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The Chisca Hotel, named after the chief of the Chickasaw Indians who had lived in the area, opened its doors on Christmas day in 1913. The mid-range hotel located in downtown Memphis at 272 South Main Street was part of a district that popped up during the height of the railroad era. The simple, yet sturdy, solid and popular priced hotel, catered to railroad travelers and employees, mule dealers and entertainers. The 300,000 square foot building boasted 400 rooms, a dining room, ballroom and meeting rooms.


The Chisca rose to fame when WHBQ radio station relocated its studios off the lobby on the mezzanine floor. From there, in July of 1954, DJ Dewey Phillips debuted Elvis Presley’s first recording, “That’s Alright, Mama”, and conducted the first on-air interview with him. Elvis later performed at the Chisca with the Sy Rose Orchestra in the Chickasaw Ballroom in March 1956.


In the 1960s, the area around the Chisca deteriorated and the hotel closed its doors in the early 1970s. In 1972, the hotel was sold to the Church of God in Christ for $10. The church located its headquarters on the lower floors until the late 1990s, when the group moved and left the building empty.


With its location a block from The Orpheum and Beal Street, the Chisca should have served as a gateway to the South Main Historic Arts District. Instead for more than 20 years, the hotel has been an eyesore and blight on the community.


In 2011, SRDC and other partners stepped in to restore life into the Chisca. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is scheduled to open in late 2015. The $20 million renovation, estimated to result in nearly 500 direct and indirect jobs, will include 149 apartment units, ten townhomes and a “motor plaza” – a commercial segment that will feature a restaurant and other retail outlets. Unfortunately after decades of neglect, most of the Chisca’s interior is beyond renovation, but the original WHBQ broadcast studios will be restored and displayed in the Chisca.


The renovated Chisca will once again become a vibrant link between downtown and the South Main neighborhood. With the downtown area becoming an increasingly popular place to live, the Chisca will address a real need for living options. As a community connector, the Chisca’s scale and density will serve as an economic catalyst, spurring other development, which will add to the vitality and value of the area.


“The Chisca hotel is a very important part of that neighborhood. That space connects the South Main area that is so vibrant to the core of downtown…so, to have that major block taken up by a vacant blighted building is a real hindrance to the neighborhood.” – Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission (WHBQ-TV)


“The old Chisca Hotel building is a cornerstone of the South Main Street Historic District and is, as such, a vitally important feature of the District’s built environment. I hope the Memphis City Council and all others involved will do everything possible to ensure this building’s survival into the future. Rehabbing this historic structure will pay off over and over again for many decades to come.” – Robert McGowan, South Main Historic Arts District Pioneer

See more information here.