I’m honored to write my first contributor’s post for Memphis Type History. I’m especially excited to delve into my own past and to, in a way, write this post from the perspective of an elementary school-aged version of myself.
My memories of being out and about as a child almost solely consist of being on or around Summer Avenue – nearly always between Holmes on the west and White Station on the east. That was my Memphis; a rather small world that felt huge at the time.
In the nearly 30 years since the above photo was taken, Summer Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods have changed as much or more than me and my Berclair cohorts. I now know the Summer Avenue I knew growing up was but a snapshot in time.
After all, back then, I essentially knew nothing of the street that was my stomping ground. I didn’t know Summer had once been a main thoroughfare though the city (the reason why so many motels, like the Admiral Benbow and The Silver Horseshoe, still stood at that time). I didn’t know James Jones wrote his novel, “From Here to Eternity” at Leahy’s Trailer Park, just a stone’s throw from The Cottage Restaurant and my favorite Captain D’s location.
I also didn’t know that many of the retail stores and restaurants on my Summer where no longer occupied by their original tenants. For example, my mother, who’d lived in the area since the early 1960’s, still frequently referred to Big Star at Summer and Waring as “Carondelet,” a grocery store that ceased to do business in that location a decade earlier.
My Summer Avenue wasn’t James Jones’ Summer Avenue of the late-1940’s, nor was it my mom’s Summer Avenue of the 1960’s. However, remnants of the past remained then, as they do now.
Now, however, the sites that made Summer Ave. famous are few and far between. The Summer of today is still bustling. But the past is quickly fading.
On a dreary day last week, I took a driving tour of Summer, stopping to take photos each time I saw a familiar site.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to give the old captain’s wheel a spin in “Steamboat Twain”…nor did I hear the other kids’ giggles after an always inevitable “hardwood wipeout” at Skateland. Still, this trip down memory lane was a refreshing and welcome one.
So here you have it – a little of the Summer Avenue I remember a little less of the remains of what made this Memphis thoroughfare famous.
This is the sign for the original Cottage Restaurant, which opened in 1957. The restaurant relocated to the French Village Shopping Center near Summer and Graham in 2014.
Tops opened its first location in Memphis in 1952. The location on Summer, near National, still boasts an impressive vintage pig sign.
Bryant’s Breakfast is a current Memphis hot spot. In the 1980’s, it was known as “Bryant’s BBQ.”
Zayre department store was located on Summer between Graham and Waring.
The Peanut Shoppe opened in 1959. You can still see Mr. Peanut seated front and center in the store’s window.
The original Peanut Shoppe sign featured a confident Mr. Peanut. The new sign is merely shaped like a peanut.
Mark Twain Cafeteria’s exterior, pictured in the late-1970’s.
Mark Twain’s interior, proudly featuring “Steamboat Twain.”
Littlefield’s Jewelers still operates in its original location in an old row of shops near Berclair Road. Prior to the mid-1980’s, it faced the motel last known as “The Silver Horseshoe Motel.”
Imperial Lanes operated on Summer near Stratford from 1958 – 2009. The parking lot now hosts frequent outdoor markets. The building, however, stands empty.
Kay Bakery now operates as a fusion of sorts – old-fashioned bakery and Latin panaderia (“bakery”).
Charlie’s Meat Market opened its doors on Summer (near Avon Road, just across from Kay Bakery) in 1971. Its neighbor Edo Japanese Restaurant opened in the mid-1980’s.
Summer Avenue favorite, The Pancake Shop only opened its doors in 1989. However, the charming diner speaks to Summer Ave. days-gone-by and feels much older than its 26 years.
A location of the Market Basket grocery franchise sat at the corner of Summer and Mendenhall for decades. Now, the building houses a mattress retail store.
Lotus Vietnamese restaurant opened in this old Duncan Donuts location in the late-1970’s and is still a popular evening dining spot today.
This prominent Pancho’s sign stands tall above The Cloverleaf Shopping Center and Old Summer Road. Pancho’s is one of only two operational decades-long tenants on Old Summer.
The Cloverleaf Shopping Center once housed this Green Stamps store (later known as Quality Stamps). Shop at Big Star, get stamps. Get enough stamps, you could outfit a home with this and thats.
High Pockets billiard hall opened on Old Summer Road in 1983. You can still find a packed house here most weekend nights.
The end of the line. Though my family made occasional trips to Putt Putt Golf in the 1980’s, Skateland (and its neighbor, “The Fair Four” movie theatre) symbolized the end of MY Summer Avenue.
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