Mystery Photo: Is This the Luau or the Tropical Freeze?



Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis — don't make me humiliate you by naming names — know how obsessed I am about locating a high-quality image of several "Lost Memphis" establishments around town. Two of them being the Luau, the Polynesian-themed restaurant on Poplar across from East High School, and the Tropical Freeze, the ice-cream parlor/drive-in that was at the southwest corner of Poplar and White Station.

So what am I to make of this photo, found in the back of a 1968 yearbook for Overton High School?

The yearbook editors, as was often the case then and now, posed various "Who's Who" members of the senior class at local landmarks or popular hangouts, such as the Shoney's Big Boy in Eastgate, or McDonald's, or Shakey's. So obviously, they chose a place that they thought everyone would recognize. And they didn't bother identifying it, for the Vance Lauderdales of the future.

I didn't even notice anything about this photo at first — just two students (Overton seniors Dave Brotherton and Carol Dando, in case you were wondering) — next to a rough stone wall. But then I noticed that Dave was straddling some sort of fountain illuminated by spotlights, he's got his foot on a giant shell sticking out of the wall, and bamboo poles seem to be holding up a thatched roof of some kind.

I can't see anything in the background that would help me identify the location, but only two places in East Memphis would have had fountains with shells and colored lights and bamboo, and those would have been the Luau or the Tropical Freeze.

So which one is this?

(My bet is the Tropical Freeze, which — if my memory serves me correctly — had a high stone wall in the back parking lot, which separated it from the railroad tracks that ran behind it, and the business next door, and I think this is that wall.)

Please label your photos, yearbook editors of the future. Oh yeah, like there will be actual yearbooks in the future ...

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About This Blog

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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