by Vance Lauderdale
The Society of Entrepreneurs recently published a book profiling its members, called There’s Something in the Water, the title endeavoring to explain the innovative spirit that pervades this city. After all, from the groundbreaking music of Elvis Presley to the overnight delivery service of FedEx, Memphis has made its mark on the world.
Many innovators, for all their hard work, don’t quite make it, but over the years I’ve saluted those who made a valiant effort. I’m talking about Memphians such as Roy Noe, whose patented Xcercisor restored his failing health, or Clyde Washburn, who devised a better way (or so he thought) to attach license plates to automobiles.
And then there are the “unsung heroes,” whose ideas would have changed the face of our city, but for reasons I don’t know, their plans never left the drawing board. One of those was a suburban development to be called Country Club Estates. Don’t let the old-fashioned name fool you. This was promoted as a “city of the future” to be developed in the area bounded by Park Avenue, White Station, Quince, and Estate. It was patterned after a rather unusual subdivision in Radburn, New Jersey — surely one of the few times that New Jersey has been used as an inspirational model for anything.
A rather fuzzy map that ran in the May 1, 1953, edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar showed how the Radburn Plan, as it came to be called, would be applied here. It’s basically a grid of major thoroughfares, with the residential streets laid out as neat rows of cul-de-sacs (most of us call them “coves”), with service roads running behind the homes. A centrally located park would include a lake and community center, and a large retail center would be constructed to the south. All the streets would be pedestrian friendly, with the smaller streets actually tunneling beneath the larger ones so no pedestrians would have to battle traffic.
A fraternal headquarters changed the look of the Memphis skyline
by Vance Lauderdale
In 1926, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks constructed one of the most impressive structures ever erected in our city — the 12-story tower at Jefferson and Main (shown here) they would call, quite simply and logically, the Elks Club Building.
Crafted by the Memphis firm of Mahan and Broadwell, this was a combination lodge and hotel that was, according to a promotional brochure, “attractive in design, mammoth in size, and furnished luxuriously and in excellent taste — simple dignity without in any way losing the informal, homelike air of a true club.” Erected at a cost of some $1.3 million (an enormous sum in the 1920s), the new Elks Club featured “150 delightful rooms with bath and outside exposure, circulating ice water, free electrical fan service, and a new and sanitary coffee shop.” That was just the hotel portion of the building, which was open to the public.
The Elks themselves enjoyed considerably fancier amenities. The building included a complete gymnasium that would allow members to “enter the day’s work with new zest, boyish vim, and vigor”; a billiards room with “first-quality tables, balls, cues, and scoring equipment”; a huge indoor swimming pool with “crystal clear waters”; a “spacious, airy, and inviting” six-lane bowling alley; a handball court “pulsing with life and action”; and “one of the most attractive ballrooms in the city.” All that was in addition to the Club Grille, the coffee shop, the library, the lounge, and the Turkish baths, where Elks members “may receive the expert attention of trained masseurs, and sally forth thence refreshed and invigorated.”
by Vance Lauderdale
In the late 1950s, Memphis made a splash into the pleasure boating craze that swept the country. Many of the boats built in garages and little shops in other cities in those days weren’t worth remembering, but three entrepreneurs here established a company building boats that are still on the water today.
In 1959, entrepreneurs Michael Ossorio, Harry Schmeisser Jr., and P.O. Tipton opened a factory at 1764 Chelsea and began producing a fleet of fiberglass boats under the name Arrow Glass. “Arrow” paid tribute to this area’s Native-American heritage, and “glass” reflected the fiberglass hulls that shaped most of the boats made at that time — a process that was more efficient than using steel, aluminum, or wood since it allowed for sleek curves, one-piece hulls, molded-in colors, and low on maintenance.
The firm began producing fairly basic models. A 1959 catalog shows just four boats, called the Sebring, Empress, Olympus, and Daytona, ranging in length from 14 to 19 feet, but available in six bright colors: Meridian Blue, Dragon Red, Sahara Beige, Foam Green, Sail White, and Onyx Black.
After a few years, Ossorio and Schmeisser bought out Tipton’s interest in the company and became co-owners. By all accounts, their products were high-quality boats, winning numerous competitions, and after just a year or so, to meet the growing demand for their products, Arrow Glass moved to larger facilities next to the old Firestone plant in North Memphis. At the time, Ossorio told reporters, “The boating business in this area is growing fantastically. Lack of good boating water is the only thing that could hold the business back.”
Arrow Glass started out building just one boat a day, and by the mid-1970s the company was cranking out more than 5,000 hulls a year, with more than 270 employees running four production lines. Advertisements told buyers that the boats had “the design with you in mind” and stressed the quality and performance of the entire line. A 1972 catalog showed a dramatic increase in the selection available for customers. Even the most basic fishing craft came in beautifully contoured shapes and colors, with features such as locking rod storage, padded seats, high-back chairs, running lights, foam flotation built under the floor, insulated ice boxes, carpeting. The company now offered more than two dozen boats, in every color of the rainbow. That year, the top-of-the-line model was the Polaris, a 20-foot cabin cruiser with a 270-horsepower inboard engine, multi-level seating, aluminum railings, tempered-glass windshield, a full complement of instruments and controls, and genuine wood paneling.
Despite the popularity of the boats, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1979, and Memphis businessman Clarence Day purchased the business, changing its name to Day Marine. Other changes of ownership and name followed — Eldocraft and later General Marine Industries — and the plant moved to Waynesboro, Mississippi, but nothing, it seems, could keep the floundering company afloat. Arrow Glass closed for good in the early 1990s, though the boats were so well-designed and constructed that plenty of them — still sporting their distinctive arrowhead logos — can be found on lakes and rivers here.
James Cochran, today an engineer with the Crump Firm, was the compliance officer for Arrow Glass in the 1970s, making sure the boats met boating industry and federal regulations. He recalls that their most popular model during that period was the Cheetah, a 17-foot inboard-outboard. “It had a tri-hull design, and it was very responsive, very stable, and very quick,” he says. “It was probably the best boat we ever built, and in our day we were considered a top-notch builder.”
On a website devoted to American boat manufacturers (proboards.com), Cochran is the site moderator for Arrow Glass, and notes, “Arrow Glass became internationally famous for being ‘Customer Designed’ and was one of the top recreational boat manufacturers, noted for its dedication to safety and quality. Mike [Ossorio] and Harry [Schmeisser] are no longer with us, but their dream can be found worldwide in every Arrow Glass boat, and their memory lives on.”
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