Lost Memphis: The Old WMC TV Station on Summer



Maybe this doesn't completely qualify as "Lost Memphis" since the building has survived — sort of — but it's just a shell of its former self.

Anyone driving along Summer close to the intersection of Stage Road may turn and admire the rows of fancy ski boats for sale at Tracker Boat Center on the corner there, but few people, I'd wager, pay much attention to the very curiously designed building (just a detail of it shown here) off to one side of the parking lot.

Hard to believe, but years ago, this was one of the communications centers of Memphis. Constructed in 1930, the concrete art deco building (newspapers of the day actually described it as "Moorish") housed the first transmitting station of the WMC Radio, and later Television, stations. Back then, stations erected their transmitting towers outside of town to avoid interference with buildings and other things that might cause problems with reception. In 1937, when the station moved to larger facilities on North Thomas Street, a fellow by the name of Henry Slavick — who just happened to be the general manager of WMC — hired noted Memphis architect George Mahan Jr. (designer of dozens of fine homes in Memphis, along with the Peabody Skyway) to transform the distinctive building into his private residence.

Needless to say, it was one of the most unusual homes in Memphis. Complete with a two-car garage, servants' quarters, and a 20 x 30-foot swimming pool, the Slavick house was supposedly one of the first in Shelby County to be air-conditioned. I don't know if that's true; I'm just going by what the old newspaper articles said.

Some years later, in the late 1950s, I believe, the owners of Ramsey's Flowers purchased the house for $40,000, adding — as might be expected — a formal garden to the front, along with greenhouses to either side. These days, however, the front yard serves as a parking lot for speedboats and the customers of Tracker Boat Center. There's no trace of the greenhouses.

And the 200-foot transmitting tower itself? That came down years ago, moved to the Lauderdale Mansion for my ham radio operation. If you drive past the house and see the Lauderdale banner fluttering from the mast, that's how you tell that I'm home.

But that doesn't mean you should stop by.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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Find Vance's old blog posts (pre-April 2011) and comments here.

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