Lost Memphis: Remembering When the "Big Shoe" Got the Boot
Everyone called it "The Big Shoe" but I don't think that was ever its official name. It doesn't matter. What does matter is how many people were dismayed when this very bizarre building on Lamar was demolished in 1995, and how many people still remember it fondly to this day.
The eye-catching structure at 2995 Lamar, with it sloping roof, crooked chimney, and concrete shoelaces, opened in 1965 as High Fashions in the Shoe, a shoe store for children. There was even a little door built into the side, just for the toddlers. The original building was gleaming white with blue trim, and it was going to serve as the prototype for an identical chain of shoe stores in other locations — even other cities. For some reason, that never happened.
Instead, the Shoe went through various owners over the years. In 1967, it became The Shoe House, and by the 1970s it was known as The Enchanted Shoe. Eventually, though, owners gave up trying to use the structure as a shoe store, and in its last few years — then painted tan and brown — it housed a clothing store.
Rumors persisted that the building would be moved to Libertyland instead of being demolished. I remember talking with one of the owners, who said, "It was supposed to be portable, so if it didn't go over as a shoe store, they could transport it to another location."
But if it was supposed to be portable, nobody told that to the builder, who constructed the thing out of concrete poured over wire forms. There was simply no way to lift it from the ground and haul it across town in one piece, and the changing neighborhood eventually made it impossible to use as a store of any kind. Anyone who thought otherwise just had to visit the liquor store next door, where the clerks handed bottles of wine to customers through a slot in a bulletproof-glass window. Not quite as charming as shopping for shoes inside a giant shoe.
The Shoe stood as one of Memphis' best examples of "mimetic" architecture — buildings constructed in the shape of other things, such as giant animals or fruit. "It would be a real shame to lose the Shoe," Chris Fales, who was president of Memphis Heritage, told me years ago. "It's significant because they just don't build things like that anymore. It's a vanishing art. I recently saw an article in Preservation News about that kind of architecture, and our Shoe could compare with the best of them."
In Memphis: An Architectural Guide, authors Eugene Johnson and Robert Russell Jr. called the Shoe "one of Memphis' best examples of roadside architecture — almost roadside sculpture. What better way to advertise shoes than by putting them inside a giant boot?"
The owner of the liquor store next door told me, "We see cars and vans pull up in the lot out front and tourists — Japanese, European — get out and take a picture of it. If they tear it down, we'll lose another one of Memphis' little-known attractions."
Well, we did tear it down, as you know by now. A strip shopping center stands on the site today.