MOST SPECTACULAR store front at Lama-Airways
Shopping Center is the Katz Drug Store, first in Memphis. This is
the Katz chain's 32nd drug store. all the stores are located in
big cities. The cat head on top of the building rotates and can be
seen high over the center from all directions. For sale here will
be everything from ice cream to real live monkeys - drugs too.
Press-Scimitar Staff Photo - Sep. 9,
1950's America saw the introduction of several new
things, among them the Eisenhower
interstate highway system,
rock and roll, and shopping centers (strip mall). One of the first
and newest in Memphis was the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center, located at
the triangle formed by Lamar, Park and Airways. When Lamar-Airways
was built, the area around it was already well-developed. Expensive but
aging homes stood to the west on South Parkway. Orange Mound to the east
had been developed decades before, and there was already some strip
development in place to accommodate through traffic in and out of
Full page advertisement in the Commercial Appeal - Sept.
Until 1954 the triangle was a field that was considered
a no-man's-land of sorts, one of the few places where white and black
kids from the surrounding areas could encounter each other on a regular
basis. When the center was built it was, at the time, the largest of its kind. Anchored by a Katz Drug Store, it included a Kroger, a Pic-Pac,
several clothing and shoe stores. Its opening on September 9th was blessed by Chief Wishackchihumma of the Choctaw Indians, and its emblem was a 28-foot
paper-and-plastic Indian chief, in homage to Lamar Avenue's past as a
CROWDS GATHERED-Where the Chickasaw Indians once
roamed. Memphians came from all directions today to see authentic
Indians at the opening of the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. Top,
above, Princess Red Bird of the Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia,
Miss., waves to the crowd from the foot of the giant paper and
plastic Indian erected near the Black and White store. A sample of
the throngs of people that poured thru the 12 new stores in the
center is shown below.
Press-Scimitar Staff Photo - Sep. 9,
advertisement in the local papers prior to the opening advertised (see
here for schedule):
Memphis Press-Scimitar - Sep. 8, 1954
and Entertainment for Everyone!
Meet the Indian Chief and Indian Princess
See and Hear the One and Only Indian Hillbilly Band
three-day gala opening celebration
This Thursday, Friday and Saturday!
Katz advertisement in the Commercial Appeal - Sept. 9,
-Photo by E. H. Jaffe
REUNION in MEMPHIS- Mrs. Ann Wedlan, who went to work for Katz Drug Co. 40 years ago in Kansas City and was the firm's first employee, came to Memphis to help open the huge new Katz store in the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. Mrs. Wedlan (second from right) was welcomed by an old friend, Mrs. Sidney Roosin, and her two daughters, Laurie (left) and Anita, who live in Memphis. And a happy participant was Katz chairman of the
board, M. H. Katz (pictured at right). Mrs. Roosin is his daughter and Laurie and Anita are his granddaughters.
KATZ BECOMES CHIEF-Chief Wishackchihumma, leader of the Choctaw Indians in Memphis for the opening of the new shopping center, makes Michael Katz, right, an honorary member of the Choctaws. Mr. Katz is one of the officials of Katz Drug Co.
CENTER OFFICIALS-Today was a big day for the owners of the new Lamar Airways Shopping Center. Cutting the ribbon are left to right, Herbert Shainberg, Ben Goldstein, Herman Gruber and Nathan Shainberg. Mt. Gruber is managing agent for the center.
Katz drug, a chain originating in Kansas City was one of the first to
redefine the drugstore as we know it today, offering its customers items
far beyond the scope of pharmaceuticals. Brothers Mike and Isaac
Katz, founders of the drugstore chain, had been operating tobacco and
confectionary stores in Kansas City with a 19 hour workday ethic. In
1917, Herbert Hoover, President Wilson’s appointee charged with the
regulation of food production and service, had decreed that no
tobacconist or confectioner could remain open past 6 p.m., unless the
business was also a pharmacy. In response, the brothers
recruited a retired Kansas City pharmacist to be present for the
government inspection, and purchased a handful of medicines for
inventory. The brothers were now in the pharmacy business, and the
large number of doctors who made their offices in the building's floors
above would prove a crucial source of new customers. The company
soon spread to the suburbs and throughout the greater Midwest,
eventually becoming known as Skaggs and then Osco Drug.2
Contemporary aerial view of the Lamar-Airways-Park
Lamar on left, Airways on right, Park on top
Marty Lacker, who knew Elvis in high school and would
later become a member of his "Memphis Mafia" in the early '60s
was working at
Shainberg's Department Store in the shopping center when
it opened. Marty said, "there was a walkway in between the two
buildings. If you were
standing on Lamar and looking straight at the building Katz would be
the building on the right and the stage was in the lot behind there on
the Airways side. Shainberg's was on the left just
across the walkway to Katz."
Parking lot from Airways' side where stage was setup
Barely two months after the release of their first record
and less than a month before their first and only appearance on the
Grand Ole Opry, Elvis, Scotty and Bill were still playing strictly small gigs in and
around Memphis. They were hired to perform at the grand opening of the shopping center on September 9, 1954.
They did so on a makeshift stage built on a flatbed truck in the center's expansive, unprecedentedly large parking lot.
Still relatively unknown outside of Memphis the
Memphis Press-Scimitar again misspelled Elvis' name, this time with two S's in
Walker was a young girl from Memphis at the time who was at the show
that night and took 3 photos that have since been reprinted in countless
books and articles. They are the only known photos of the appearance
there though none show the actual performance.
Opal recalls, "Elvis had that one record out, and it
was a smash locally, and I loved it. I had a girlfriend who was a friend
of Dewey Phillips, the first deejay to play him. My girlfriend and I
went down and sat in with Dewey while he did his
show, and he told us
all about Elvis and where he went to church. You can bet we were
at First Assembly next Sunday, and he was there with a friend.
After church we flirted with them. He teased me about my long
"This show at Lamar-Airways shopping center came up
and I went alone and took my camera. I rode a streetcar, I believe
and waited for Elvis to arrive. They all came up in
that Chevy, and I asked him to pose and he
seemed happy to. There were a lot of people there, but few besides
me seemed to know who he was. I had him all to myself. I
could have shot a whole roll. But I didn't know then what I know now. He
went on stage and started singing and shaking... the girls went wild.
Me, too. That was the first time I saw Elvis perform, but I didn't
miss any opportunities in the future." 3
In the audience that night was John Evans who at seven years old would listen to Dewey Phillips. When they heard that
Elvis would be at the shopping center they went to watch. His
brother held him up so he could see and he remembers them dressed as
real weird country musicians with Elvis wearing pink and gray. He
said, "they had a big string bass and the guy would twirl it around.
There was only one amp and it was sitting on a chair with a little guy
playing a big guitar." John would later achieve fame playing
guitar and keyboards on the first Memphis pop record to go to No. 1:
Tops' "The Letter". Incidentally, on the following
day, Sept 10, 1954, Buddy Cunningham, the father of Bill Cunningham of
the Box Tops, would be the first to play percussion on an Elvis session
when he beat on several empty boxes during the recording of "I don't
Care if the Sun Don't Shine".
Johnny Cash, just recently out of the Air Force, married
and relocated to Memphis, was also in the audience that night. In an
autobiography he wrote, the first time I saw Elvis, singing from a flatbed truck
at a Katz drugstore opening on Lamar Avenue, two or three hundred
people, mostly teenage girls, had come out to see him. With just one
single to his credit, he sang those two songs over and over. That’s the
first time I met him. Vivian and I went up to him after the show, and he
invited us to his next date at the Eagle’s
Lamar-Airways Shopping Center from Lamar - 2006
With the completion of the interstates in the 1960s and
the introduction of "the Malls", there was a gradual loss of business along
the primary roads like Lamar Ave. Today, all the stores that were
originally in the Shopping center are now gone and in their place newer
smaller chain stores. Shainberg's is a "Family Dollar" store and
Katz is a "Save a lot".