Editor’s note: The Downtown Memphis Commission bought the 100 North Main Building for $ 12 million this week without announcing any specific plans for the vacant lot. Vance shares the ups (and downs) of this downtown landmark.
When city officials gathered on a vacant lot in Main and Adams on June 30, 1963 to erect the tallest building in our city, they probably never dreamed that the gleaming tower that would open two years later would one day become one Could be parking.
The 38-story 100 North Main Building was built by local developer Harry Bloomfield and designed by Robert Hall and Associates in a cutting-edge international style. It stands out from the more traditional designs of other buildings in the city center. What at first glance looks like a plain white concrete block actually has a rather artistic facade consisting of vertical “ribs” made of precast concrete, the surface of which is covered with a “patina of white marble splinters” and the windows with strips of brushed aluminum are accented.
In addition to a parking garage on the lower level, there was a restaurant and retail space on the first two floors, which were reached by two escalators that greeted visitors as they entered the lobby. This was an open space with 16 foot ceilings, black and white Carrera marble floors, and anodized gold aluminum paneling throughout. Ten high-speed elevators carried lawyers, accountants, and other professionals to companies that quickly filled downtown’s newest and largest office tower.
However, what really set 100 North Main apart was what the developers added to the top floors. The 36th floor housed a gym with a 40-foot stainless steel swimming pool with sky-open louvers, a cocktail lounge, and a pool room. On the roof itself sat a rotating restaurant, a fad at the time and one of only three in Memphis. To ensure even movement, the dining room “floated” on 75 car tires that rolled on a steel rail.
Originally part of the Top of the 100 Club, this restaurant later became Dianes when the Health Club closed in 1971. The circular dining area, modeled after Seattle’s Space Needle, rotated slower (one rotation every 90 minutes) like never before. The change of gaze was the only evidence that the guests were moving. Only the outer ring of the interior rotated – not the entire structure – so anyone who left a wallet on the windowsill had to run back and get it.
However, the most bizarre feature of 100 North Main was the Japanese garden (above). In addition to stone lanterns, bamboo umbrellas and rock arrangements, newspaper reports on the roof also mentioned “fir trees” and something they called “burning wells”.
The garden was closed in 1971 and the facility manager told reporters, “We had to stop because people kept throwing things off the roof.” A 38-story fountain would indeed be a hazard to pedestrians on Main Street.
And on top of that, it was a huge blue box that was lit with a lighted sign for the UP Bank because the Union Planters National Bank had a large branch on the lower floors. The sign led Memphians to believe that this was the headquarters of the bank. In fact, those blocks were at 67 Madison Avenue.
The US Department of the Interior, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, notes that 100 North Main “has made very few changes, maintaining the integrity of the setting, location, design, workmanship, materials and feel to combine to create the To convey the importance of this office building. “
Despite the effort put into modern design, some of these components seem to have failed over the years. The same National Register listing mentions “loss of the patina of marble fragments due to the failure of the polystyrene” (the glue that held it in place) and “the aluminum windows with a light have tarnished”. Worse, chunks of the exterior concrete began to crumble and fall off.
UP Bank letters went back in 2005 when Regions Bank Union Planters acquired and this branch closed. “The sign was never replaced,” according to autopsyofarchitecture.com, “and the top cap of the tower is a blue, empty box that gives the building a somewhat deserted look.”
It was more than just an appearance. Over the years, major tenants moved out, and by 2012 barely 30 percent of the 100 North Mains were occupied, according to the same website.
That number steadily declined to zero, and various developers announced ambitious plans to convert the tower into apartments or a hotel. Meanwhile, 100 North Main continued to decline, and inspectors found broken elevators, electrical problems, and fire hazards. In fact, a fire broke out on the top floors in 2017, probably caused by intruders. It was extinguished by firefighters who had to haul hoses up 34 flights of stairs.
The building was auctioned in 2018, and New York City-based new owner Townhouse Management Company revealed plans to convert 100 North Main into a 550-room Loew’s hotel, with 200 more units being converted into apartments. Last year, however, Loew announced its intention to build a brand new hotel downtown, and 100 North Main would play no part in any further expansion of the Memphis Convention Center.
On May 2, the Downtown Memphis Commission bought the building for $ 12 million. Although the concrete plans for the property are still uncertain at this point, demolitions can be made to make space for a parking garage, as the 1 hectare site, which takes up half a city block, can accommodate up to 1,200 cars.
At the time of going to press, the fate of Memphis’ tallest building, once considered an architectural marvel, is uncertain. In its “Statement of Significance,” the National Register concluded: “The 100 North Main Building, the great architectural vision of developer Harry Bloomfield, remains a unique focal point of the Memphis River skyline as it was originally built. “
However, this listing does not prevent owners from demolishing historic buildings (they simply cannot use federal funds to do this). Unless other developers come up with other plans – and they do so soon – 100 North Main may become little more than a convenient place to park your car.
For a gallery of photos from 100 North Main, then and now, visit autopsyofarchitecure.com/100northmain.