photo courtesy White Station High School
Junior Class officers at White Station High School in 1960
Regular readers of this blog and my “Ask Vance” column in Memphis magazine know I have made it my life’s quest to find a good photograph of the Tropical Freeze.
Because I just can’t believe that no photo exists of one of the most interesting and unusual ice-cream parlors in Memphis.
Everybody in East Memphis remembers going there. It opened in the mid-1950s at the southwest corner of Poplar and White Station (where Starbucks stands now), serving ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, and everything you might find at a little family-owned snackbar. What made the Tropical Freeze really unusual, though, was its “South Seas” theme and decoration. Old-time customers remember the big fountain out front, and the sea shell decorations, and the miniature hula girl that somehow “danced” in the window, and — most eye-catching of all — the life-size palm trees (crafted of cement) that stood on the roof, illuminated at night by colored spotlights.
So, with all these reasons to snap a picture of the place, why did no one ever do so?
Since the Tropical Freeze was such a popular hangout for the high-school crowds, I have turned to old yearbooks from the 1950s and ’60s in search of images. I had a “Eureka!” moment several years ago when I found a nice color image of White Station kids in the parking lot, but the picture only showed the shell-decorated fountain there, but not the building. And in another yearbook, I think this one was from St. Agnes, a group of girls was actually standing in front of the Tropical Freeze, but the picture was so terribly blurry that all you could see was a blaze of neon in the background.
Yes, that’s right. The Tropical Freeze also had spectacular neon signs. Or so I’m told.
Anyway, while looking through a 1960 White Station Spartan annual, I came across a photo showing a group of students. The caption made my heart skip a beat: “Junior Class officers gather at the Tropical Freeze, a popular White Station hangout” (or something to that effect). Well, the photo is the one shown here. For reasons that baffle me, the photographer decided to pose these students on the ROOF of the Tropical Freeze. This gives me a halfway decent view of the trunks of the three palm trees that were up there, but not a single glimpse of any other part of the complex.
I’m beginning to think this is part of a conspiracy. How could such a popular place never be photographed? It boggles the mind. Well, my mind, and these days, all it takes is a little boggling and it just stops working entirely.