545 South Main, Central Station

Memphis built its first grand train station in 1855 here at the corner of GE Patterson (then called Calhoun) and Main Streets.  

The Calhoun Station was the first depot in Memphis was constructed here by the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad around 1855. A more ornate, two-story station opened in 1888 by the Illinois Central Line. The Calhoun Station was demolished in 1912-13 to make room for the new Central Station. 

Built in 1913, Central Station was the last building designed by the famous architect Daniel Burnham, who was also the architect behind Chicago's 1895 Columbian Exposition. 

Central Station commanded the railroad transportation era for nearly 50 years. By 1935, this depot coordinated the arrival and departure of more than 50 trains a day, helping make Memphis one of the busiest inland railroad transportation centers in the country. It was here that Elvis returned to Memphis after his army stint in Germany.

With railroad traffic in decline in the 1960's, passenger traffic trailed off at Central Station, causing surrounding restaurants, shops, and hotels closed. With AMTRAK left as it's only use, Central Station fell into disrepair.

In 1999, the Memphis Area Transit Authority opened the renovated facility as apartments and event space. The Memphis Farmers Market uses the outdoor pavilion for its Saturday market.

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515 South Main, Alonzo School for Waiters

After WWII, Memphis enjoyed an economic surge unseen for generations. Servicemen and women who sustained this country's war effort were in a mood to celebrate - creating a demand for good times, good food and good waiters. The school, owned and operated by the late Robert L. Woodard, not only taught the fine art of waiting tables but also served countless meals to the neighborhood's less fortunate.

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520 South Main, Pullman Hotel

The Pullman was one of several small hotels built around 1910 to service the railroad stations. As a nod to railroad passenger clientele, this hotel was named for the Pullman railroad sleeper cars. By the mid-1920s, the hotel garnered a reputation of catering to ladies of the evening.

Mark Grawemeyer and his childhood friend Leslie Smith bought the Pullman Hotel in 1986 (as pictured), and the adjoining buildings to the south in the 1990s because they were tired of waiting for them to be fixed up. The 2 renovated all of the buildings by themselves!

If you're looking for a place to take a break from the tour, hop into Grawemeyer's, grab a drink, and listen to the "haunted piano"!

Read more about Mark Grawemeyer's renovation journey.

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531 South Main, Earnestine & Hazels

A church, complete with doors, a steeple, and people, once occupied this site in the late 1800s. When it burned down, Pantaze Drugstore was built here. In the late 1950s, Earnestine Mitchell and Hazel Jones opened their sundry store and it was well known that you could buy liquor or go to the upstairs brothel where rooms upstairs rented by the hour.  

After being abandoned for years, in 1992 the late Russell George re-opened Earnestine & Hazel's, this time officially as a juke joint. To George's credit, he left everything exactly as it was - peeling paint and all.

Beware! Ghosts are said to haunt this South Main site. Even creepier, the jukebox will read your mind and play songs to match your thoughts.

Click here to learn more about Russell George.

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Corner of GE Patterson and Main

It's called GE Patterson now, but from 1845 - 2000 it was Calhoun Street in honor of Vice President John C. Calhoun who first proposed using Federal funds to improve navigation on the Mississippi in a meeting held here. Incidentally, Calhoun was welcomed by a young lawyer from Memphis named Jefferson Davis.

You'll notice the sidewalks on South Main were built double the normal width to accommodate the extra foot traffic to and from Central Station and Union Station down the street. At the peak of rail service, more than 90 passenger trains pulled into these terminals.

On the northeast corner, where American Apparel sits, Morris Cemetery stood on these grounds in the mid-1800s. As the city grew around it, "most" of the bodies were dug up and moved to Elmwood Cemetery.

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540 South Main, The Arcade

The Arcade, Memphis' oldest cafe opened in 1919 by Greek immigrant Speros Zepatos. The original building, a wooden structure with a pot belly stove, burned down in 1924 and the current building dates back 1925 with hopes of later adding a hotel above the restaurant.

Most of Memphis' servicemen in both World Wares ate their last meal at The Arcade before shipping out.  

The Arcade stayed open 24 hours a day from 1919 through 1968 when a city-imposed curfew following MLK's assassination forced it to close its doors after dark. Speros had to buy a lock for the door - it had never been locked in 49 years!

Speros' grandson, Harry, now runs the restaurant as the third generation owner. Because of its authentic decor, the Arcade has been featured in more than 40 movies and films!

Click here to learn more about Harry Zepatos.

Click here to watch a video about The Arcade with Harry Zepatos.

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180 GE Patterson, The Old Arcade Hotel

This cute courtyard of Rizzo's Restaurant once housed the Winona Hotel, which was built in 1914. IN 1939 it became The Arcade Hotel and reamined opened until 1969, right around the time Union Station across the street closed.   Each of its 39 rooms had a fireplace but there was a common bathroom for each floor.

The decaying hotel was featured prominently in the 1989 movie "Mystery Train" and was demolished in 1993, shortly after the completion of the film. You can see the hotel in its final days in the background of the movie poster.

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372 South Main, Robert Johnson's Fine Furniture

This building is one of the older buildings left in the District. Built in 1905, the site has been occupied by one of South Main's pioneers, Robert Johnson, since the early 1980's. Johnson is a fine woodwork craftsman who designs and handcrafts furniture for clients across the country.

Note Mr. Johnson's art display on the outside of the building. It's always a treat to see his new displays!

Read more about Robert Johnson

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378-384 South Main, The Arches

These matched buildings were under construction in 1905. They subsequently housed several businesses, including in 1913, the Paris Dress Store. The beautifully conceived tripartite arched windows with prominent keystones inspired the logo for the South Main Street Historic District. Also, note the unusual circular attic vents with keystones.

 The building was renovated in 1986 into eight apartments.

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400 South Main, Old Fred P. Gattas

Built in 1910, this building served as a Fred P. Gattas department store until it closed in October 1975. In 1996, Linda and Bill Felts purchased old F. P. Gattas warehouse for $250,000 that had been for years boarded up. Linda's design firm and a large antique shop was there for 8 years until they sold their building to investors from New York and New Jersey who planned to do condominiums. The buyers actually ended up losing the building and the entire property was sold for a private residence. The 20,000-sf property is now back on the market for almost $5 million.

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299 South Main, Longinotti Hotel (Pearl's Oyster House)

The 24-room Longinotti Hotel was built here in 1895 by a Genoa, Italy immigrant brothers August and James Longinotti. Apparently, the Longinotti's also tried their hand at making and distributing "fine whiskey" from the hotel. The hotel became the Manhattan Hotel in 1948 with the Manhattan Cafe on the ground floor, until the hotel closed in 1954.

This is now the site of Pearl's Oyster House.

Source: Historic-Memphis.com

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300 South Main, Main Street Fruit Stand

The Digital Archive of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center

The Digital Archive of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center

This row of buildings date back to 1920.  300 South Main was, during its early years, the Main Fruit Company.  Their ads boasted  "We are Dealers in all kinds of Fruit, Cigars, Tobacco.  Try our Home-made Italian Spaghetti, Chili Mack and Chili Con Carne!"  

Notice the mural on the Pontotoc side of the building.  This mural called "Taking Care of Business," was created by a group of students under the supervision of celebrated local artist George Hunt. It was one in a series of murals created around the city during 1983, and one of only two murals remaining from this project.

302 South Main was a former barber college.

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303 South Main, Memphis Rumba Room

Thirsty? Just Whistle! 303 South Main was one of the many facilities that was producing Whistle Brand Soft Drinks during the 1920s. After a dispute, a partner in Whistle started his own soda company which became a more familiar brand today, 7Up.

Today you can work up a thirst at The Rumba Room, one of the best dance floors in the city!

Watch a quick video about The Rumba Room

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322 South Main

The Merchants Hotel once occupied this corner of South Main and Talbot and was listed in the 1860 Memphis City Directory as one of the city's 18 hotels at the time. At some point the building was torn down and this corner was vacant for several years.

The new infill condos that you see today were built in the mid-2000s.

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325 South Main, Green Beetle and Franks Market

Constructed around 1906, this Beaux Arts style building is distinguished by its ornate cast stone window arches and decorative pressed metal cornice and trim. 

Plate lunches cost 15-cents when the Green Beetle opened in 1933. It was also a known popular speakeasy during the final days of Prohobition. Legend has it that Machine Gun Kelly, a Memphian, came into the Green Beetle one night and shot up the joint, leaving bullet holes in the paneling behind the bar.

"Big" Frank Liberto and his wife Mary bought and operated the Green Beetle in 1939, making it the oldest operating tavern in Memphis. Frank also had Frank's Liquors next door and operated both until the 1970s.

Today Frank and Mary's grandson Josh Huckaby operates the Green Beetle, which slogan is "Have a beer here, your grandfather did." You'll find signature dishes on the menu that are a nod to Josh's grandparents - Mary's Lasagna and Frank's Big Burger.

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