photos by Vance Lauderdale
You could trace the history of motels on Summer Avenue in Memphis. Near the viaduct was the Mission-style Alamo Plaza, written about many times in my regular “Ask Vance” column and on this blog. Way out east was the world’s first Holiday Inn, which would change the way tourists would travel — and where they’d stay. Somewhere in the middle of this timeline was the Silver Horse Shoe Motel, not very significant from an architectural point of view, but a Summer Avenue landmark for decades.
It began life in the 1940s as the Hester Motel, a row of one-story units that occupied the entire block on the north side of Summer between Berclair and Novarese. At first I puzzled over the name of the place, but city directories show that a James R. Hester occupied a house right next to the motel, so let’s really go out on a limb here and say that Hester opened and operated the motel.
It was a good location, in a busy part of town. Across the street was Bel-Air Cleaners, Saltz TV and Radio Repair, the Dairy Dip, East Pharmacy, Ollie Jones Barber Shop, and Laster Hardware.
Sometime in the late 1950s (no, I don’t have an exact date for you), the motel changed its name to the Silver Horse Shoe Motel. (They spelled “horseshoe” as two words.) I can’t explain the name. I mean, it certainly sounds more special than just Hester Motel, but there was nothing horseshoe-shaped about the complex — just rows of rather plain motel units clustered under the big trees, unadorned except for simple triangular pediments over each entrance, which were painted to match the doors.
But at the same time, Memphis had a Silver Bell Liquor Store, a Silver Dollar Inn, a Silver Moon Cafe, and at least seven Silver Saver Super Markets, so apparently business owners thought “Silver” was a catchy name.
Even if you never stayed there, many Memphians remember the interesting Art Deco-style (well, maybe) diner that stood next door to the motel. It opened in the early 1960s as part of the city Gridiron chain, but it eventually changed its name to the Horseshoe Diner — without the “Silver.”
But you won’t find any trace of the Silver Horse Shoe Motel or the Horseshoe Diner today. When the site was cleared in the early 1990s, it made way for a shopping center. The motel made way for a grocery store, and the last time I looked, an auto parts store stood on the site of the old diner.