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Interior of the Peabody Theater
Though just a little neighborhood movie house at South Cooper and Nelson, the Peabody Theatre sported a rather fancy exterior, with stucco walls, a red tile roof, and an impressive neon marquee. In this photo from 1943, the Peabody was showing My Friend Flicka and Mister Big. A banner over the door proclaimed “All the Best Pictures,” and next door, the cute little white building housed Mrs. McKinney’s Beauty Shop. The interior was rather plain, with a ticket window and simple snack bar just inside the entrance. Swinging doors opened onto an auditorium with double rows of some 600 seats, but without any of the ornamentation customers could expect from the larger theaters downtown.
Opened in 1927, the Peabody remained one of the neighborhood’s biggest attractions until it closed in 1943. It housed Consolidated Wholesale Florists for almost 30 years after that, and in the 1980s Alice Bingham operated a frame shop there. Today, it’s home to the Memphis Drum Shop, and the only trace of the old theater is the now-empty projection booth, reached by a cast-iron spiral staircase at the front of the building. That room’s walls still bear scorches from a 1943 fire that killed an employee, leading to persistent rumors that the building is haunted.
South Cooper, 1945
Cooper at Young, 1945
For most of its early existence, the Cooper-Young neighborhood was bisected by the trolley line of the Memphis Street Railway Company, which carried passengers from downtown all the way past “east Memphis” to the Mid-South Fairgrounds. Just as companies today seek prime locations along busy streets and interstates, back in the day, businesses were jammed side by side along the most-traveled streetcar routes. In this photo taken in 1945, the view looks north along Cooper Street from Young Avenue. Close to the corner, on the east side of the street, eye-catching signs beckon customers to Harry Rosenblum Shoes, Garner Drugs, and the O&S five-and-dime store. Across the street, Romar Furniture offered “everything for the home.” Today, those signs are gone, or painted over, along with the trolley tracks, but the buildings have survived, now home to such well-known Cooper-Young establishments as Peridot, Jay Etkin Art Gallery, Alchemy, Burke’s Book Store, and (across the street) Sweet Grass and Sweet Grass Next Door.
Photographs courtesy Memphis and Shelby County Room, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library