Currently under construction, 158 Vance is being transformed from a label and print company to a premier advertising and marketing agency. What used to be a warehouse will now become a parking garage. What was a loading dock will now become an outdoor courtyard. The rest is being converted from the dingy remnants of paint bays and print rooms to a contemporary, open floor plan office for the 30+ creatives who make up Oden. To see the building now, most would assume this was just the former Color Craft Label Company. But, the building has an even more colorful past originating from a very different time in Memphis’ history. Built as the Columbia Pictures distribution center in 1940, 158 Vance is one of the few standing reminders of the golden era of movies when Memphis served a relatively unknown but important role in the region’s motion picture industry.
Throughout the early to mid 1900’s, the motion picture industry capitalized on American’s increasing appetite for Hollywood entertainment by building cinemas all across the United States. In those days, the individual motion picture companies owned their own theaters and refreshed the programming several times a week to meet demand. This process required a distribution system to quickly move the updated film reels from California-based studios and into regional theaters. An efficient hub and spoke system quickly developed where regional distribution headquarters stored and disseminated films to the theaters from centralized locations.
Memphis, located at the center of the Mid-South, with access to major roads, bridges and railroads, easily became the ideal hub to move films out quickly to Arkansas, West Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri. Major film companies all set up shop in Memphis and in peak times, served over 650 theaters! These companies congregated in an area of one-story brick buildings around Vance and 2nd Street, which eventually became known as “Film Row.” Trucks would move in and out of Film Row at all hours and by 1937, there were nine film exchanges - Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, RKO, Republic, Paramount, Monogram and Universal.
After World War II, the combination of television and mass migrations to the suburbs slowed this once booming industry. Then, the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948 hammered the final nail in the coffin by ordering studios to divest themselves of their theaters. The loss of demand coupled with the inability of studios to show their own material sufficiently destroyed the need for distribution of this type and by 1958, much of Film Row had become a ghost town. Many years later, a few of the buildings still survive and emblems of these industry giants can be found embedded in their walls. 158 Vance survived for many years as the home of Color Craft, but once they closed, it become just another blighted property in downtown. Now, because of Oden’s investment, there is an opportunity to catalyze real growth in the former Film Row and for us, an opportunity to create another thriving place out of a forgotten building.