Beale’s ‘Bad’ Buildings

More about our story in Thursday’s edition about the seemingly perpetual problem of violence in and around 380 Beale Street, currently the sight of Club Crave.

Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter Wednesday postponed until Friday a first hearing on the nuisance petition filed by the District Attorney General’s office to keep the nightspot closed indefinitely.

As we noted in our story, the building sits just across the formal boundaries of the three-block Beale Street entertainment district and it is owned by the Beale Street Development Corporation.

During 2012, Memphis police moved a substation back to the entertainment district after an absence of several years. This time, the substation at 340 Beale is near the corner of Fourth and Beale Streets, just yards away from Crave.

The substation building has its own violent past. In turn of the 20th century Memphis, it was the Monarch Saloon and owned by first ward underworld boss Jim Kinnane who billed it as the “finest colored saloon in the world.”

It had a gambling room in the back with reinforced brick walls and a steel door to repel police raids, according to the Beale Street guide book, “Beale Street Talks,” by Richard M. Raichelson. The building was also known as the “Castle of Missing Men” because of a number of gunfights in the saloon and the undertaker’s business next door that claimed the losers of the gunfights, according to the book.

The Monarch may have survived because its reputation was only slightly better than that of the neighboring bar owned by Hammitt Ashford. That saloon was the sight of one of the city’s most brazen murders of the early 20th century by one of the most violent business owners in the annals of the city’s history.

Bill Latura shot and killed five gamblers in Ashford’s saloon in 1908, reportedly without ever exchanging a word with any of them before he opened fire. A jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity, according to Raichelson’s guide. Latura killed seven people over the years, including the five he shot at Ashford’s saloon. He was shot and killed at his business off Beale Street in 1916 by a Memphis police officer.

The saloon became the Wilson Drug Company by World War II and the building was demolished in the 1960s. It never made it past the period of urban renewal that also claimed The Palace Theater, arguably the most historic entertainment venue on the street.

But back to the property at 380 Beale. Before the property was leased to the owners of Crave it was the Plush Club. Before that it was Club G.

After numerous shootings and disturbances in and around Plush, George Miller – the one time head of the Beale Street Development Corporation, which owns the property — made a prominent public display of calling for and getting new ownership for a future nightspot in the building.

Before that, in 2003, there had been plans for a nightclub to be called “Knockers” as some forces attempted to bring a strip club into or near the Beale district.

Former Shelby County Commissioner Joe Cooper, who was part of the promotion effort for Knockers, insisted it would not be a strip club despite the name and a club logo that was a line drawing of a woman’s torso that made a brief appearance on the exterior of the building.