Among those watching the Tiger Lane unveiling this week is Tom Marshall. The architect and former Memphis City Council member not only came up with the Tiger Lane plans that have become reality. Marshall is the second generation of his family to be involved in the shaping of The Fairgrounds.
His father, O.T. Marshall, also an architect, was among those who shaped an earlier vision in the early 1960s.
Then as now, there were grand plans for the Fairgrounds. Entertainer Art Linkletter had been in town and had seen The Fairgrounds. Linkletter, through his company, Linkletter Enterprises, had more than 70 business interests including a partnership that came up with plans to reconfigure old fairgrounds like the one in Memphis.
Then, as now, the plan didn’t follow the renderings. It included a water themed entrance off East Parkway for the new Fairgrounds. A long canal would have run from the East Parkway entrance east to the proposed stadium that was part of the plan and north of the proposed Coliseum.
The canal would have been where Tiger Lane is today. The rationale was the same. The method of getting there was water instead of green space.
The Coliseum and Liberty Bowl opened in 1965, about the only thing from the Linkletter plan that survived.
About ten years later, there was another plan for The Fairgrounds that would cure the annual rain that was a Mid-South Fair tradition and has since become a Memphis In May tradition.
Marshall and Joe Pipkin, a Mid-South Fair president, came up with the idea of a massive permanent tarp that would cover all of the open acreage.
The idea of an amusement park – without a tarp — had better luck. Libertyland surfaced as an idea in the early 1970s. As is the Memphis habit, it melded with other civic conversations about how to best develop Mud Island’s south end into what was first called Volunteer Park. The idea of an urban park grew in scope and cost and there was some discussion about moving the collection of rides at The Fairgrounds to the park. But the momentum shifted back toward The Fairgrounds and Libertyland opened in 1976 on America’s bicentennial.