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Golden Pyramid of Memphis

Pyramids From The Past


Dear Vance: With all of this talk about the future of The Pyramid, I have a question about its past. Wasn"t that building originally going to be made of gold? -- D.D., Memphis.

Dear D.D.: A gold building in Memphis? Surely, you must be thinking of the initial designs for the Lauderdale Mansion, when -- with more cash in our coffers than the entire nation of Tanganyika -- we announced plans to sheathe the exterior of the servant's dormitory in gold plate. But then, knowing the questionable character of those employees, and fearing they would just peel off the gold and sell it, we decided otherwise, and went with vinyl siding.

But wait a minute. Perhaps you are thinking of the early renderings of The Pyramid -- in those days called The Great Memphis Pyramid -- which clearly showed the building with a golden sheen to it. A sheen that was going to be created by covering the entire building in reflective gold-colored glass. Oh, what a tempting target for any neighborhood rascal with a rock and a slingshot!

The origins of The Pyramid are as murky as the muddy waters of the Mississippi. (Did you like that nice phrase? I shall try to use it again, from time to time.) I suppose other people, over the years, came up with ideas to build a pyramid in Memphis. After all, we built one at the Centennial Exposition in Nashville way back in 1897. But let me give some credit to an energetic young fellow named Brent Hartz, who, as I dimly recall, came up with a stunning rendering, and went all over town -- to the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and other civic groups -- trying to get people interested in the project. He approached the Lauderdales, of course, and we agreed we would back him to the tune of $75, tops.

Anyway, I won"t bore you with all the details, because quite frankly I can"t remember them, but I believe Hartz and some associates found their way to John and Pat Tigrett, who liked the idea, gathered a group of investors around them, and got the ball rolling. Somewhere along the way, the gold-glass building design got changed to one of stainless steel.

Another, even more significant, change from the original proposal was the location. The first plans (such as the one shown here) depicted a giant pyramid perched rather prominently on the South Bluffs. In fact, the rendering makes the Pyramid look like the biggest building in Memphis. But this would have meant the demolition of quite a few historically significant structures in that area, including the Tennessee Brewery, the old Orgill Brothers warehouse, and -- more importantly -- the quaint building that houses the offices of this magazine. So they -- and I don"t know, exactly, who "they" are -- decided to plop the building down in a hole below the I-40 entrance ramps.

Just about every aspect of the original design was going to be much more impressive than what we ultimately constructed. I found a brief proposal, apparently prepared by the local architectural firm of Hall and Waller Associates, which explained, "The exterior skin of the building would be gold-mirrored glass. The mullions of the glazing units would contain fluorescent lights to make the whole building glow at night." Oh, and the building would also house a "Discovery Museum" which would feature "great scientific discoveries throughout the history of man," along with "people movers similar to those used at Walt Disney World." Those movers would take hundreds of visitors to a Music Hall of Fame, theater, restaurant "offering a panoramic view of the city," observation tower at the peak, and even underground parking. The total cost of all this was projected at $20 million.

In the end, The Pyramid cost us $65 million, and somehow the builders forgot to include just about everything that was mentioned in the original design. Which is probably just as well, since now we can"t decide what to do with the thing anyway.

All I know is, the Lauderdales want a refund of our $75.