1. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens opens (1976).
In 1939, cotton broker Hugo Dixon and his wife, Margaret, purchased 17 acres at Park and Cherry. There they built a Georgian Revival mansion and, working with Hugo’s sister, Hope, transformed the grounds into this region’s finest private gardens. Inside the home, they filled rooms with museum-quality collections of Impressionist art. Margaret passed away in 1974; Hugo died eight months later, bequeathing their entire property to the public. A separate foundation was established to ensure funding. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens opened in 1976 and is today recognized as one of the premier gardens in the South, and the museum’s superb permanent collection shares the gallery with world-class touring exhibitions. Along with Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Dixons’ generosity insured that the city would have two distinctive artistic treasure chests. — Michael Finger
2. Elvis Presley dies at Graceland (1977).
Today, 39 years after his passing, we tend to forget that Elvis Presley was an everyday presence in this city on the eve of his totally unexpected death in August 1977. He was only 42 years old, and while the King battled weight issues from time to time, no one imagined his career would end so abruptly. Had Elvis lived another 30 years, who knows what he would done with his life, or in what directions his career might have shaked, rattled, and rolled? As it is, reality has hermetically sealed Elvis Presley’s life in a very special bottle, one that’s made him an all-time rock icon, yes, but also has kept us from ever knowing just what he might have become. — Kenneth Neill
3. Memphis in May moves to Tom Lee Park (1978).
How many people involved with the very first Memphis in May International Festival dreamed the event would still be around, when it kicked off 40 years ago with a salute to Japan? That first festival featured the Beale Street Music Fest, held in bars and small outside stages, and other events included a kite-flying contest and a Japanese/American business symposium. The barbecue festival started as little more than a backyard cooking contest, with two dozen teams gathered around charcoal grills in The Orpheum parking lot. All that changed dramatically in 1978, when the venue moved to a newly expanded Tom Lee Park and became this city’s biggest party. The Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest attract worldwide attention annually. — Michael Finger
4. Leadership Memphis is founded to promote racial reconciliation (1978).
Unlike most Southern cities, Memphis got an involuntary jump-start into the post-integration era, as a result of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in 1968. As a direct result, our downtown business district collapsed earlier than most others, as we responded as a community like the rudderless ship that we were. A decade later, 16 black and white individuals came together to found Leadership Memphis, an organization dedicated to changing “the international image and reality of a city divided by race and heading for failure.” Since then, happily, dozens of organizations (the Women’s Foundation, New Memphis Institute, the Community Foundation, and Bridges, to name but a few) have chipped in to further that ambition. But Leadership Memphis was the first, and this year will graduate its 37th class of future Memphis leaders. — John O’Leary
5. The I-40/I-240 loop around Memphis is completed (1980).
The suburbanization of America was already well under way by the time that the first leg of I-240 was completed in 1964 between the Poplar Avenue and Getwell exits on the south ring. The main I-40 route through Memphis, however, had been successfully blocked by local legal protests, causing the federal government in 1975 to abandon I-40 construction through Overton Park and Midtown, making Memphis the only urban “break” in the I-40 system between Wilmington, North Carolina, and Barstow, California. Interstate 40 was ultimately re-routed along the I-240 ring road to the north, and this leg of the circle was finally opened to the public in 1980, giving Memphians easy road access to all corners of the community and encouraging further suburban development in all directions. — Kenneth Neill
6. Federal Express opens “Super-Hub” at Memphis International Airport (1981).
Hardly a Memphis school child is unaware of how Fred Smith, while a student at Yale, was given a “C” grade on an economics paper he wrote suggesting that the only way to deliver air cargo efficiently was by establishing a system of hubs. After a tour of duty as a pilot in Vietnam, Smith launched his Federal Express in 1974, going public with the company in 1978. By that time he had his hub systems in place, but focused his energy upon building a Memphis “Super Hub,” which went operational in 1981. Two years later, Federal Express topped $1 billion in revenue for the first time, the Super-Hub in Memphis employed more than 1,500 employees, and the company was truly up, up, and away. — John O’Leary
7. The Peabody re-opens downtown (1981).
In the aftermath of the King assassination, downtown Memphis was in “complete free-fall,” as one local bank president put it. Perhaps the most visible symbol of that decline was The Peabody, hailed as “The South’s Grand Hotel” when it opened in 1925. Closed and abandoned by 1975, many suggested tearing it down and putting a parking lot on the site. But the Belz real-estate family would have none of that, and bought the hotel at bankruptcy for $400,000. Where other companies had predicted doom for downtown, Jack Belz saw light at the end of the tunnel. The firm spent $25 million restoring the property, and when it reopened in 1981, The Peabody was once again the South’s Grand Hotel, and the primary catalyst for the remarkable downtown revival that followed. — Michael Finger
8. Graceland opens its doors to Elvis Fans (1982).
Ironically, the 23-room mansion on a 14-acre site on South Bellevue Blvd., in the heart of Whitehaven, that Elvis Presley bought in 1957 to serve as a haven for his parents has become one of the most public places in America, and, indeed, the world. Always a destination for hard-core Elvis fans, who scrawled their names and passions on the property’s pink fieldstone wall, when Elvis died in 1977, the site became the focus of worldwide recognition that an icon had passed and that Memphis itself was a storied landscape in the history of music. As executor for Elvis’ estate, his ex-wife Priscilla hired Jack Soden to transform Graceland in 1982 into the shrine, museum, and compelling tourist site it has been ever since. — Jackson Baker
9. Mud Island River Park opens (1982).
This one was a game-changer both for better and for worse. Roy Harrover’s magnificently designed facility opened in 1982 with an amphitheater, monorail, a brilliant river model, museum, playground, and two full-service restaurants. Everyone agreed that it was well worth seeing, instead of the overgrown sandbar that stood at Memphis’ front door for ages, but the lack of easy road access made it difficult to attract repeat visitors from near or far. A bridge was completed in 1987, but by then the damage had been done; restaurants closed and the park’s operating months were reduced to save money. The River Park did fill a blank across from the downtown cobblestones, however, and with Harbor Town now a viable neighborhood, the Bass Pro Pyramid nearby, and fresh development proposals on the table, perhaps the park’s best days are yet to come. — John Branston
10. Beale Street opens as an entertainment district (1982).
It’s one thing to celebrate a historic street of sin, style, and song in books and documentaries; it was quite another to rescue it from urban decay and revive it half a century after its heyday. If you google “Beale Street” you get half a million results, pretty darn good considering that Atlanta, St. Louis, and Birmingham also tried to save their historic black streets of commerce as going entertainment concerns, with much less success. Despite occasional controversy, credit goes to developer John Elkington and the local owners he recruited to open clubs and restaurants with staying power. The icing on the cake came with FedExForum (2002), insuring that locals would frequent Memphis’ most integrated street for basketball games and concerts over 100 times a year. — John Branston
11. Firestone/International Harvester announce plant closings (1983).
As recently as the 1970s, manufacturing was still a key component of the Memphis economy, with International Harvester making cotton-harvesting equipment in Frayser and Firestone Tire and Rubber still rolling out some 5,000 car and truck tires a day at its North Memphis plant. But the trend towards consolidation was in full force, and in 1983, the future of both areas was transformed permanently with the closing, just a month apart, of the IH and Firestone plants. Not only were 4,000 jobs lost virtually overnight and vast operations areas left abandoned; the impact on other local businesses was mortal. Property values declined sharply, depopulating the North Memphis area and accelerating a downward spiral of blight, crime, and poverty that has not been reversed to this day. — Richard J. Alley
12. The restored Orpheum Theatre reopens (1984).
Imagine what Downtown Memphis might be like today had the decrepit old theatre at the southwest corner of Main and Beale been demolished and replaced with an office building. Those plans were on the table in 1976 when Malco Theaters decided to sell its downtown property, built on the site of Memphis’ Grand Opera House. Instead, the Memphis Development Foundation purchased the old vaudeville house in 1977, and returned it to something resembling its original purpose, only instead of booking plate-spinners and baggy-pants comics, the MDF booked Broadway touring shows. In 1980, former city councilman Pat Halloran joined the MDF, helping to raise $5 million and restoring the Orpheum to its 1920s-era grandeur, remaining the theatre’s impresario for over 35 years. In September 2015, the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education, with over 39,000 square feet of space, opened next door to provide a wider range of classes and workshops. — Chris Davis
13. Tiger basketball goes national (1985).
Basketball reached new heights in the 1984-85 season. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were at the peak of their powers and a rookie named Michael Jordan had just begun turning the NBA topsy-turvy. Patrick Ewing and Georgetown presided over the college game, but Keith Lee — a four-time All-America — led an electric Memphis State team that drew national attention well before it crashed an otherwise Big East party at the Final Four. The Tigers won 31 games before being upset by Villanova in the national semifinals. Their coach, Dana Kirk, may have been a scoundrel, who left the school in disgrace, but the fact remains that he made Tiger basketball significant during an era when the country became intoxicated with college sports. Perhaps we can say that Kirk was this city’s original John Calipari! — Frank Murtaugh
14. St. Jude decides to stay in Memphis (1987).
Danny Thomas had a dream, and that dream, remarkably enough, became St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in downtown Memphis in 1962. The hospital staff declared total war upon childhood leukemia, and thanks to the efforts of brilliant clinicians like Donald Pinkel, the hospital’s first director, significant progress in controlling this disease was achieved by 1985. St. Jude’s reputation soared, and attracted the attention of other medical centers, including Washington University in St. Louis, eager to offer St. Jude a new home. The offers were tempting, but the ALSAC board of directors — and Danny Thomas himself — remained committed to the city. As a result, the hospital remains firmly entrenched in downtown Memphis, focused upon a $1.2 billion expansion. — Kenneth Neill
15. A.W. Willis Bridge makes Harbor Town development possible (1987).
The phrase “catalyst for development” is a cliché, but bridging the Wolf River at Auction Street was exactly that. Before the A.W. Willis Bridge was built, there was no easy road access to Mud Island. Named in honor of a civil-rights pioneer, this modest connector was perhaps the most vital civic construction project downtown since the Hernando De Soto Bridge crossed the Mississippi in 1973. Developers Jack Belz and Henry Turley soon got to work on Harbor Town, the upscale New Urbanist residential community just north of the bridge. Other developers followed with more houses and apartments, to create today’s Mud Island community of more than 12,000 residents, with a Greenbelt Park that has become a major recreational attraction in itself. — John Branston
16. TPC Southwind golf course development is launched (1988).
Memphis had long been a stop on the regular PGA tour; in 1977, Al Geiberger shot a 59 — the lowest 18-hole score ever recorded — at a St. Jude benefit tournament at Colonial Country Club. That same PGA tournament would be moved to TPC Southwind in 1989, now the home base for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. But there was more to the construction of Southwind than just a major-league golf tournament every June. Commercial and residential development exploded in the area around the golf course, coinciding with significant highway construction designed to improve access to these new areas, stimulating the continued eastward expansion of the Memphis metropolitan area. By the year 2000, Hacks Cross Road and Winchester had become a major commercial thoroughfare. — John O’Leary
17. The Memphis Flyer is founded (1989).
In the late 1980s, several staff members of Memphis magazine pitched the idea of launching an “alternative newsweekly” in Memphis to the board members of the magazine’s parent company, now known as Contemporary Media. The board, locally based and consisting of a politically diverse group of prominent Memphians, agreed with the concept, which had proved popular in other cities, and provided initial funding for what would become the Memphis Flyer. After a somewhat rocky start, the Flyer’s readership grew quickly, and advertisers followed. Since 1989, the Flyer has provided Memphis with a strong alternative and progressive editorial voice, aiming every week to inform, enlighten, and entertain readers in the Mid-South community. The paper blends investigative journalism and reporting with such popular features as the annual “Hotties” list and the “Best of Memphis” issue. In print and on-line, the Flyer has long been recognized as a leading Memphis authority on local music and politics. — Bruce VanWyngarden
18. Holiday Inns’ corporate headquarters moves to Atlanta (1989).
Memphis entrepreneur Kemmons Wilson famously started the first “modern” franchise-hotel chain with a first location on Summer Avenue in 1952; by the time he retired in 1979, there were thousands of Holiday Inns all over the world, and thousands of employees at the company’s world headquarters at Lamar and Democrat. In the decade that followed, his successors developed other brands (Crowne Plaza and Harrah’s Entertainment among them), but the company in 1986 attracted a corporate raider (a forty-something Donald Trump; see p. 18) whose attempt at a leveraged buyout turned the company financially upside down, forcing the sale of Holiday Corporation to the British-based Bass PLC; the handful of Memphis employees remaining moved to the company’s new American headquarters in Georgia in 1990. — Kenneth Neill
19. Federal Express goes global with Flying Tigers acquisition (1989).
Federal Express grew in leaps and bounds during the 1980s. In 1983 annual revenues reached $1 billion for the first time, exactly a decade after its founding, making the company the fastest to reach the $1 billion level in history. The company expanded its ground, air, and hub operations to every corner of America, despite the failure of Zap Mail, its attempt to dominate the fax transmission market. But under CEO Fred Smith’s leadership, the company took that licking and kept on ticking, dramatically expanding its international operations. The 1989 merger with Flying Tigers Line, America’s oldest air cargo company, gave Federal Express access to valuable routes around the globe, helping to allow company revenues to grow eight-fold in its second full decade. — John O’Leary
20. The Great American Pyramid opens (1991).
Criticize or mock developer Sydney Shlenker’s star-crossed Pyramid all you want, but international financier John Tigrett’s dream was ever too big to ignore and wound up paying unexpected dividends. Today, it’s the Bass Pro Pyramid, after the city made company founder Johnny Morris an offer he couldn’t refuse. Without Bass taking charge in 2014, the signature arena might have remained empty for another decade or even demolished. We often forget that for 13 years, The Pyramid hosted major concerts and basketball tournaments, garnered lots of national publicity, and made possible the NBA Grizzlies’ move from Vancouver to Memphis in 2000, until FedExForum could be completed. Today, the view from the Bass Pro Pyramid’s observation deck is one of the finest in the world. — John Branston
21. National Civil Rights Museum opens at the Lorraine Motel (1991).
On July 4, 1991, Rosa Parks cut a chain acting as a ribbon to signal the opening of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. It was the culmination of a long struggle to memorialize the location of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The owner of the Lorraine closed Rooms 306 and 307 shortly thereafter, but lacked the resources to do much else, so black community leaders purchased the building, then joined with entrepreneur J.R. “Pitt” Hyde to begin the creation of what is now an iconic educational destination that has seen millions pass through its doors over the past two decades. In 2014, the museum reimagined itself with a $27.5 million makeover, and today represents a unique and essential place in Memphis life. Since 1991, the NCRM’s Freedom Award has honored individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights. Previous recipients have included Rosa Parks, Bono, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. — Richard J. Alley
22. Willie Herenton is elected Memphis’ first African-American mayor (1991).
By 1991, Memphis’ black population had edged close enough to majority status to generate a demand for a consensus black mayoral candidate. There were numerous qualified candidates, but out-shining them all, first at an ad hoc “people’s convention,” then at a “summit” meeting called by Ninth District Congressman Harold Ford Sr., was Willie Herenton, just retired as city school superintendent. Running as an underdog against the incumbent, Dick Hackett, but helped in a late surge by Ford’s still-potent inner-city political machine, and by votes diverted to a third candidate, the madcap “Prince Mongo” Hodges, Herenton won election by just 142 votes, triggering a tumultuous celebration. In an act of considerable statesmanship, Hackett declined to press for a recount. Herenton’s choices of a well-integrated staff were equally statesmanlike. — Jackson Baker
23. Splash Casino opens in Tunica (1992).
The transformation of Tunica County, Mississippi, from cotton fields to major casino center was stunning for both its scale and speed. Mississippi lawmakers in 1991 passed legislation enabling “riverboat” gambling in certain counties bordering the Mississippi River. Memphis was the obvious feeder market, and while DeSoto County deferred, Tunica County went all in. First to open was the aptly named Splash Casino, a hastily converted barge operated by brothers Rick and Ron Schilling. “What a business!” Ron marveled on opening night when patrons shrugged off a one-hour drive from Memphis, a thunderstorm, long lines, and a $10 admission fee. Splash is long gone, but its more glamorous successors, built inland and closer to Memphis, have made Tunica the Mid-South’s top gambling destination ever since. Across the river in West Memphis, a revamped Southland Park has also benefited from the renewed interesting in gaming. — John Branston
24. Filming of The Firm puts Memphis on the movie map (1992).
The Firm wasn’t the first major Hollywood feature to be shot in Memphis. That honor goes to King Vidor’s 1929 film Hallelujah! Nor was it the Memphis Film Commission’s first score either. That was Mystery Train, a brooding 1989 flick by art-house darling Jim Jarmusch. The Firm was the anti-Mystery Train — a Hollywood blockbuster directed by Sydney Pollack, based on a bestselling novel by John Grisham, with an A-list cast that included Holly Hunter, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, and Tom Cruise. Grisham’s story of a young attorney caught up in scandal and intrigue earned more than $158 million domestically. The Firm’s success opened the door for several other major Memphis-made films including Great Balls of Fire, The Rainmaker, and The People vs Larry Flynt. — Chris Davis
25. AutoZone moves its headquarters downtown (1995).
Never was a corporate office relocation more welcome than AutoZone’s move downtown. By that time, Union Planters Bank had already moved out east, leaving nothing but a sign atop the 100 North Main Building. Other banks, brokerage firms, and law offices would soon follow, in whole or in part. But home-grown AutoZone and its founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde went against the flow, striking a deal to give the city its former headquarters property on Poplar that became the Main Library, in exchange for incentives to build a new world headquarters on Front Street. AutoZone since has grown in leaps and bounds, as its work force brought daytime vitality to a downtown that badly needed that 1995 shot in the arm. — John Branston
26. Bill Morris Parkway is extended to Houston Levee Road (1997).
Of the complex of thoroughfares in the peripheries of Shelby County that make up I-269 and TN 385, the “span beyond the span” of the I-40/240 loop, the key component is unquestionably the Bill Morris Parkway, which goes more or less directly west to east. Named for the innovative Shelby County Mayor who (pun intended) paved the way for the progressive urbanization of its rural parts, the Bill Morris Parkway was begun in 1990 and completed in 2007, but its key portion was the connection as far as Houston Levee Road in 1997, making for a straight shot between the city core and its burgeoning eastern suburbs and accounting for an ongoing burst of residential and business development that continues to this day. — Jackson Baker
27. AutoZone Park opens as a Downtown diamond in the rough (2000).
With no support for a new suburban ballpark, Memphis Chicks owner David Hersh packed up his bats and balls and moved east to Jackson after the 1997 season. To the plate stepped Dean and Kristi Jernigan, who envisioned (correctly, as it turned out) a baseball stadium as the crown jewel for Memphis’ downtown renaissance. The cost may have been extravagant ($72 million) and was without precedent in minor-league sports. But the result? AutoZone Park looks like it’s been tucked at Third and Union since the days of DiMaggio, with modern creature comforts seldom seen below the major league level. With the stadium, which opened in 2000, came St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate, a match made in baseball heaven for local Cardinal fans. — Frank Murtaugh
28. The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library opens on Poplar (2001).
Memphis entered the information age and the twenty-first century in 2001 with the grand opening of a new Central Library at 3030 Poplar Avenue. Moved from its cramped, concrete bunker at McLean and Peabody, the 330,000-square-foot, five-story, glass-fronted headquarters was built for $70 million through a public-private partnership. This spectacularly designed building was also one of the first in Shelby County to have a public art component included as part of that design. More than a place to check out books or surf the web, the new central library’s location acts as a physical and metaphorical bridge between the low-income neighborhood of Binghampton and the more affluent Chickasaw Gardens to the south. In 2005 it was renamed in honor of former NAACP Director Benjamin Hooks. — Richard J. Alley
29. Memphis witnesses the creation of a loyal fan base, Griz Nation (2001).
The list of minor-league outfits would be forgettable if it wasn’t so lengthy. Remember the Memphis Rockers? What about the Mad Dogs? Maniax? When word leaked in 2001 that Vancouver Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley was considering moving his NBA(!) franchise to Memphis, it was first received as pie-in-the-sky aspiration. But with the likes of Pitt Hyde, Gayle Rose, and Fred Jones behind the local pursuit team, this marriage had a foundation before the first brick was placed for the team’s new arena (FedExForum opened in 2004). Inspired originally by the success of AutoZone Park, the Grizzlies have made downtown Memphis the place to be more than 40 nights a year. Better yet, they’ve made the Bluff City (finally!) big league. — Frank Murtaugh
30. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opens (2003).
In the 1960s and 1970s, black Detroit had its Motown, and black Memphis had its Stax. Here in south Memphis, the Stax Recording Studio on McLemore hosted a revolving door of world-class musicians, including Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, and Al Green. But a series of unfortunate events saw Stax go bankrupt in 1975. By the 1990s, however, there was renewed interest in Memphis soul, and with financial support from true believers like Andy Cates and Kirk Whalum, the Soulsville Foundation brought about a bonafide resurrection on McLemore, with the Stax Music Academy, a Soulsville Charter School, and Stax Museum of American Soul Music, helping to bring thousands into south Memphis to celebrate the glory that was and is soul. — Richard J. Alley
31. Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow picks up music Oscar (2006).
Memphis hip-hop had its shining moment at the Academy Awards in 2006 when Three 6 Mafia took home the Oscar for Best Original Song. “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which the rap group recorded for Memphis director Craig Brewer’s breakout film Hustle & Flow, beat out a song by more established artists, including Dolly Parton. Three 6 made history that night when they performed a cleaned-up PG version of the song — the first rap song ever to be performed at the Oscars. After the group’s acceptance speeches, Juicy J shouted “Memphis, Tennessee!” into the microphone, a moment that no doubt filled locals’ hearts with hometown pride. Hustle and Flow also helped put Memphis on the map as an up-and-coming indie-film center. — Bianca Phillips
32. The Park Conservancy officially takes over Shelby Farms (2007).
It began life as a penal farm, but by the 1970s, Shelby Farms had been opened to the public as a modestly used recreational area. The path to full park status was a winding one; two decades of legal wrangling were required before one of the nation’s largest urban parks — five times the size of New York’s Central Park — could be officially created. In 2007, county government negotiated an agreement with the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy allowing that non-profit foundation to manage and reinvent the Park’s 4,500 acres. The deal also allowed private donors to boost the park’s budget and future direction in accordance with a $70 million masterplan. In 2010, the Greenline from Midtown to Germantown officially became an extension of the Park. — Richard J. Alley
33. International Paper moves its world headquarters to Memphis (2006).
One of America’s oldest corporate entities, International Paper (founded in 1898) first established Memphis roots in 1987, when the paper-products company moved its operational headquarters and more than 1,000 employees from New York City to Memphis, prefiguring IP’s shift of its global headquarters here from Stamford, Connecticut. Both decisions gave Memphis plenty of bragging rights and a badly needed big-name corporate companion for the city’s two homegrown Fortune 500 companies, FedEx and AutoZone. International Paper now has some 3,000 employees in the area, and continues to prosper in an ever-changing industry. Ensconced in a cluster of glass towers at Poplar and Massey, the IP headquarters move had a magnet effect upon commercial development, solidifying the reputation of the eastern edge of Memphis along Poplar Avenue, adjacent to Germantown, as the modern office “center” of the city. — John Branston
34. John Ford is convicted; the Ford Machine is in disrepair (2007).
With the election in 1974 of Harold Ford as Ninth District Congressman, a political dynasty created by the offspring of South Memphis funeral-home operator N.J. Ford would dominate the politics of inner-city Memphis for a generation. With Congressman Harold Ford guiding voters via the “Ford ballot,” family partisans and siblings won numerous elections, while son Harold Jr. would succeed his father in Congress in 1997. But Jr.’s uncle John, a controversial but influential State Senator, was snagged in the FBI’s 2005 “Tennessee Waltz” corruption sting and was convicted of bribery in 2007, later doing time in federal prison. The previous year Harold Ford Jr. had run an unsuccessful campaign for Senate, thereby opening up the “family” seat for Midtown liberal Steve Cohen in the 2006 election, who has held the office ever since. — Jackson Baker
35. Northwest/Delta merger leads to eventual loss of hub status (2008).
With its central geographic location and generally benign weather, Memphis has been an important passenger aviation nexus since the early 1960s. In 1979 Southern Airways merged with Republic Airlines, which in turn joined with Northwest Airlines in 1986; at the time this was the largest merger in industry history. For the next two decades, Memphis was a major Northwest Airlines hub (along with Detroit and the Twin Cities) with international service to Europe and as many as 200 different flights daily. Alas, Northwest’s 2008 merger with Delta quickly proved Memphis’ undoing, as our city’s hub was eliminated in favor of Delta’s Atlanta headquarters. Job losses were significant, and since then, more limited air connectivity has negatively impacted both business and consumer travel in the Mid-South — John O’Leary
36. A C Wharton replaces Willie Herenton as Memphis mayor (2009).
Having served three full terms as Memphis’ first black mayor, most local observers considered Willie Herenton the city’s “mayor-for-life.” But with a binge of arrogance here, a charge of cronyism there, chinks soon began appearing in his armor. After easy reelection in 2003, the former schools superintendent seemed bored, and his presence was increasingly wearing on segments of the public. A movement to draft popular Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton as his opponent in 2007 was aborted after Herenton warned off Wharton in a private dinner between the two, yet he squeezed by two other opponents with a mere plurality. Two years later, eyeing charter-school opportunities and a possible congressional run, Herenton “retired,” and Wharton easily acceded to the job in a 2009 special election. — Jackson Baker
37. The Shelby Farms Park Greenline opens (2010).
In the June 1976 issue of this magazine, one writer complained about how much Memphis was a cyclist’s nightmare. Things weren’t much better in 2008 when Bicycling magazine singled out Memphis as America’s “worst city for cycling.” But in October 2010, a protected, 6.5-mile stretch of asphalt, the Shelby Farms Park Greenline — built along an unused railroad right-of-way — opened from Shelby Farms Park to Tillman Road in Midtown. Since then, nearly 200 miles of bike lanes, shared paths, and shared lanes have appeared on the local map, garnering Memphis the “most improved city” by that same Bicycling magazine in 2012. The Greenline has connected to Germantown’s Greenway out east and will soon tie into Arkansas via the Harahan Bridge. — Richard J. Alley
38. It’s a whole new ballgame for Memphis Tiger football (2011).
Justin Fuente’s name was mispronounced, misspelled, and generally misunderstood when he was introduced in December 2011 as the new football coach at the University of Memphis. With no head-coaching experience and a redshirt quarterback (Paxton Lynch) no one else wanted, Fuente took over a program that had won just three games in two seasons. Midway through Fuente’s third year on the sideline (2014) his Tigers had split six games; they then proceeded to win their next 15. On the way came the program’s first-ever finish in the country’s Top 25, and a demolition of Ole Miss at a packed Liberty Bowl in October 2015. When Fuente departed last winter to take the head coaching job at Virginia Tech, and Lynch broke fans’ hearts when he decided to forego his senior season to go pro, the unimaginable had happened: Normally known for its basketball prowess, the U of M had become a football school. — Frank Murtaugh
39. Memphis/Shelby County schools merge; suburbs form their own systems (2013).
Responding to fears that the Republican-dominated General Assembly elected in 2010 would grant special-school-district status to the suburban-oriented Shelby County Schools system and siphon off tax resources, a Memphis City Schools board majority voted in December 2010 to surrender the MCS charter. That action, which meant effective merger with the county schools, was subsequently approved by the Memphis City Council. The reaction was legislation put forward by Shelby County Republican leaders that delayed merger until 2013 and allowed the suburbs to establish their own school districts. After court challenges and a single year of merger, the county’s six suburban municipalities would duly elect their own school boards, leaving behind a Shelby County Schools district that was basically the old city system, re-designated. — Jackson Baker
40. Overton Square is reborn (2014).
Mention the 1970s around a certain age of Memphian and you’re sure to get your fill of colorful stories centered at Bombay Bicycle Club, T.G.I. Fridays, Burkle’s Bakery, or Lafayette’s Music Hall. Mention the Overton Square of today to anyone with a taste for good food and great atmosphere, and they might just drive you to the intersection of Cooper Street and Madison Avenue where Loeb Properties has, in the past few years, re-created the festive atmosphere that was once the heartbeat of entertainment in town. The still-classic buildings won the fight against demolition and have been filled with newcomers like Local, Babalu, Schweinhaus, and a revived Lafayette’s. And that’s just for dining; the Square is also a hotbed of live entertainment with Playhouse, Circuit Playhouse, and Hattiloo theaters. Coming soon: Ballet Memphis. — Richard J. Alley