The Admiral Benbow was never very big. I believe the franchise topped out at 18 locations.
At the time of this publication in 1977, Admiral Benbow Inns were a part of the Morrison’s Cafeteria franchise group. The scan to the left is from the back of a directory for Morrison’s, which I will share and map sometime in the future.
The history of the Admiral Benbow chain in someway is the darkest timeline of the Holiday Inn franchise. Both started in Memphis, the founders knew each other and both had gigantic plans for expansion. Holiday Inn was an unprecendented success. Admiral Benbow is a failed franchise lost to annals of time.
Morrison’s struggled for a while and sold the failing brand to Allad Industries. The franchise would limp into the 1980s but most motels would close not long after the middle of the decade.
Most of the following article by Jim Hanas appeared in the Memphis Flyer on February 17, 2000. I edited the parts that do no pertain to the history of Admiral Benbow. I encourage you to read the entire thing, as it is wonderfully written.
When the Admiral Benbow opened in 1961, it was a nice place, a “beautiful” place, in fact, according to boosters of the day. Designed in “the Jamaican influence” — part modernist box, part Spanish Revival neo-tack — it was the first motel in Memphis to be more than one story, and certainly would have been the first with a massive, reinforced concrete palm tree in front of it had the tree ever made it off the plans and onto the pavement. Like plans for parking ramps that would have allowed guests to drive up to their second-story rooms, it did not. Neither did the penthouse.
The motel was a gamble. Its founding father was Allen Gary, a darkly handsome restaurateur whose friends told him (quite accurately) that he looked like George Raft, an actor legendary for playing Hollywood mobsters. He was born the same year as Kemmons Wilson (he in Tupelo, Wilson in Osceola) and attended Central High a year behind the future Holiday Inn founder.
Gary served as manager at the Pig-N- Whistle carhop on Union and, later, Fortune’s Belvedere before founding, with partner George Early, The Stable restaurant in a Civil War-era farmhouse at the corner of Union and Bellevue in 1941. The city’s first bottle bar, The Stable announced the substance of its “Southern Horse-pitality” with a drawing of a drunken horse on its menus as waiters in starched white jackets served up five kinds of steak and set-ups to go with your “upsets” amid rustic squalor complete with wagon wheels and flintlocks.
Eventually, The Stable’s star got hitched to the future of Holiday Inns, as Gary took a seat on the board of directors of Wilson’s booming concern and Early-Gary Enterprises opened almost a dozen Admiral Benbow Inn restaurants in Holiday Inns across the country.
Which is where the gamble came in.
The launch of the Benbow motel chain required not only the demolition of The Stable, but also for Gary to resign from the board of Holiday Inns, which he did in 1962, a year before Holiday Inn stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
“All of us at Holiday Inns of America, Inc. and the Board of Directors wish you every success in your operation,” read a letter from vice president Bill Walton accepting his resignation.
Meanwhile, business boomed at the Benbow. Two months after it opened, it was humming away at 95 percent occupancy, drawing a mix of business travelers, Medical Center traffic, and other visitors to downtown Memphis. Some days, its occupancy exceeded 100 percent, as out-of-town shoppers rented rooms for the afternoon and checked out in time for their rooms to be rented again.
Another location was built by the airport in 1963, followed by another, a franchise purchased by Gary himself to kick-start franchise sales, on Summer Avenue. The offices of Early-Gary Enterprises, now Admiral Benbow Inn, Inc., moved across Bellevue to a refurbished turn-of-the-century frame house outfitted with windows like portholes. There, Mr. Gary sat at his desk in front of an original oil painting of Admiral John Benbow himself, the 17th-century British naval hero whose name appears in the opening pages of Treasure Island, attached to an Admiral Benbow Inn. Meanwhile, the Midtown location was expanded to 182 rooms. “Which will make us, I believe, the biggest motel in Memphis,” Gary observed.
Once, when the Monkees stayed here, the parking lot and catwalks were overrun by screaming, teen-aged girls.
The mission was to have 100 Admiral Benbows built by 1970, but that number topped out at less than a dozen when the company was sold to Morrison’s, the cafeteria people, in 1968.
In 1975, the meager chain’s corporate headquarters were moved to Tampa. Eventually, the properties were sold and sold again with the Midtown location ending up in the hands of Allad Investments..
I did my best to map these locations out. Some of them may not be correct, as the address is vague and information scarce. Please let me know if I am incorrect on anything.
BLUE LINKS – Building still stands
RED LINKS – Building is gone
Wisconsin at Harding Street on 65
I-95 at Dunn Avenue (not totally sure this is right place – the building may very well be gone)
I-75 at US 27 (became a Quality Inn in 1978 and now dorms)
Northeast – I-285 at Buford Highway
1470 Spring Street, NW (Still there on street view but it appears to have been razed now)
1914 Virginia Avenue
3315 Bardstown Road
I-12 at Sherwood Forest Blvd. (No color but I am not even close to sure where this was located)
U.S. 90 at Oakmont Place
905 N. State St.
State Road 6 By-Pass at Lamar Blvd. – I live in Oxford and I never knew this was an Admiral Benbow. The Thai food restaurant attached to this place, Pick Thai, is great.
101 East 20th
317 Pierce Parkway
4720 Summer Avenue
MEMPHIS – MIDTOWN
1220 Union Avenue
MEMPHIS – AIRPORT
2201 Winchester Rd.
In 1981, the Airport Benbow was the site of a fracas involving 480-pound professional wrestler Jerry “The Crusher” Blackwell, in which he was attacked by three women who would have absconded with his wallet if he hadn’t subdued two of them with vigorous hair-pulling.
823 Murfreesboro Road at I-24 and I-40
OTHER ADMIRAL BENBOW LOCATIONS THAT WERE NOT OPEN IN 1977:
I-70 and Highway 63 (Closed before 1977)
Oakland Avenue opposite Forest Park