To some, the word “Downtown” evokes a bustling mercantile 1940s Main Street packed with people, cars, buses and trolleys, businessmen in hats and summer suits making deals on a handshake, soldiers at the train station, USO dances at grand hotels, a hardworking, optimistic American city on the verge of a new era.
Others recall the music and names and sounds of an outrageous doomed Sin City of bordellos, opium dens, and wild street life circa 1905, including one rowdy saloon that never closed because it didn't have a front door.
A more family-friendly Downtown, still very much alive in the memory of many, is an innocent 1950s wonderland of gold and silver and green populated by Santa, Mr. Bingle, and awestruck children gazing at elaborate decorations. There are as many sides to Downtown as there are people to remember it.
In Memphis Memoirs: Downtown, producer Pierre Kimsey explores the personal stories behind the 20th Century history of Downtown Memphis. “The concentration of people, of businesses, of energy was remarkable,” Kimsey says. “Downtown’s modern resurgence has been wonderful, but we’ll never again capture the special feeling of the small-town city that Memphis used to be.” Except, of course, by capturing the memories.
Dozens of participants, including publisher Lester Gingold and historian Dr. John Harkins, tell stories of Downtown from 1900 to 1980 in this hour-long documentary, which also features some never-before-seen images of the city from Memphians’ private scrapbooks.
Beyond the Parkways
Memphis Memoirs: Beyond the Parkways takes a look at the development of the major streets in Memphis, and how they formed a city rich in history and community.
Memphis producer Bonnie Daws Perkins takes viewers from the interstate highway to small streets such as Perkins, Lamar, and Elvis Presley Boulevard to offer the history of their legendary namesakes. Throughout the hour-long documentary viewers will also travel back in time to the golden age of the American car and visit the city’s most traveled street Poplar, which started out as an Indian hunting trail.
Memphis Memoirs is a nostalgia series that began on WKNO with Remember When? in 1996. Since then there have been nineteen Memphis Memoirs productions.