The D.T. Porter Building on Main Street
When Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid opens, it will be packed with more attractions than most people ever imagined could be crammed inside the Pyramid: streams stocked with live fish, the Big Cypress Lodge, restaurants, a bowling alley, shopping of all kinds, and what is billed as the tallest free-standing elevator in the country. Visitors can pay $10 to ride to the top of the Pyramid, where they can have a nice meal and have a 360-degree view of the Memphis riverfront.
But it’s not the first time in Memphis that something as seemingly basic as an elevator was considered a tourist attraction.
In 1895, a striking Romanesque-style building opened on Main Street overlooking Court Square. The Continental Bank Building, as it was then called, had one of the city’s first elevators, and anyone willing to pay 10 cents could ride it to the top of the 11-story building. Some people, it is said, were so terrified by the swift ascent that they came back down by stairs.
And let me say right now that there is absolutely no truth to the legend that these first elevators were powered by mules. That quirky detail keeps getting bandied about. First of all, where would the mules be located — in the basement where they walked upon some kind of giant wheel linked to the elevators by cables? Or did they just stroll up and down Main Street, attached to harnesses? And second, if you’re going to construct an animal-powered elevator system, would mules really be your first choice — animals that are often and literally described as “stubborn as a mule”? It would certainly make for a suspenseful elevator ride!
The elevators in the bank building, just like the elevators in the Pyramid, were (and still are) powered by electricity.
The Continental Bank Building is still standing as a fine-looking downtown landmark. Today it’s better known as the D.T. Porter Building, and it has housed condominiums since a major refurbishment in the early 1980s.