Lost Memphis: The Fargason Mansion

Image courtesy Lee Askew

One day not too long ago, my pal Lee Askew — principal with Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects — showed me a nine-volume set of books in his office called The Art Work of Memphis, just filled with wonderful images of old homes, churches, and other buildings in our city as they looked in the early 1900s. Most of those structures fall into the sad category of "Lost Memphis" since they have succumbed to the bulldozers of Progress, and anyone looking through the books, as I did, must think, "What a shame!" when they see many of the pictures.

But the elegant Fargason Mansion, shown here as it looked in 1918, suffered a more disgraceful fate than most.

In the early 1900s, John T. Fargason amassed a fortune in the wholesale grocery business. A 1903 telephone directory ad for the J.T. Fargason Company, located at 115 South Front Street, notified customers that the firm offered "fancy and staple groceries, cigars, and tobacco," and was the sole distributor of Omega "highest patent" flour, Santee Syrup, Heekins & Company roasted coffee, and even Zebra & Whale brand axle grease.

Farguson had this monumental stone residence constructed at 1318 Lamar around 1915, at the present-day corner of Lamar and Cleveland. (The architect's name, along with most other details about the home, have been lost to history.) The Farguson family, prominent in Memphis social circles, lived and entertained here for three decades. In the mid-1930s, however, they sold the property.

The next owner lived here for only two years, and then the old house stood vacant. In 1940, Phi Rho Sigma, a medical fraternity at the University of Tennessee, turned the home into its chapter house, thus beginning its inevitable decline. The fraternity, unable to maintain the sprawling mansion (just imagine the heating and cooling costs!) moved out in the late 1950s, and again the house stood empty, a target for vagrants and vandals.

In 1960, bulldozers pulled down the once-grand home. The Howard Johnson chain built a 145-room high-rise hotel on the spacious grounds, which became the Coach and Four Motor Lodge in the late 1970s. That property closed long ago, and the building stood abandoned and empty for years, a boarded-up eyesore on the edge of Central Gardens. It was finally demolished, leaving behind nothing but a parking lot — quite a depressing change from the lovely estate built by John T. Fargason almost a century ago.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

Miss McKellar Lake 1974

Hard to believe, but women from around the Mid-South once competed for this illustrious title.
2015.08.26 01:51 PM

Remember the Alamo, but let’s not forget another one of Summer Avenue’s funky motels.

Not as architecturally significant as the Alamo Plaza, the Silver Horse Shoe was another Summer Avenue motel landmark for decades. And don’t forget the crazy-looking diner next door!
2014.10.21 08:39 PM

Rare Photo: Gladys Presley's Original Gravesite at Forest Hill Cemetery — Mother of Elvis Presley

2012.11.18 08:47 PM
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Stories

Meet the WREC-TV News Team from the 1960s

A posed studio photograph shows the WREC-TV news team from the 1960s. Most readers recognize a few faces, but the others are — so far — a mystery.
2015.08.30 07:34 PM

Miss McKellar Lake 1974

Hard to believe, but women from around the Mid-South once competed for this illustrious title.
2015.08.26 01:51 PM

Lost Memphis: The Linden Circle Theatre

Here’s how it looked in the 1940s. I don’t even want to show you how the same building — yep, it’s still there — looks today.
2015.08.18 12:04 PM

Add your comment:
Edit Module

Buy the Ask Vance Books

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Famed Memphis trivia expert Vance Lauderdale answers reader questions weekly here on his blog!

About This Blog

Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and 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.

Got a question for Vance?  Email him here.

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

Be Vance's friend on Facebook:  facebook.com/vancelauderdale

Recent Posts



Atom Feed Subscribe to the Ask Vance Feed »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags