photographs by Andrea Zucker
The handsome lobby with original walnut paneling and hand-carved ceilings offers a grand welcome as it has for 90 years.
When the 10-story Parkview Hotel opened on New Year’s Eve 1923, at 1914 Poplar Avenue, it was located well away from downtown Memphis — just inside the city limits, which were at that time Cooper Street. This was the golden age of grand hotels, and it is said the idea for building the Parkview originated with George D. Barnett, a famous St. Louis architect. History also tells us that it was built on the site of a short-lived amusement park called Fairyland, which closed in 1908.
With its commanding views of Overton Park and its luxurious rooms and common areas, the Parkview was immediately billed as the South’s finest residential hotel and an address of rare distinction. Its fortunes waxed and waned in the Depression years, but in the 1940s the Parkview once again became one of the city’s elegant social hubs. Designed principally as an apartment hotel, it offered rooms to traveling guests, and the popular dining room, known for its good food and musical ensembles, was open to the public.
Several of the hotel’s managers over the years, including first Edward Knoff and later Norman Woodmansee, helped to maintain the hotel’s standing and were well-known figures in the community.
Today, 90 years after its creation, the historic Parkview is alive and well and functioning as a retirement community managed by Brookdale Senior Living. The gorgeous lobby with original walnut paneling and hand-carved ceilings is still impressive, and each of the 129 apartments is unique, with many offering views of the park or downtown Memphis.
Michelle Welling, the Parkview’s sales manager, kindly arranged for my photographer and me to visit three apartment homes to have a look at the various layouts and decorative styles. Already aware that illustrious Memphis photographer William Eggleston (profiled in this magazine in June 2012) has a fabled corner apartment, we were happy for the opportunity to talk to some of the other residents to learn their stories.
We first called on a recent San Francisco transplant, Jeanne Napoli, who moved to Memphis to be near her grandchildren and is a semi-retired tax accountant. She is in the process of painting her two-bedroom apartment overlooking the park, and we were delighted with the “Martha Stewart green” cabinets and sky-blue ceiling in her kitchen. Napoli walks an impressive five miles a day and is enthusiastic about the Parkview’s proximity to midtown highlights such as Maggie’s Pharm in Overton Square, Otherlands Coffee Bar in Cooper-Young, and Evergreen’s Café Eclectic.
We next moved on to visit Margaret Fogleman, who originally hails from Marion, Arkansas. She has a lovely, old-world-style apartment with cream carpeting, lemon chiffon-colored walls, and family antiques including a particularly interesting wooden “cottage clock” inherited from an aunt. She says her architect son-in-law and daughter had kindly decorated the spacious one-bedroom, two-bath apartment, and it was “turn-key” ready when she walked in.
Our last stop was to say hello to John Gray, who was literally in the process of moving from his East Memphis home into a one-bedroom apartment with the help of his daughter, Kathy Savini, who lives in New Jersey. Gray’s father founded John Gray & Son market at Madison and McLean, a beloved midtown grocery store from its opening in 1929 until its closing in 1997.
His father had himself lived in the Parkview and continued to work at the store until he died at the age of 97. Son John worked at the family enterprise, but was also a captain in the naval reserves, taught accounting, and sold real estate. In recollecting his family’s long history in Memphis, Gray also told us that his maternal grandfather, Thomas L. Risk, was born in Memphis in 1847. For her part, Kathy proudly wanted to add that John Gray & Son was ahead of its time in offering fabulous prepared food cooked by Robbie Brown including twice-baked potatoes, fried chicken, and assorted pies. I am guessing that many Memphians well remember these comestibles!
After our tour of the three apartments, we went downstairs to visit the Parkview’s famous Wedgwood dining room, named of course for the color of its walls and its corner collection of vintage English blue Wedgwood porcelain. Dining room manager Douglas Fondren guided us to the adjacent new conference/party room at the front of the hotel, which is light-filled and airy with a sophisticated, modern decor. Others of the staff who keep the historic place running are Cristy Browning, the business office manager, Beverly Mason, receptionist of 13 years standing, and Tim Martens, maintenance manager, who is helped out by Carlos Stevens.
Among the activities that residents enjoy are history classes, Zumba Gold, Wii Bowling, crocheting, bingo, and tai chi. A beauty shop is onsite, and physical, occupational, and speech therapies are available.
Steve Stewart, the executive director of the Parkview, has a distinguished background in ministry and healthcare — a seemingly perfect combination for his current position. He also has experience as a motivational speaker, and as such plans to get out into the Memphis community and talk more about the Parkview and its resources.
Stewart’s vision is that the Parkview will have “an organic relationship with the community.” For example, he is getting students from the nearby Memphis College of Art and Rhodes College to come to the Parkview and work with the residents. His overall aim is “to help folks celebrate life.” To this end he mentions the renovated Poplar Room, which is an activities center, and he adds that residents always have free admission to the neighboring Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Memphis Zoo. Shawna Welch, the enthusiastic new activities director, for her part believes “there is something special about Midtown and its rich arts community” and what this can mean for the Parkview’s residents is an opportunity to have a variety of cultural experiences to help maintain the lifestyle they always had.
Stewart and his staff also aim “to freshen up the Parkview without ever losing sight of its nostalgic charm” and ultimately “to enrich the lives of those we serve with compassion, respect, excellence, and integrity.”
Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts and lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.