photo courtesy “Memphis Hotel and Motel Guide”
It’s sad to drive by the empty lot that was once the Summer Avenue home of Admiral Benbow, but perhaps sadder to notice the worn-out remains of Imperial Lanes next door.
When it opened in the 1950s, Imperial Lanes — as its name suggests — was the finest bowling alley in Memphis, and one of the nicest in the South. As this ad from a 1959 issue of the Memphis Hotel and Motel Guide shows, it was spacious and clean and bright and ultra-modern in every respect. It was huge, with 48 alleys, and so popular that it remained open 24 hours a day.
Where other bowling alleys usually had a basic snack bar, Imperial had a nice sit-down restaurant, and in 1959 your meals were prepared using the latest “Radarange” cooking, which “provides more flavorful foods for your pleasure.” In other words, they had a microwave. I think.
The Imperial has been closed for a decade now. The biggest crowd it’s seen in years was in 2011 or thereabouts, when the Memphis Flyer held one of its popular “Best of Memphis” parties there, and on weekends the parking lot is filled with flea market vendors. But much of the interior has been gutted, so I doubt we’ll ever see Imperial return to life as a bowling alley. I hope they can keep it in some form, however. It’s a nice building, inside and out.