DeSoto Theater

868 Arkansas Street,
Memphis, TN 38106

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Desoto theatre block

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Originally open from 1913 to 1928.

In 1941, Kemmons Wilson (who later went on to be the founder of Holiday Inn’s) heard there was a little, long closed for years, Desoto Theater for sale. Kemmons offered to pay the $2,000 asking price if he could pay it at $25 a week after he got the theater open. Kemmons then went to National Theater Supply Company run by Bob Bostick who provided invaluable assistance as Kemmons learned the movie business. Bob sold Kemmons some $4,000 worth of equipment with nothing down, and helped him get the theater open. Kemmons managed to get the DeSoto Theater open in 1942 without so much as a down payment! He operated the Desoto Theater until 1948.

It appears that the commercial center of Fort Pickering, the town/suburb where the Desoto Theatre was located, has become industrial development and interstate highway. No trace of just about anything before the interstate construction remains. The old and new configuration may be seen in the above aerial from 1938.

Contributed by Chief Bob Jensen, Vincent Astor

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm

The stretch of Arkansas Avenue where the DeSoto Theatre was located has been wiped off the face of the earth, along with most of the neighborhood around it. Given the name, I suspect that the theater was at or near the corner of De Soto Street, several hundred feet north of the spot where Google Maps has placed the pin icon.

The obliteration took place sometime between 1958 and 1963, judging from a comparison of images from those years at Historic Aerials.

vastor
vastor on June 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm

The people at the Wilson Companies are cataloguing a lot of old photos for the first time. The very nice woman in charge of that said she will let me know if any turned up.

vastor
vastor on June 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Also, it was the so-so business at the DeSoto and Kemmons' knack for the theatre business that led to the construction of the Airway, Summer Drive-In, and the W C Handy. Kemmons had a theatre serving each racial community within a few blocks of one another. The Airway on Lamar and the Handy on Park.

vastor
vastor on July 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm

It appears that the commercial section of Fort Pickering, the town/suburb where the DeSoto was, has become industrial development and interstate highway. No trace of just about anything before the interstate construction.

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