Curious About Kellastone
Dear Vance: I discovered this interesting advertisement for a "Kellastone Home" in a 1914 issue of Country Life magazine. You'll see that the home belonged to "John Wilson, Esq., Memphis, Tenn." Where was this house, and is it still standing today? -- E.B., memphis.
Dear E.B.: This was a fascinating quest, one that took my chauffeur and me to many interesting parts of this city. And one that, ultimately, ended in failure.
I found the ad rather intriguing. Kellastone was "an imperishable stucco" that "always lends a tone of class and distinction to the most modest home or pretentious estate." Furthermore, Kellastone "was unaffected by the elements and will prove just as attractive in years to come as it does today."
Well, we would just have to see about that, wouldn't we?
First, I needed to look up John Wilson, Esq., in the old city directories and see where he lived in 1914. How hard could that be? Well, the problem is that John Wilson is a rather common name, and in 1914, there were nine such gentlemen in Memphis. And what stumped me was the "Esq." mentioned in the ad -- a term normally reserved for attorneys or men of distinction, such as myself. Back then, the old city directories often listed homeowners' occupations, and all these John Wilsons -- though no doubt worthy citizens -- held rather mundane jobs: a postman, a shoemaker, a sewing-machine salesman, a clerk at some place called the Bluff City Exchange. No "esquires" in the lot.
This was not encouraging, but I scribbled down all their addresses and hit the highways and byways of Memphis, searching up and down such old streets as Trigg, Wellington, Pontotoc, Alston, and others. Most of the residences I was searching for had long been demolished, since their neighborhoods had changed so dramatically since 1914. And even the homes formerly owned by John Wilsons -- Esquire or not -- that were still standing in no way matched the rather unusual design of the house featured in the Kellastone ad.
In the end, I was forced to admit defeat. I just couldn't find the house, and it occurred to me that it was possible that it never existed -- at least not in Memphis. I don't think the good makers of Kellastone intentionally lied in their ad; what good would that do them? But it's possible, I think, that they put John Wilson, Esq.'s name with the wrong house. At any rate, if such a house was in Memphis, that "imperishable exterior" that "practically forms a stone covering over any building that will last for ages" didn't keep it standing some 90 years later.
NORMALLY, I might feel bad since I failed to answer E.B.’s question, but the word “normal” has never appeared on any of the psychiatric examinations of me ordered by the courts. And besides, my trusty accountant (okay, a third-grader I hired from that school down the street) has pointed out that I get paid by the word in this column no matter what I say. Did I make myself clear? Paid by the word, no matter what I say. [Okay, Lauderdale, don’t push it. — Tibbs] So taking all that into consideration, I thought I’d use this year-end issue to clear away my cluttered desk and my cluttered mind, by listing here some of the queries I’ve received in recent months that have stumped me. I have to admit I don’t know the answers to these. Heck, for some of them, I’m not even sure I know the question. Maybe some of my half-dozen or so readers do:.
• What is this odd-shaped little rusted post that stands outside Central High School?
• Please tell me I'm not crazy! Do you remember the monkey man that used to walk up and down Poplar Avenue during the late 1960s and early '70s? He was in Midtown. I remember he walked with a cane and had a monkey tail!
• How many people are actually buried beneath this tombstone (below) in Elmwood?
• What's the story of this long-abandoned white house down on Lamar, (bottom) just outside the city limits?
• I recently bought a set of old keys (right) marked "DeSoto Hotel." What can you tell me about this place?
• My grandmother loved to enter contests. When she saw that a group of Italian grocers in Memphis wanted a name for their stores, she submitted "WeOna" thinking it sounded Italian and also meant "we-own-a" food store. She won $100. Do you have any idea if this is true or just a family legend?
• My husband says Pappy's Lobster Shack never existed. How can I prove him wrong?
• I know someone who says that one or more people are buried in the pylons of the "new" bridge. They fell in while it was being constructed. I tried to "Google" this but could not find any useful articles.
• Tell me about the old cemetery on Shady Grove Road. Can I move those stones to Elmwood and build my mansion on that elevated lot? I plan to duplicate the V. Lauderdale compound.
• In the late 1950s, my aunt and uncle lived in a house not far from Graceland. Once, while visiting them, we went to a country club nearby that had a wave pool. Is it still there?
• I went to a place called Wesley House for kindergarten in the mid-1950s. Can you give me any history of this school?
• I have heard that Vance Avenue between Pine and Watkins was once a garbage dump. Is this true?
• Did a blimp ever have a permanent presence in Memphis? Were we ever visited by foreign airships?
• I understand Johnwood Drive used to be called Johnson, but since my father's name was John Wood and he won the yard-of-the-month award, they changed it. Is this true?
• Where did all those robotic Christmas displays go? They used to dot a large lawn near Waring.
• I recall reading about a Navy dirigible that was decommissioned and converted into a house in Raleigh. What became of this unique recycling project?
• We recently bought an old house on Vinton, and found a postcard dated 1912, announcing a meeting of "The Racketeers" in our house. Who were the Racketeers?
• In the 1960s, my sister and a lot of friends went to a vacated asylum that was located on Poplar Pike. Can you help solve this puzzle?
• I remember the great, spooky music at the opening and closing of WHBQ's Fantastic Features, starring Sivad, the "Monster of Ceremonies." Is a recording of that music available?
• There is an old house at 297 Mill in the new "Uptown" District. I tried to find out its history but was unsuccessful. Can you work your magic?
• I purchased a large wooden crate at an antique store, and stenciled on the side was "F.S. Starkey." Just curious how this applies to Memphis.
• My family moved into a wonderful old stucco house built before 1920. It had stained-glass windows and a leaded-glass dome covered the entire center of the house. There were ornate gardens, a barn, and a family cemetery. It was on the south side of Stage Road, about two miles east of Austin Peay. If there is any way you can find information about the house, I would be very grateful.
• I work downtown and enjoy the old buildings. One area that has gotten my attention is the block of South Second with Huey's, Pancho's, Automatic Slim's, Cafe 61, and Big Foot Lodge. All the buildings appear to be built before 1900 except for Big Foot. What could have happened to have deprived Big Foot of its rightful place in an old building, like the others?
Got a question for Vance? Send it to "Ask Vance" at Memphis Magazine, 460 Tennessee Street #200, Memphis, TN 38103 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org