Our trivia expert solves local mysteries of who, what, when, where, why, and why not.
Dear Vance: With all this talk of improving the riverfront with Bass Pro Shops, One Beale, and other developments, what became of the Riverview Project of the 1960s?
— T.J., Memphis
Dear T.J.: Bound for Glory: The Complete History of the Lauderdales in America (24 vols.) devotes less than a paragraph to this most embarrassing chapter in my family's history.
In the 1950s, sensing that the riverfront area just north of the bridges, which was occupied by a warren of crooked streets and tumbledown houses, needed revamping, my family stepped in with a bold plan. They would build a residential complex and shopping mall paying tribute to the Lauderdales. There would be a museum devoted to the life-changing role the Lauderdales had played in the worlds of medicine, physics, engineering, and roller-skating. An art gallery would showcase paint-by-number portraits of the family members who had made their marks in society. And a row of stately apartment buildings would be named for the most illustrious members of the Lauderdales.
There was just one hitch with this grand scheme. The Lauderdales, it seemed, have always been a rather shiftless bunch — loaded with money, sure — but with little to show for it. One day, we gathered together to select the members of our family who would be honored by the new development, and we couldn't come up with a single worthy person. Not one.
This was before I had returned from Europe, I hope you understand.
So Father backed out of the project in a huff, taking with him the whopping $12,500 he had planned to invest in it. The plans were turned over to the Memphis Housing Authority, who acted like it had been their idea all along, and renamed it the Riverview Urban Renewal Project. Describing it as "a thing of beauty to be created along the river," the MHA announced the 136-acre complex would include a grouping of three high-rise apartments just north of the three Mississippi River bridges, a 35,000-square-foot shopping center, pedestrian walkways, and lots of other bits and pieces that were never fully explained. Not to me, anyway.
One of the must unusual features was to be a circular restaurant overlooking the river. An artist's rendering shows this building, which looks mighty precarious to me, perched on the edge of the bluffs. And ugly, too.
The whole thing would be a "parklike development." The problem with such a bold plan was that the area where MHA wanted to put it was already occupied by more than 530 buildings, which would have to be purchased one by one. The projected cost would exceed $30 million, and some of those people, as you might imagine, weren't too eager to move. The other problem was that the new I-240 expressway was being pushed through the area, to tie in with the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge and then link up with Riverside Drive, which forced a complete redesign of most of the streets in the area.
I found a 1959 Memphis Press-Scimitar article about the project, and though I frowned and squinted, could not comprehend the poorly drawn map of the proposed site. And the description doesn't help in the least: "At the south end, Harbor Street will be extended in a southeasterly direction to join with McLemore, which will be extended from its present terminal point near Kansas." What? Look on a map today, and none of that will make sense at all.
Dear Vance: In the 1940s, people flew in and out of Memphis on C&S Air Lines. What happened to C&S?
— T.F., Memphis.
Dear T.F.: It's still around today, sort of. Most people know it as Delta Air Lines. And unlike other companies, Delta likes "Air Lines" spelled as two words. I don't know why.
The "C&S" stood for Chicago and Southern, and though this was one of the first major airlines — if not the first — to operate out of Memphis Municipal Airport, I have to admit I've never really understood the convoluted history of the company.
I consulted a local aviation authority — a third-grader at Sea Isle Elementary School who builds model planes — and he told me that C&S actually got started in the 1930s as Pacific Seaboard Air Lines, operating in California. Through some complicated business merger that I can't possibly explain here (or anywhere else), the owner of Pacific Seaboard, a fellow named Carleton Putnam, acquired the right to deliver airmail from Chicago to New Orleans, with stops along the way — including Memphis. Putnam wisely figured that an airline called Pacific Seaboard would not attract many passengers flying in this area, so in 1934 he changed the name to the Chicago & Southern. The airline's slogan was "The Valley Level Route," which makes absolutely no sense to me. For one thing, valleys aren't level. That's what makes them valleys. And if you're up in an airplane, what do you care about the valleys anyway?
The Lauderdale Library contains a rather handsome "flight kit" for C&S Air Lines from the 1940s, containing luggage labels, route maps (so you could make sure the pilot knew where he was going), flight schedules, and other handy booklets. Keep in mind that back then, many people had never flown on an airplane, so these materials are filled with helpful advice, such as what to expect "Just After Takeoff." Among other things, "Anywhere from two to six minutes after takeoff you will probably notice a change in the beat of the engines and the airplane will seem to slow down." Although first-time flyers no doubt thought the plane was crashing, "this is caused by the captain's changing the pitch of the propellers — just like shifting gears in your car." Okay. Whew!
And when it's time to land? "A few minutes from the airport you may notice a slight rocking notion of the ship." OH NO! — ha, just kidding. "This is caused by the landing wheels being brought down out of the wings, where they have been since takeoff." Those wheels are a pretty important part of landing, you see.
What's also interesting is the flight kit contains postcards "which will be mailed without charge by the stewardess" and it encourages passengers to wander around and pester everyone else on the plane: "Just get up and be a pedestrian. There may be fellow travelers who would welcome a visitor." Why, of course they would. And if you've brought a squalling kid on board? Just call the stewardess and "she'll come a' running with 'Chux' and powder." Chux were disposable diapers, in case you were wondering.
In 1953, the old Chicago & Southern merged with Delta Air Lines. Delta still operates today around the country, of course, but something tells me the flight attendants won't "come a running" if your kid's diaper needs changing .