Trolley Nights

Posted on April 28, 2015

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By: Jessica Trivizas

6376665_origOn the last Friday of every month, you can take a drive downtown to the South Main arts district where the famous Trolley Night is held. Galleries, restaurants, and shops all open their doors to host live performances, and Memphians who want a taste of the arts going on in the 901 are in attendance. Because of the rich history of Memphis and South Main, Trolley Night has been a success since it began in 2000 and will continue to be for years to come.

Up until 1850, South Main was actually the city of South Memphis. South Memphis was the residential suburb of Memphis and stayed that way until the early 1900’s when railroad stations were built. Because the amount of traffic increased with the new railroad stations, South Memphis turned into South Main and became the business and distribution area of Memphis. Numerous hotels and businesses were being built along with manufacturing warehouses. Unknown to many, South Main was also the distribution center for major movie studios like MGM, Paramount, and Warner Brothers.

By the 1950’s the railroad industry started to die down in Memphis. This meant less business for South Main, which ultimately caused its downfall. Union Station closed its doors at the same time manufacturing started moving east and left countless warehouses empty and deserted. The final straw for South Main was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The Arcade Restaurant had to close its doors for the first time in 70 years, and after that, South Main was abandoned for a lengthy 20 years.
South Main’s rebirth, or “renaissance,” began in 1982 when artists Robert McGowan and Annie Mahaffey bought a place for their home and art studio. McGowan became an advocate for South Main needing preservation. Eventually more and more people became interested in South Main’s vintage feel, that being that the buildings looked the same exact way they had in the early 1920’s. Movies started to use South Main as the backdrop for many films which paved the way for big investments to happen. The National Civil Rights Museum opened in 1991, and then the Trolley Line in 1993, and even Central Station reopened in 1999. Eventually South Main became the arts district it was always meant to be, including apartments, art galleries, and a bustling population.

Today there are about 40 different art galleries and creative organizations based in South Main. To celebrate all that South Main has become and its incredible artistic population, Trolley Night happens every last Friday of the month. As you walk around South Main, you can catch a performance by a new up and coming artist from Memphis singing a new song or you can walk into any of the numerous open art galleries to see what new work artists have been creating. South Main’s revitalization and success is what Memphis is all about, and thanks to Trolley Night, everyone is able to appreciate it more.

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Posted in: Arts