The Fame of the Arcade Hotel

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ArcadeHotel

Photo clipping of Commercial Appeal 1993 article, courtesy of Memphis & Shelby County Room.

Mitzuko: Jun, why do you only take pictures of the rooms we stay in and never what we see outside while we travel?
Jun: Those other things are in my memory. The hotel rooms and the airports are the things I’ll forget.

You may recall that quote from the cult classic film “Mystery Train” released in 1989. It’s a movie consisting of three narratives upon one night in Memphis, linked together by the Arcade Hotel. This hotel was originally named the Winona but was leased and renamed around 1937 by, Speros Zepatos, founder of the Arcade Restaurant.

Though the Arcade Hotel had been closed nearly six years prior to filming in the summer of ’88, the lobby had been transformed to look as it did in the 1950’s. It was never a place of top delicacy however. Rooms could be rented for as few as 2 dollars a night, with 31 rooms, only seven had private baths and all others shared a bath at the end of the hall.

But listen.. even though the hotel closed down in 1983, Mystery Train transmitted some life into that hotel making it a new tourist attraction and sweetheart for fans in the late 80s/early 90’s. Frederick Coleman, for example, strived devotedly to save the Arcade Hotel from demolition.

So is the hotel still standing today? No. Currently it is an empty lot dominated by Earth’s grass and a nice slab for outdoor seating.

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But the memories live on of course. When I asked Harry Zepatos, current owner of the Arcade Restaurant, about the Arcade Hotel, he said it was funny because he was making an album for his father of collected articles on the restaurant and hotel and he said, “of all the articles, of all the thickness of it, the guy who was trying to save the hotel had the most stories.”

As someone who lived and worked alongside the Arcade hotel and restaurant, Zepatos remembers thinking as a kid, “I liked working there [hotel] better because I would make more money. As a little kid they’d make you carry their suitcase and send you over here [restaurant] for a hamburger.” Zepatos grew up in the business from such a young age and genuinely wanted to be there. He asked his father later in life, “Did you make me go to the restaurant all the time?” And his father replied, “No, you always wanted to come.”

While the hotel may no longer exist, the Arcade Restaurant still stands strong. In fact, it was originally structurally designed to hold a seven-story hotel above. Though, I can’t say there are any plans to proceed forth with supporting the Arcade Hotel up top, at least not in our lifetime.

Arcade

Courtesy of Memphis Shelby County Room Photograph Collection.

For your pleasure, here’s a great 2010 Memphis Flyer article capturing more on the film “Mystery Train” and the Arcade Hotel.

Rebecca Phillips

I am a female born in the United States though I generally fear the border patrol. Buy me an ice cream cone and maybe I'll paint you something.

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