To find a place in Memphis that appears nearly unchanged from its beginnings, and to observe a collection of architectural styles covering late-nineteenth-century vernacular, Beaux Arts, Georgian Revival, Chicago Commercial, and Art Deco, is to walk down the South Main District. It’s a place that was built with the railroads in mind. In the 400 and 500 blocks of South Main street, three-story warehouses filled the west side, served by railroads running behind these buildings. Opposite of these warehouses, passengers and employees of the railroads stayed in the two-story buildings which functioned as rooming houses and hotels. The ground floors hosted a variety of different small businesses and restaurants.
Incredibly, most of the buildings on South Main sprang up in just a little over two years with the construction of Union Station and Central Station between the years 1912 and 1914. One of these buildings holds a very unique design element. Look up at 409 South Main and find Puck of A Midsummer’s Night Dream on a crest atop the building. Built in 1912 and designed by Jones and Furbringer, the three-story building at 409 South Main originally housed the White Wilson Drew Company wholesale grocers. Inside, you could find the dapper Puck printed among their line of Puck Brand goods. By the 1920s a different grocer, J.C. Felsenthal operated out of this building.
Then, in the 1930s came Lucky Heart Cosmetics to establish 409 as their headquarters, sharing the building with Diamond Printing Company. Lucky Heart Cosmetics was described as a “mini-Avon” selling primarily African-American cosmetic goods. With 43 years of age, they employed more than 12,000 sales representatives around the company selling their cosmetics directly to households throughout the country.
But as the railroad system dwindled in the 1950s, manufacturing businesses migrated to the east, and with the riots following the Martin Luther King assassination, the South Main district became alone and vacant. And so, because left alone and unwanted, these buildings stayed untouched for years. As a result, they are now well loved for their charm and characteristics of their era.
For the building at 409 South Main, plans were in the works for creating 12 apartment living spaces on the upper floors. Instead, it became a hot spot for art galleries and, most currently, event space. Rebecca Dyer, current owner, has a big vision for what is to come of this venue. Plans include event space on the top floor and rooftop. The bottom floor will hold a market of sorts, creating a place you can pop in for a locally made cupcake or taco depending on your flavor for the day. For Rebecca, the history of the building and South Main district are important to her. It shapes the direction of how she wants her business to grow.
“Being a part of a growing community, supporting local business and growing the entrepreneurial spirit is our way of paying it forward.” –Rebecca Dyer
All of this is to say how amazing this place in downtown Memphis is. We took one building from South Main Street and told you only a portion of its story on how it was home to a couple of grocers, a cosmetic goods warehouse, a printing company, a gallery, and an events space. Yes, all of this with an exterior nearly unchanged and the crest of Puck to stand through it all.