photo courtesy Charlie Craft
Well, this is a photo mystery.
Awhile back (I’m kind of behind on my mail), a reader named Charlie Craft sent me a photo he took of an elaborately painted metal dome, showing a bit of age and damage, sitting on a concrete slab in somebody’s backyard in Memphis, and he asked if I knew what it was.
I confess I was stumped. As far as I knew, Memphis had never constructed any scale models of our nation’s capitol building, or maybe it was supposed to be St. Paul’s Cathedral in London? I really didn’t know.
Mr. Craft told me that he spoke with the owners of this piece, who told him it originally formed the top of the marquee for the old Capitol Theatre, which opened in 1930 on McLemore. It was just a little neighborhood theatre, and most people today wouldn’t have any memory of it.
But in 1959, the long-vacant building was purchased by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, and they converted it into a recording studio that became known the world over as Stax Records.
The original building was demolished, one of the city’s great cultural losses. But that loss was only temporary, because in 2003, the complex was rebuilt and reopened as the Stax Music Academy, with all sorts of amazing activities going on there.
The question remains, though: Was this really part of the original sign of the old Capitol Theatre? I just don’t know for certain. I’ve never seen enough photos of the old building to say. But if it didn’t form part of the Capitol, then what was it built for?