Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee opened in 1957 as Satellite Records. The name was changed in 1961.The recording studio, operated in a converted movie theater, recorded some legendary stuff by the likes of Otis Redding and Booker T. & the M.G.s. There was a record store in the building as well.
Stax went bankrupt in 1975, and the theater was abandoned shortly afterwards. The ruins of the building appeared briefly in Jim Jarmusch’s film Mystery Train in 1989, and the place was torn down the same year.
|Mystery Train (1989). Another abandoned theater used in the film.|
The 1970s and 1980s were strange times for historical preservation, landmarking, and abandonment. In most major cities, folks had become accustomed to the slow decay of their built environment, and were living in neighborhoods that represented faded versions of their more gloried pasts. Even the decay of places of legend, such as the little theater building that had been Stax, was accepted as inevitable.
Things changed during the 1990s. There was more funding around, and also a enhanced sense of history provoked by nostalgia, preservation, and tourism development. In Memphis, attention turned back to that empty lot on McLemore Avenue. By 2003 (less than 15 years after the demolition of the original building) there was a replica of Stax Records, containing a polished and visitor-friendly museum that reclaimed the neighborhood’s role in the history of American Soul music.
For those of us that have been watching empty places and their revival over the last 30+ years, there comes a strange sense of whiplash.