Remembering Bob Berryman's Tourist Court
Years ago, most Memphians knew the name of Bob Berryman. Well-known as a local playboy, gambler, and man-about-town, Berryman was also a convicted murderer, who once killed a bouncer at a downtown bar over a long-simmering grudge and spent eight years behind bars for it. But despite all that, he was mainly remembered as the owner and operator of two of our city's most popular attractions: the Silver Slipper nightclub on Macon, and Bob Berryman's Tourist Court on Highway 61 South.
Berryman got into the motel business in 1937, and while puttering around the Lauderdale Library, I pulled down a box of back issues of a magazine called The Architectural Forum, and one of them contained this interesting full-page ad that featured the motel shortly after it opened. My, doesn't the place look spiffy — with neat rows of gleaming-white bungalows, designed in a Spanish Mission style.
The ad copy — promoting the use of Atlas White Cement and Stucco — may be hard to read, so I'll repeat it here: "Tourists motoring along U.S. Highway 61 in South Memphis are always amazed at the unique Berryman's Tourist Court. For this is probably the last word in what nomads of the highways call tourist camps. In designing the single- and double-story units of the court, architect R.B. Spencer has achieved beauty and distinctiveness. Atlas White portland cement was used for the exterior finish of all buildings. Beautiful — permanent — economical — these sum up the case for Atlas White stucco. From simple designs to intricate pattern effect. From pure white to deep colors ... whatever effect you wish, it can be readily achieved with Atlas White."
And Berryman's place did indeed look very fine — for a while. But, like quite a few tourist courts in those days before spic-and-span Holiday Inns opened their doors to travelers, this 22-unit establishment, located on the outskirts of town, began to decline and attract a rather seedy clientele. Perhaps the low point came in 1949, when a trio of bank robbers holed up here and were finally flushed out by the police, and Press-Scimitar headlines screamed, "Bandits Headquarters in Memphis Suite at Tourist Court" and the newspaper included lots of photos of the place. Not exactly the kind of publicity that would attract vacationing families, is it?
In later years, the decaying tourist court changed hands, the buildings were painted yellow, and the name was changed to the Adobe Village. It was still an impressive sight, matched here only by the Alamo Plaza on Summer. One day, though, I drove by and was somewhat astonished to find that the whole complex had been bulldozed, leaving not a trace of the once-attractive buildings. Nowadays, a parking lot for It's All Good auto sales occupies a good portion of the original site.
The ad, by the way, is the first time I have encountered the name of Berryman's architect. I don't know much about R.B. Spencer, but I need to see what other places he designed in this area.