The Remnants of an 80’s Kid’s Summer Avenue

In East Memphis by Samantha Hegenheiser-Finley20 Comments

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.

Sam First Grade

Your MTH blog contributor, circa 1986.

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.

Original Cottage Restaurant Summer Avenue

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 boasts one impressive vintage pig sign.

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."

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.

Photo courtesy of Bob Phillips.

Zayre department store was located on Summer between Graham and Waring.

The Peanut Shoppe opened in 1959.

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.

Old Peanut Shoppe photo courtesy of Michael Gestring and The Summer Avenue Gang.

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. Photo courtesy of Chris Searcy.

Photo courtesy of Chris Searcy.

Mark Twain Cafeteria’s exterior, pictured in the late-1970’s.

Mark Twain's interior, proudly featuring "Steamboat Twain."

Snapshot of old postcard courtesy of Michael Gestring and The Summer Avenue Gang.

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."

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.”

10Imperial Lanes

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 sort of a fusion of old-fashioned bakery and Latin panaderia.

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.

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.

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.

1990’s photo of the Market Basket courtesy of Michael Gestring.

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.

17Lotus

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 prominently displayed 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.

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. Photo courtesy of Michael Gestring.

Photo courtesy of Michael Gestring.

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.

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.

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.


Further Reading:

The Silver Horseshoe
Leahy’s Trailer Park

Samantha Hegenheiser-Finley

I'm a lifelong Memphian and an alumna of "Nutbush, the Neighborhood." I love Indian food and lifting heavy things. I usually use a lot more words than this. If we ever meet for coffee, you'll see what I mean.

Comments

  1. WOULD LOVE TO SEE NORTHGATE SHOPPING CENTER FROM THE 60’S AND 70’S…..I HAVE MEMORIES OF WHEN AT ONE TIME THEY HAD A CARNIVAL THERE AND DURING CHRISTMAS TIME THEY PUT THESE DECORATIONS LOOKING LIKE TREES. I WAS REAL LITTLE. IF ANYONE HAS PICT.S PLZ., SHARE THEM THANKS…..

    1. Shirley,
      I will put feelers out for photos of Northgate during the 60’s. I often drive by that center on my way to Millington (I work with rescued animals there). I would love to see the center in its glory days. If I can find some photos, I’d love to speak with you about your memories and do a Memphis Type History post on Northgate!

      Best,
      -Sam

  2. Samantha Hegenheiser-Finley ………. if you grew up in Berclair then you weren’t a product of “Nutbush”.

    Nutbush was northwest from Kingsbury High School towards the Veterans National Cemetary

  3. The Summer Ave. Gang on facebook has a lot of information and members (which are resources, in this case)

  4. Outstanding read and thanks for the stroll down memory lane. I grew up in a house, that from my bedroom window, had a view of the Skateland neon sign that could be seen through the overpass of White Station going over Sam Cooper, and over the overpass in my 4 story tree house. I lived there until December of ’83. I remember all the places you mentioned in this blog and WOW! were those the days. Kay’s Bakery when I behaved at school, Charlie’s when my parents were in the mood for a good steak, Summer drive-in, Fat Jimmy’s, Sambo’s, Shakey’s, Western Sizzlin, Robillio and Sarno’s (Big Star), Quality Stamps, the Gulf gas station at Perkins and Summer, 7-Eleven, the Hostess store and factory, Market Basket, Imperial Lanes, Zayer, Fred P. Gattas, but most importantly, Skateland every saturday for somebody’s birthday (before Chuck-e-Cheese came to town). If they every decide to sell the sign, I’m putting in a bid!

  5. Hi Dan, I’m the snaggletoothed kid in the top photo in this post.

    I’m glad you liked it! Summer Avenue was my Poplar Avenue. Except for the occasional trip to the Raleigh Springs Mall, Summer Ave had all we needed. We never strayed far from there. I miss all the old hotspots but am glad a few remain (The Peanut Shoppe, Charlie’s Meat Market, and Kay Bakery, which is now a panderia).

    Just curious, are you still in the Memphis area, Dan?

  6. I moved to the Summer Ave in 1962 when I was only 3 yrs. old. The first Holiday Inn in America I think was at Mendenhall & Summer. Also it seems like all the cool motorcycle shops were up and down Summer like Leo’s Kawasaki…Butler’s Yamaha Al’s Honda…Harry’s Suzuki. Good times for all. I miss hanging out on Summer Ave. Golden years for sure.

    1. Al’s Cycle Shop was located on Summer Avenue for decades. It was owned by Al McAlexander and his wife and later by their son, also named Al. I believe they sold Honda instead of Kawasaki at their dealership.

      My thanks to the author for an informative and very well written piece of nostalgia. My favorite places on Summer Avenue in the 1960’s were Coletta’s Italian Restaurant where my dates and/or friends and I would go for the best BBQ pizza ever made and the Bristol Theater where my buddies and I would go for an inexpensive rerun movie when we didn’t have dates. After the movie we walked to the Krystal for a few cheap but tasty Krystal burgers.

  7. Sambo’s was at Summer and Bartlett Rd on the North side

  8. Great stuff! I am a child of Summer Ave. from White Station across to about Highland. Late 70s because my mom wouldn’t let me wander further than Gaisman before I turned 8 until the 88 basically because I had to leave for college. My birthday place was never Skateland… it was always Nam King (no, not that buffet it became) right next to KMart.

    There’s one thing I have been racking my brain over as I now have kids and we tool around the town we live in now looking at Christmas lights. There was a house in Memphis that we would go to that had decorations in the front yard AND backyard and we were allowed to walk around, like a mini trail of lights. Any clue if I’m just remembering this from a TV show or this was a reality? Where was it? Any other details?

  9. Enjoyed the read. Left Berclair in 1974 as a 16 year old, moved to Germantown where I graduated HS. Tons of good old memories of Summer Ave, Macon and blocks in between … went to Kingsbury High.
    Anyway … thanks for the effort. Specially the Mark Twain, I’ve been looking for an interior shot of that place for years.

  10. I ate at the Mark Twain a time or two. It was out of the area that I grew up in and hung out at, but it was a classic one meat, two veggie type of place. I remember the owner shut it down because he was exasperated at being hassled by a over zealous health inspector.

  11. Wow! I forgot about so any of those places. Thank you for sharing these photos. I grew up on Summer Ave in the 80s. Remember the three story house in the middle of all those businesses across from the Wendy’s. That’s were I lived until I was 12.

  12. I grew up in the 80s in the Berclair/Graham Heights/Highland Heights corridor, and I moved away to Atlanta when my then-divorced mother remarried in 1987. I was 10, and I could ride my bike safely from our house (Faxon/Isabelle) to my best friend’s house (Duke/Chelsea) or my grandparents’ house (McCrory/Perkins) with no fear of crime.

    Most Saturday mornings, my mother would pay me my $2 allowance, and OH the choices that existed — the possibilities were endless, and with a few exceptions, I’d ride my bike up Summer to spend it after we were done with Saturday chores. Pop Tunes was where I bought my first record (Thriller), and my first cassette tape (Born in the USA). Maybe go to Zayre’s (where the Big Lots is now, behind the Mcdonalds with the Vice Lord graffiti on the parking lot signage) for a new GI Joe or He-Man figure. There was a random house between Isabelle and Graham that we knew as the Candy Lady; she always had a kind word for the kids who would come over on weekends to buy her taffy and caramels. There was a Korean grocery at Freeman or Sevier and Summer, and they had a permanent yard sale of random junk set up in the front lot — I bought my Dad a set of drinking glasses there for a Father’s day gift when I was 8 or 9. Who can forget the original Howard’s Donuts, half a block up Waring from its current location, next to the old Kraus Model laundry? I missed those days terribly over the next few decades after I moved, and I don’t know whether it was the childhood independence or the abundance of things to do for a curious child at the time.

    I finally had the opportunity to move back in my early thirties, wife and son in tow, in 2010. Looking for a place to live, my Louisianian wife quickly vetoed the old neighborhood. While I couldn’t really blame her for not believing that my mother used to let me ride my bike up and down Summer, it did sting a little, and I took it more personally than I should have. Like Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again. Then again, Faulkner said that the past isn’t over — it isn’t even past! We ended up settling in Cordova, not far from the Howards Donuts behind Bellevue Baptist, and we’re in Bartlett now. But after we got settled, I hatched a plan.

    Since then, about once every week or so, I take my wife and boys out to eat somewhere on Summer. Pancho’s (wife still hates cold queso haha), Lotus, Elwood’s (try the steelhead trout tacos!), the Pancake Shop, La Michoacána, the Sub Shop, and the list goes on. My hope is that my boys will treasure these memories of their own, much as I loved to go to the Summer Twin (!) Drive-In with my dad, and they’ll look back and smile long after I’m gone.

    1. Josh,
      Wow! You have a story as detailed as mine. I actually moved back to the old neighborhood about 3 years ago (paying off student loans by living in my dearly departed Dad’s old house). The area’s changed a lot, but I’ve found that I’m much happier here than I expected. I’m one of three second generation folks living in their parents’ old houses on my little section of my street.

      Also, the food is great around here. We still have some of the old staples (you mentioned Lotus and Pancho’s). If you haven’t already, try Panda Garden on Summer, near High Point Terrace (they use the same recipes as the Formosa folks before them) and Caminos De Michoacan at Macon and Maria, which last I checked, was one of the top rated Mexican restaurants in Memphis. Of course, the original Jerry’s Sno Cones is always a treat. And Elwood’s was a great addition in the last few years. Then, there’s our wonderful Central BBQ in the old Red Lobster location. I could go on and on.

      Change is hard, but I’m glad to see that Summer Avenue has held it’s own in many ways. We’ve avoided much of the blight that other main thoroughfares have seen (Winchester and Austin Peay, for example). The Summer Avenue Lowe’s is my fave in the city :). I’m sorry to see that we recently lost The Peanut Shoppe but love driving past the Summer Drive-In and seeing cars lined up to watch a movie at Memphis’ only remaining drive-in theater.

      Thanks for your comment on my old story. It was nice reminiscing with you. I hope your family continues to enjoy your trips to the neighborhood. -Sam

  13. Who remembers the Food Fair where High Pockets is now.I believe it was the first food court style place in Memphis that had several different places you could get food from.My grandmother and grandfather lived at the corner of Berclair and Tutwiler.I went to Berclair Elementary for 1st grade.

  14. My grandmother ran the snack bar at Imperial Lanes for almost 20 yrs thru the 60’s and 70’s.Mr Fisher ran the place.If anyone remembers it had a putt putt golf course inside to the right when you first went in the doors.I bowled there with my uncle during the late 80’s and into the early 90’s.Hated to see it go i have so many fond memories from that place.And who remembers Hart’s Bakery?The smell of fresh bread every time you drove past.My mother worked at Stewart’s Drug store that was at the corner of Summer and Berclair when she was a teenager in the 50’s.

  15. Hi, my family would travel through on our way to Pontitoc where my grandparents lived. I have photos of my family in front of a shoneys with the old big boy out front. I’m unsure if this was the shoneys on summer ave though. My dad thinks it was the memphis location we stopped at but it’s been years ago. I was curious if you remember the shoneys there and furthermore if you have any photos? Thanks for making this post. So cool to see the old store fronts. Love it.

    Andrew

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