Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Staff Profile: Alex Smythe

Alex is a jack of all trades!
Name: Alex Smythe

Position: Visitor Service Coordinator

Hometown: Midtown Memphis, TN

How long have you been at CMOM: I have been working here for a little over a month.

Favorite exhibit: I really love the Tree House, I think the paper plane launcher is really fun. Watching kids try to figure it out then when they finally launch a plane and seeing their faces light up is just a great feeling.

Favorite book as a child/why? There was a series called “Redwall” by an author named Brian Jacques. The series was an easy-to-read fantasy about mice living in a kingdom trying to defend themselves against the evil rats. It was a great read. In fact, I picked it up recently to see if it was as good as when I was a kid and I still really enjoyed it.

Hobbies: Too many…I fly traction kites, Photography, soccer, and I am a carpenter.

First museum I ever visited: My earliest memories of museums were both of the Children’s Museum of Memphis, as well as the Pink Palace. I loved museums as a child, I was fascinated in everything and always wanted to learn and understand.

Fun Fact: Before working at the Children’s Museum I was a professional photographer, and I had a darkroom for developing 35mm film in my basement when I was growing up.

Friday, October 19, 2012

2525 Central--A History

When I first started working at CMOM, I became fascinated with the history of our building, which was formerly a National Guard Armory. I wanted more info about the building, so I trotted to the library, looked up some articles about the building, and wrote an article. The article is on our website, but I’d like to include it here as well--because, after two years, I'm still fascinated. And maybe, dear reader, you are too. So here it is:
National Guard Armory
A Short History

Many Memphians are aware that before The Children’s Museum of Memphis occupied 2525 Central, the building was home to a National Guard armory. However, the journey to CMOM has some interesting facts that may have been forgotten.

Plans for a National Guard armory date back to 1932. Construction of the armory was completed 10 years later, and in September 1943, the building was dedicated. The armory housed the 115th Field Artillery. Governor Prentice Cooper was in attendance at the dedication, and called the building “the finest armory in Tennessee” (The Commercial Appeal, 9/7/1943). Also present was Associate Justice Frank H. Gailor of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Gailor presented the armory to the State Armory Commission, and it was accepted by Adj. General T.A. Frazier, commanding general of the Tennessee State Guard. Mayor Walter Chandler also spoke at the event. Interesting fact: Hollywood Street was previously called “Huguenot.”

By the late 1970s, the building had outlived its usefulness to the Tennessee National Guard. The city and county then engaged in a “squabble” over who would get the title of the armory (Roy Hamilton, Memphis Press-Scimitar, 4/16/77). The city of Memphis gained the title, and construction of a new armory in South Memphis began in the early 1980s. Several plans for the property were discussed; the main plan was for the property to be used for additional parking for the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Mid-South Fairgrounds. However, the “possibility of renovating the old armory to handle the sale of state auto tags and city stickers has also been discussed” (Hamilton). Interesting fact: the mayor at the time was Wyeth Chandler, son of Walter Chandler, who was mayor of Memphis when the armory was dedicated.

In 1988, the city agreed to lease the armory to the future Children’s Museum of Memphis for $1 a year. A Commercial Appeal article noted that the “squat masonry building” was no longer used by the National Guard (Thomas Jordan, The Commercial Appeal, 11/16/88). However, the building is not only an interesting figure in Memphis history, but has since hosted thousands of smiling children. Interesting fact: Dick Hackett, mayor of Memphis in 1988, is now CEO of The Children’s Museum of Memphis.