Memphis.  In 1887 Henry Loeb Sr. was in business making and selling hats and shirts.  And then he opened a laundry to launder the shirts.  This market was considerable and he found the business constantly growing.  By 1910 he had expanded the business into a 3-story plant on Madison Avenue.  And then he introduced horse-drawn delivery service.  When Henry Sr. died in 1936, his son William took over the family business, but only lived another five years.  The business then became a trust for his two sons - Henry and Bill, with Bill eventually buying out his brother.  Bill expanded the laundry operations, reaching the 500 employee mark in the 1960s and 70s.  He also founded a chain of 100 successful barbeque restaurants.   In the 1980s, Louis and Bob, the fourth generation of Loeb's took over the family business.



Loeb's on Main - c. 1903-1907

Loeb's Delivery

Loeb's Delivery

Loeb's Delivery

Loeb's Receipt - 1902


Loeb's - Main

Marx-Bensdorf Realty  .  152 Madison Avenue   .  149 Monroe - 42 S. Second

Marx-Bensdorf  . 42 S. Secnd

Marx-Bensdorf on Second

Marx-Bensdorf  42 S. Second

Cadre Bldg- 42 S. Second

Marx-Bensdorf was established in 1868 and is the oldest real estate firm in Memphis.  It's also one of the oldest businesses in the city, having been in continuous operation since its founding.  For many years their main office was the classic Bensdorf building at 152 Madison, built in 1905.  They moved to another classic building built in 1928 at 149 Monroe.  The Building on Monroe is now known as The Cadre Building and is an Events Rental Facility.   The secondary address for this building is 42 S. Second.  Former soccer coach Seamus Loftus opened "The Brass Door" - an Irish pub and restaurant in the old building at 152 Madison.   

Cadre - 149 Monroe

149 Monroe Entrance

Cadre - Interior

152 Madison

152 Madison


Masonic Cathedral .  Dunlap and Union.

The Tennessee Consistory #1, Scottish Rite Masonic Cathedral was built in 1909 at Dunlap and Union.  Either the original building was remodeled or rebuilt because the Masonic Cathedral still standing at this location is a different design - although it's similar and is still an impressive structure.

1909 Masonic Cathedral Interior The Masonic Temple that is still located at this site.

Masonic Temple .  Madison and Second

The street corner of Madison and Second is important in Memphis history.  After the Civil War, the Governor convened the state legislature on this site.   The state archives were also briefly stored here. The cornerstone for the grand Masonic Temple was set in 1878 amid huge celebrations.   (We discovered an architectural drawing of the ORIGINAL design of the building in a full page newspaper article during the cornerstone celebration in 1878.  And the full page article is printed below.  It's a HUGE file.  Please be patient while it loads).  There were major setbacks during the actual construction due to two major Yellow Fever epidemics which led to financial problems.  The Masonic Temple served many purposes in addition to housing meetings of the Masonic brotherhood. 

  Masonic Temple 1890s

In 1910 the grand Masonic Temple was demolished and replaced with the Germania Bank Building, which was 6 stories, topped with a penthouse.  In the 1950s that building was demolished and replaced with the Blake Building - one of the worst in Memphis history.   What were they thinking?      >>>>

Original Drawing

1878 Article Germania Bank The Blake Bldg.

Masonic Temple  .  272 Court and Fourth.

The Masonic Temple at Court and Fourth was built in 1914 by architects Jones and Furbringer.  The Neo-Classical building is still standing.  Click on the 1914 Souvenir Book below to see some rare photos of the interior.

Masonic Temple 1914

Masonic Temple Today

1914 Spoon

1910 Metal

1878 Assessment

1914 Souvenir Book

McLellan's .  57 - 61 South Main

The McLellan Stores were a chain of five and dime stores founded by William McLellan in 1917.  The chain grew to 200 stores, but the Depression drove the company into bankruptcy.  They merged with McCrory Stores in 1958.  This building, next to the Farnsworth-Three Sisters-Business Journal building on the corner of Union, still exists (See photos below).  We do not know it's current occupant.




Medical Arts Building .  240 Madison

The Medical Arts Building was erected in 1925-26.  The structure was dedicated to the medical arts with doctor's offices of all specialties.  Eventually the building became too dated for modern doctors and they moved on to more modern facilities.  In 1952 the ground floor was remodeled by replacing the terra cotta with slabs of red and black granite.  It was not  the most successful renovation on a really nice Gothic office building.  The building was vacant from 1971, and suffered fire damage in 1993.    Now known as the Hickman Building, the owner plans "to renovate as apartments-condos".  The Medical Arts building was added to National Register Historic List in 1984.


Memphis Steam Laundry  .  941 Jefferson

The Memphis Steam Laundry Company goes back to 1882, but they opened their Jefferson building in 1927.  Architect E. L. Harrison modeled the building after the Doges' Palace in Venice and the facade was adorned with patterned brickwork, elaborate arches and terra-cotta ornamentation.   Critics called the building "the best piece of eclectic architecture the city ever had", and the city loved it.  But when the Medical Center began looking for more space in the 1960s, the building suddenly became "a monstrosity".  In 1973 the building was demolished -  the Medical Center got their space.

Mid-South Cotton Growers Association   .  44 S. Front

Constructed in 1936, this art-deco building was built for the Mid-South Cotton Growers Association.  The concrete walls are incised with decorative elements which catch the light in the design at different times of the day.  For many years, this building was used in the Portland Cement advertisements as a classic example of the beauty of concrete construction.  Three companies, Easy PC, Bluff City Finance, and Memphis Finance Co, have recently moved into this building.

Joseph N. Oliver Building  .  99-103 S. Front

In 1860 Joseph Oliver came to Memphis to open a hat shop.  The following year the Civil War broke out and he found that the wholesale grocery business was more profitable.  During the next 40 years he owned numerous warehouses and storage facilities in the city.  In 1904 Oliver built the Beaux-Arts style Oliver Building as a cold storage facility - the first of its kind in the South.  The walls were insulated with thick panels of cork and cooled by river water pumped through a maze of pipes, which were pressurized by a coal-burning furnace in the basement.  Because the grand edifice with false windows, resembled a theatre, Oliver decorated the window openings with paintings of fish, chickens, and other foods that were stored there.  Listed on National Register in 1970.  Today, the building is being "developed". 


Brass Blotter Cover

Piggly Wiggly Building .  79 Jefferson Avenue

Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store, founded in 1916 by Clarence Saunders.  Customers entered the store through turnstiles and walked through 4 aisles to view items sold in packages and organized into departments.  They selected their own merchandise in baskets or carts and moved to the cashier.  Packaging and brand recognition became important to companies.  The date the building was demolished is not known, but a marker identifies the spot in downtown Memphis.

First Piggly Wiggly Interior Interior Original Location

Porter Building  .  10 N. Main Street

The D. T. Porter Building was built in 1894 as the Continental National Bank Building and was the city's first skyscraper.  The architech was Jones, Hain and Kirby.  For many years it was the tallest building in the mid-south.  In addition it had Memphis' first elevator.  Folks came from miles around and paid 10 cents for an elevator ride to the roof the view.  D. T. Porter was a pharmacist who never opened a pharmacy in Memphis - but he prospered in the wholesale grocery business.  He was also responsible for adopting the water system that cleaned up the city and prevented further outbreaks of yellow fever.  He died in 1898 and left money for his family to use as a memorial.  In 1900, his family purchased this office building and renamed it in his honor.  The building was renovated in 1983 and is condominiums today.    It is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Porter 1900

Rate Interior

Puck Building  .  409 S. Main

The Puck Building is located in the heart of the South Main Historic District.  Built in 1912, the building was designed by Jones and Furbringer and included Terra Cotta detailing.  The building originally housed the Puck Grocery and Warehouse and it still carries the "Mid Summers Night Dream" Puck Crest in mint condition at the roof line.  More recently the building was home to the Jay Etkins Gallery.  Today, it has been renovated and is currently for sale.  It was added to the National Register in 1999.

Puck Bldg Puck Bldg Puck Building Puck - Detail

Puck -Terra Cotta

Queensware Building  * Lawrence  .  Washburn 60 South Main Street


This is an outstanding commercial Romanesque building built in 1881.  It originally housed the Lemmon and Gale Wholesale Dry Goods and was known as the Queensware Building.  This was the largest such store in Memphis for many years.  After that, it seems that the Lawrence Furniture Company occupied the building forever.    In the 1900s, some very fine China was made by the major china houses of Europe and marketed as "Memphis Queensware".  Today, it is very collectible.   The Queensware building has recently been renovated for apartments and is now known as the Washburn Building.  Hard to believe that this buiilding is not on the National Register List???

* Queensware China and the Queensware Building  have their own comprehensive coverage ... >  Click here

Radio Center Flats  .  66 South Main

Radio Center was built in 1947 as the home of radio station WMPS.  Later it became the home of station WDIA.  The building is noted for shaping the popular culture of Memphis and the country for over 50 years.  WMPS was primarily a country-western station.  It also showcased the early careers of Kay Starr and Eddie Arnold.  In 1985 WDIA moved to Radio Center.  It was the country's number one African American radio stations and their most lasting contribution was the music they played - all black music.  The center has recently been renovated and is now apartments and condos.  It was added to the National Register in 1983.

Randolph Building  .  Main and Beale St

The Randolph building was completed in 1891.  At that time it was Memphis' tallest building.  The structure was built by William M. Randolph, a lawyer from Little Rock.  It was demolished in mid 1970s as part of the Beale Street renewal project, even though it was on the National Register of Historic Places.


Randolph Building postcard   

Randolph Bldg.

Randolph Bldg

Postcard 1905

W. T. Rawleigh Factory  .  Illinois and Pennsylvania

The W. T. Rawleigh Company of Freeport, Illinois, was one of the country's largest producers of patent medicines, cosmetics, insecticides, and spices.  They were hugely successful and are still in business.  The Rawleigh Company opened this factory in Memphis in 1912 and it was the largest Rawleigh manufacturing plant in the country.  The building is still standing, although it is abandoned.  W. T. Rawleigh was noted for their traveling salesmen who would leave "free trials", knowing that the products would sell themselves.

* W.T. Rawleigh Factory is covered on the Drug and Drug Supply Houses page ... >  Click here

Reichman-Crosby Building  .  60 S. Front Street - Between Union and Monroe

The Beaux Arts style Reichman-Crosby Building was constructed in 1875 and a new front facade was added about 1910.   It was added to the National Register in 1979.  The building has had numerous owners and  after being vacant for some time, the good news is that, "Memphis in May" has renovated part of the building at 56 S. Front and has recently moved in.







Restaurants *


* Restaurants have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here


Rex Club Building  .  Dunlap and Madison

The Rex Cub, dating from 1861, was a social organization for Jewish men which eventually developed into the Ridgeway Country Club.  The Rex Club and the Y.M.H.A joined forces to build this structure in 1910.  The grand building had a banquet hall, ballroom, bowling alley, swimming pool, auditorium, seating 400, and a gym.  It was also apparently expensive to maintain because the organizations sold the building in 1920 to the O. K. Houck Foundation, who made some modifications to the building.  It was sold again in 1933 to UTMU, who acquired the building for use as their student center and renamed it University Center.  The structure was demolished in 1969 to build the UT General Education Building.  The 1910 postcard (below) might  be the architect's original plan for the building.  With its rounded corner entrance and arches in the front, It's far more beautiful than the final building. (We're still researching this one). 

Rex Club

Rex Club 1912

Rex Club Postcard 1910


Rex Club

Schools  *

* Memphis Schools have their own comprehensive coverage on several sections of this website >  Click here

Scimitar Building . Madison Avenue Bldg . Memphis Light, Gas and Water . 179 Madison and 3rd

The Scimitar building was built in 1902 by Napoleon Hill, the "Merchant Prince of Memphis", and was originally named the "Madison Avenue Building.  The architects were Chigazola and Hanker.  The Romanesque structure features a row of lions and fleur-de-lis running beneath the cornice.  The Memphis Press Scimitar called this building home for many years and that is the name that's closely associated with the building now.  It is also sometimes known as The Memphis Light, Gas, and Water Building.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.  The builder, Napoleon Hill was the richest man in the city and lived in a most impressive mansion across from the present day Sterick Building.   The building is being renovated into a boutique hotel named Hotel Napoleon.


Madison Building 1902

1921 Ad

1906 Postcard

Scimitar today


S. C. Toof Company  .  295 Madison Avenue - next to AutoZone Park

Architect G. M. Shaw designed this "Chicago School" style building for the S. C. Toof & Company in 1913.  The impressive building with Egyptian Revival influences, has terra cotta elements.  The Toof company is the oldest printing company in Memphis, and still in business as "Toof Commercial Printing".  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.  In the mid 1990s there were plans to establish a minor league baseball museum in the vacant building, but as of 2008 the building is still vacant and boarded up.  This building is in danger!

Building ... today    

Mural on side ...today

1891 Toof Co. Photo

1899 Receipt

Invoice 1941

1902 Ad      


Sears Building  .  495 N. Watkins

The grand opening of Sears Crosstown was in 1927.  At that time it was the South's only Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog order plant.  There were 11 floors and 650,000 square feet of floor space.  It was also a Gothic architectural gem.  The building was expanded over the years, but in 1983 it closed, and the building has been vacant sine 1996.  Today there are broken windows and rusty fire escapes, but there is a bright future.  In 2007, the property was purchased and the new owner is expected to renovate the building as a retail facility.  Some of Memphis' most influential organizations, along with some high-profile real estate, construction and design professionals, are now banding together in an effort to reclaim the former glory of the Sears Crosstown facility.  They plan to convert the 1.5 million square foot building into a multi-tenant commercial property with 850,000 leasable square feet.  The mammoth structure's new life is foreseen as a "vertical urban village" .

Sears Crosstown               F Hemmen Sears Sears Today Escapes Sears


Sears - 50 years in Memphis ... This booklet was published to celebrate Sear's 50th year in Memphis.  Frank Hemmen, the grandfather of Historic-Memphis.com team member Maureen Thoni White is on page 10 in the 1937 and the 1947 group photos. 

Cover 1 2 3 4 5 6


    This booklet is in the Collection of Dave French    


9 10 11 12 13 14



Shelby County Archives  .  Hall of Records  .  Washington Av between 2nd and 3rd Streets

This building was originally built in 1924 and housed the Shelby County Criminal Courts and jail, until 1982.  It's built in a Renaissance style of design.  In the "old days" of 1933, the third floor of the jail was cleared for a single inmate - George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes.  In 1968, the third floor was cleared once again for James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King Jr.    After the courts and Jail moved in 1982, the building reopened as the Archives and Hall of Records building.

Shelby County Courthouse  .  Adams Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets

The Shelby County Courthouse was built between 1906-1909.  It was the first monumental architecture designed for local government by James Gamble Rodgers, and was meant to rival the buildings of the larger Northern cities.  The opulent building succeeded on all levels.  The neoclassical structure covers an entire city block and features 6 large seated figures - each carved from a single block of Tennessee marble by John Massey Rhind.  The figures represent Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace and Prosperity.  It also features a portico supported by a row of 17 large Ionic columns.  Up until 1966 this building housed state and local courts in addition to the mayor's offices. The Shelby County Courthouse has been a popular building for several major  movies filmed in Memphis.


Entire Police Force 1940

 Proposed drawing



Vintage Postcard 1924 BoyScout Troop 6 Interior 1910 Souvenir Pitcher Souvenir spoon

Old Shelby County Jail  . A. W. Willis and North Front Street

The Old Shelby County Jail was built in 1868 and demolished in 1935.  The iron fence surrounding the property  is all that remains.  Architect James Cook's jail was supposedly escape proof.  It was a double-walled structure with the space between the walls filled with sand.  If an inmate dug  through the wall, sand would flood his cell.  As the level of sand in the walls fell, monitors in the sand would fall, pulling a wire that set off an alarm.  But it wasn't escape proof after all, since over 40 prisoners scaled the exterior wall to freedom.  


Drawing of the jail


1912 Back of Jail - RARE

Portion of Fence today

After a Moonshine raid in 1924, the Press Scimitar posted a photo of the "raiders" posing in front of the old County jail along with all the moonshine equipment.

    Press Scimitar Front of Jail Front of Jail

Shrine Building  .  66 Monroe

The Shrine Building was built in 1923 and was the headquarters of the fraternal Al Chymia Shrine Temple.  Designed by Hanker & Caims and Jones & Furbringer, the building retains many of the original architectural features.  The lower eight floors contained professional offices and the temple itself began on 9th floor.  The 2-story arched windows mark the large auditorium.  The Shriner's were forced move in 1936 when they were unable to meet their mortgage.  In 1976 the building was renovated into apartments and was added to the National Register list in 1979.


Shrine Bldg.

Shrine Band 1930

Mug 1911

1940 Medal


1930 Living Room


Sterick Building  .  Madison Av and 3rd Street


Designed by Walter Hedrick, this "Queen of Memphis" was the tallest building in the city until the completion of the tower at 100 North Main in 1962.  Hedrick secured financing from R. E. Sterling and the name of the building is a combination of their names.  The Gothic-style building opened in 1930 and had an amazing 8 high-speed elevators.  The building was once fully occupied by a variety of large corporate tenants, but it began to decline in the 1960s, along with the rest of downtown. 




In 1947, most of the original Gothic ornamentation was removed because of damage from lightning strikes.  In 1982, the gleaming white structure was painted gold and brown.  It has been vacant since 1987...and is in serious danger...


Sun Studio Building  .  706 Union

This remarkable little recording studio literally changed the world.  The first rock 'n roll single was recorded here in 1951 - and the studio launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and many others.  The studio was opened by Sam Phillips in 1950 and the original name was Memphis Recording Service.  Phillips launched his own record label in 1952, renamed the company Sun Studio and the rest is history.  By 1959 Phillips had moved on and the tiny studio lay vacant until 1987 when it was renovated as a tourist attraction.  In 2003 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Sun Studio

Sam - Elvis - 1956

Memphis Rec. Invoice 1954

Sun Records Marker

Taylor's Restaurant


Tennessee Brewery .  477-495 Tennessee Street

This ornate castle-like structure was built between 1877-1890.  It was originally constructed for the Memphis Brewing Co in 1877.  In 1885 it was purchased by the Tennessee Brewing Co who took advantage of Memphis's pure artesian water which helped make their beer (Goldcrest) the largest seller in the South.  The brewery was enlarged in 1890 to it's present size.  It closed in 1954 and the building remained vacant for 50 years.  The building was added to the the National Register in 1980.  There have been plans to renovate, but all have fallen apart.  It was recently purchased by developer Billy Orgel and will become the centerpiece of a $27.5 million residential development that begins construction in the fall of 2015.

Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery

Delivery 1940

Brewery Tray

Brewery - Circa 1890


'Save the Brewery'


2 Ice Machines


The Big "Kettle"

Goldcrest Beer Cans


Key 1910


Labels - c. 1933

Label 1933



Renovation 2017

Renovation 2017


Tennessee Club  .  130 N. Court Avenue

This is one of the most distinctive buildings in Memphis.  It was designed by Edward Terrell and built in 1890 for the Tennessee Club.  The style is a mixture of Victorian, Romanesque, and Moorish.  The Tennessee Club was founded by a group of men , mostly Confederate Officers, who were determined to restore social graces to the city after the Civil War.  They established a library and art gallery and fostered civic and scientific debates.  Many social events were presented in their 4th floor ballroom.  In 1970, the building was purchased by the law firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson, who renovated the building.

Tennessee Club 1912

TN Club - Interior 1912

TN Club Dining Rm

TN Club today

TN Club 1953


1898 Envelope

TN Club Officers

TN Club Menu Cover 1962




Tennessee Trust  .  Fidelity Bank & Trust  .  The Madison    .   79 Madison

This 15 story building was constructed in 1906 for the Tennessee Trust Bank.  The Beaux Arts style building was designed by George Shaw and Charles Phell.  It was the first bank on "Banker's Row" to exceed the traditional 4-story height for banks.  In 1998, it was renovated as the luxury Madison Hotel and was listed on the National Register in 1982.

Theatres  *

* Memphis Theatres have their own comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here

First Tennessee Trust  .    165 Madison

There is one more tall structure that stands in downtown Memphis. The First Tennessee Bank Building is located at 165 Madison Avenue. The office building stands 332 feet high with 25 floors making it Memphis' sixth tallest skyscraper. Construction of the building was completed in 1964. Currently, First Tennessee Bank occupies approximately half of the building.

Train Stations  Calhoun, Poplar, Union, Central, etc.

*  Memphis Train Stations have comprehensive coverage on another section of this website >  Click here

Union Planters Bank  .     67 Madison

This 12 story structure was built in 1924 as the headquarters for the Union Planters Bank.  This major financial institution was founded after the Civil War and was the largest bank in Memphis.  Designed by McKim, Mead and White, the building was recently renovated and converted to apartments with the lobby and mezzanine used for retail space.  The building was added to the National Register in 1979 and was featured in the 1993 move "The Firm". 


100 N. Main  . 

Built in 1965, 100 N. Main, at 37 stories, is the tallest building in Memphis.  Designed by Robert L. Hall, it's a focal point of the city skyline.  It's tenant base consists primarily of attorneys, title companies, and various other professionals, but in January 2012, only 30% of the building was occupied.  For years, the building was crowned with an illuminated "UP Bank" sign.  The sign was dismantled in 2005 when Union Planters National Bank  was acquired by Regions Bank.  When the building opened, there was a revolving restaurant atop the main roof. This restaurant operated under several different owners, but is currently vacant. In their 1986 book architects Eugene J. Johnson and Robert D. Russell, Jr. called 100 N. Main "one of the least interesting" downtown structures.

100 N Main Under Construction Under Construction Restaurant Plate Roof Garden

Van Vleet Drugs Building * .    109 S. Second and Gayoso

Memphis was once the leader in the wholesale drug market and took great pride in being the home to Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co., one of the largest drug firms in the United States. Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. was located in the heart of Downtown Memphis on the corner of Second and Gayoso.  This building has recently been renovated into a mixed -use facility with 60 loft apartments and 15,000 sq ft of commercial space.

* Van Vleet Drugs and Peter Van Vleet are covered on another section of this website >  Click here

YMCA Building  .    245 Madison Av

The YMCA was built in 1909.  President Howard Taft was a special guest at its dedication.  The impressive structure features open arches and a row of gargoyles.  It was recently renovated into the YMCA Lofts which occupy the top 4 floors.  The YMCA remains on the ground floor as a community building-exercise facility.  President Barack Obama made a low-key visit in 2008 when he stopped in for a midnight game of basketball after the debate in Oxford, Mississippi.





Presedent Taft at the 1909 Dedication          

First YMCA         YMCA Dance YMCA Pool YMCA Sundeck YMCA Postcard

YWCA Building  .    291 South Second

The Young Women's Christian Association goes back to 1871.  This building was named the Anne Brinkley Home in 1892 and served as a boarding home for young working women and became the Women's Christian Association's headquarters.  The structure was demolished in 1970.  Interesting:  In the color and black and white photos below, the frieze at the top of the building was removed when the building became the YWCA.

Postcard Postcard Postcard 1943 Interior Postcard YMCA




The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 


The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Woody Savage for his many 'on call' photos, Google Earth, Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).



 Please visit the websit sponsors this page

   Historic Memphis Website