The University of Memphis acquired what is now the Park Avenue campus in 1967. It is a campus rich in history, though I doubt most who work on it or drive by it know that. It was developed during World War II as a multi-structured hospital for the Army. The U.S. Army’s Kennedy General Hospital was built on the 120-acre site in 1942 at the corner of Park Avenue and Shotwell Road. A local resident, a Mrs. M.E. Brown, led a campaign to re-name the latter to “Getwell Road” feeling that was a better moniker for a hospital charged with the care of wounded service members. Today, the route keeps the “Getwell Road” name from the intersection with Park Avenue south through Memphis and into the city of Southaven, MS and further still into unincorporated DeSoto County Mississippi. Interestingly, “Shotwell Street” did not go away completely. Getwell Road dead-ends at Park, but one block west Shotwell Street treks north for three blocks until it reaches Southern Avenue just short of the southeast side of the main UofM campus. At any rate, the Kennedy Hospital opened in 1943 and the first combat wounded began to arrive. The multi-building facility was initially designed to accommodate up to 1,500 patients, but within two years it had more than 4,000 at any given moment. Some 1,800 personnel were assigned there and lived on the grounds. In addition to medical facilities, the campus had its own power plant, a bowling alley, gym, PX, post office, motor pool, and a movie theater. It would be the largest Army hospital in the nation. Wounded Axis prisoners of war were treated there as well. Although all manner of wounded were treated there, the facility was a primary site for the care of those with spinal cord injuries; it also had the largest neuropsychiatry unit in the country at the time. By wars end, more than 44,000 service men had been patients there. The VA took control of the facility in 1946. It served in this capacity for two decades until the VA built the current medical center closer to downtown Memphis near the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. It was also the location of Elvis Presley's pre-induction physical for the Army on January 4, 1957.
Most of the original Army buildings sat unused for years. Maintenance was limited. Various offices of the UofM moved in and out of the buildings over the years. Most fell into disuse and the remaining Kennedy structures, of which there are just over half a dozen, are in terrible shape. The UofM has been very active in building new structures on the campus, however, with over $107 million spent on new construction since 2015.
I have always felt that the university should rename the campus in honor of the wounded who came through there after sacrificing so much for the country and for the doctors, nurses, and other staff who served them. The VA website no longer refers to the Memphis VA as the “Kennedy VA” so perhaps the campus could be named the Kennedy Campus. Or, perhaps better still, the “Veterans Campus” or something along those lines. At the very least, we should name one of the streets in honor of the people who came through and worked in the hospital.
All of the photos in this entry were taken in mid-December 2020.
This is the old Kennedy Hospital Administration Building. It seems, from the outside at least, to be in decent shape compared to most of the remaining Kennedy Hospital structures. The front of the building faces Getwell Road. North of this building, and west of the Community Health Building, you can find the footers of several of the old hospital buildings which were demolished at some point. These are some of those forgotten foundations. The university intends to build a new structure for an early learning center for children with disabilities on the campus in conjunction with the Harwood Center (a local non-profit). The building is meant to be located on the northwest corner of the campus. It may be located where these foundations lay or across the way on another open space (I am not clear on the exact location). A press announcement in January 2020 noted that the facility would open in Fall 2021. As of December 2020, no groundbreaking has occurred.
One of the newest buildings on the campus is the Community Health Building which opened in 2015. The building houses the Lowenberg College of Nursing, the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and the Interprofessional Community Health Clinic (or ICHC). My department is a participating unit in the latter. It is fitting to have a health building on the campus given its history. These photos are of the front (Park Avenue facing) side of the building, the side noting the interesting awning-like features, and the rear.
This is the front of Buildings 34 and 35, with Building 36 in the rear. The physical plant has maintained surplus storage in these buildings for quite some time. I have been in there and it is, like most government surplus locations, an interesting mix of some newer items in decent shape and a large collection of some very old things. In my last visit there, which was sometime in early 2019, there were half a dozen pianos in there, dozens upon dozens of old student desks, pallets of old computers, and lots of odd collections of office supplies, some going back to before the campus was part of the UofM. The university has since moved to sell much of this and I understand the collection, which in 2018 filled most of the three buildings, is gone. One of the physical plant workers who ran the place would sometimes play one of the pianos. In one part of the building was a safe door that was bank-vault sized. It was at least 12 feet tall by 12 feet wide (if not more). I asked this particular physical plant worker what was in the vault behind the door. He said that he had worked in the building for over 35 years and that it was locked when he started and the people there before him said it was locked in 1967 when the university took possession of the building. God only knows what is in there. When I walked around in there I had an eerie feeling. I could picture the wounded and it made me sad that such an important place was left in such poor condition.
These photos are of the north and south sides (respectfully) of buildings 45, 46, 47, and 48. They appear to be various physical plant storage places. Building 48 also houses offices for the Harwood Center.
At some point, WKNO, the local PBS affiliate, located on the site with a new building. That structure now houses the University of Memphis Institute on Disabilities (or UMID) and other offices on a rotating basis as buildings on the main campus are renovated or additional temporary space is needed. This is Building 29 from a distance. It is to the west of buildings 45, 46, 47, and 48.
A significant use of the campus is for athletics. FedEx park, pictured here, is the home of the UofM Baseball team. Nearby to the west is the Tiger Softball Complex. Although not pictured here, to the south of these two playing fields is the Billy J. Murphy Athletic Complex, several athletic fields, and some greenhouses. The Frank L. Flautt Golf Center is to the west of the softball stadium.
A recent addition is the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center pictured here. The university had a ribbon cutting for it in 2017 and it officially opened in 2018. It is a very impressive training center for the basketball team. In November, 2020, the university announced that it was going to build a new student housing development on the campus with much of it dedicated to housing athletes. It intends to tear down existing structures for this purpose, which likely means further elimination of the original Kennedy Hospital buildings or perhaps the old housing utilized for graduate students and married students (see below).
On the east side of the campus is a collection of apartments for graduate and married students.
Two buildings on the southeast side of the campus were known as the "Defense Contract Audit Buildings". One still carries that name and houses the UofM Research Foundation. The other is listed as housing a Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinic in it, but that is no longer the case. Mail services utilizes part of the building. I am not sure what else is in there.
University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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