Last week, one of the copy editors for our sister publication, the Memphis Flyer, nudged me from my slumbers and asked if the proper name was the Chisca Hotel or the Hotel Chisca. After pondering this important question for about 15 seconds — long enough for me to take another swig from my bottle of Jim Beam — I replied, "What difference does it make to me?" and went back to sleep.
Whatever you call it, this old downtown hotel has been in the news lately because just when it seemed it was heading for the wrecking ball — or the wrecking ball was heading for it — a group of investors has stepped in, and they are pondering ways to restore the place.
So I dug through my archives to see if I had any photos showing the Chisca in its heyday, and I came up empty-handed. But I did find this colorful old postcard, which — if you can overlook some obvious artistic license by the postcard company — shows it's really a fairly handsome building. Its critics will say that the Chisca was a "businessman's" hotel — it lacked the upscale restaurants and the nice ballrooms of, say, The Peabody or the Gayoso or even the King Cotton. But it was still an impressive landmark on South Main, and as everyone knows by now, home to Dewey Phillips' Red, Hot, and Blue radio show that introduced the world to Elvis Presley.
You always have to be careful studying old postcards, because as I said about a half-hour ago (it certainly seems that way) the card manufacturers often added or subtracted details to embellish the main image. Among other things, Main and Linden were never this wide, and the Chisca itself never had huge American flags mounted on the roof. It did have a big sign up there, but whether or not that sign advertised PARK FREE, well, I can't say.
The card does say — twice — that the actual name of the place was Hotel Chisca.
I'm glad they're saving the building. South Main would look awfully empty without it.