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.

Reader Comments:
Sep 9, 2011 11:17 am
 Posted by  daisydaisy

Thanks for jogging my memory. I remember it well, I would take friends from out of town to see it. There must be hundreds of pictures floating around of that "shoe".

Sep 10, 2011 08:29 pm
 Posted by  themack

thanks again vance for all the memphis history you have tought me

Sep 16, 2011 08:34 pm
 Posted by  peter

I got a pair of shoes at the big shoe... it was thrilling for a 8 year old me to go in the small door and made me fell like a real important person.

Sep 19, 2011 10:23 am
 Posted by  Ed J

Funny how things change. I believe it was The Enchanted Shoe when I went there in the mid-70s as a child. We shopped a lot at The Treasury across the street. You could see the Drive In movie from the parking lot...knew things had changed when they began showing XXX movies (visible from the Treasury parking lot).

Sep 20, 2011 03:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Lawrence Hord was the architect of the Big Shoe.
His son, Carter, is now president of Hord Architects in Memphis.
- Jack Hord (another one of his proud sons)

Sep 20, 2011 03:29 pm
 Posted by  Carter Hord

My father was the architect who designed the Shoe (Lawrence T. Hord, Jr.). He was very creative and enjoyed the design challenge. The inspiration came from a small copper bank for coins which was in the shape of a boot. I remember playing with the copper bank as a child, and I also remember my mother taking me to buy shoes at the store. My father designed approximately 100 churches, but people remember the shoe! It was actually demolished early in 1996 and he died in December of 1996. I too am an architect and proud to be his legacy. Carter Hord, AIA

Sep 22, 2011 02:29 pm
 Posted by  Cristie

I remember the Shoe also, although I wish I could remember why we would have been in that part of town. It's better that it's been taken down with fond memories than to watch it decay and be used for purposes unbecoming of a child's shoe store.

Sep 26, 2012 03:15 pm
 Posted by  jjbrandon

I was so glad to find a picture of the "Big Shoe" shoe store online! My father, Lonzo Jones, was the plasterer on that job. Early one Saturday morning in 1965, before the store opened, he drove me out on Lamar to see it. He was very proud of his work on this shoe. I've heard some say he was the best plasterer in Memphis, in his day, when artistic expertise was required.

Jan 27, 2014 09:50 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

At some point, I remember the shoe became a hair salon or wig store as it had Spanish Perms painted across the toe. Later on, after it closed, some graffiti artist added the letter S to the front Perms and we would snicker as we drove 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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