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Overton Park may also refer to the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker case, Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe

Overton Park is a large, 342-acre public park in Midtownmarker Memphis, Tennesseemarker. The park grounds contain the Memphis Brooks Museum of Artmarker, Memphis Zoomarker, a 9-hole golf course, Memphis College of Artmarker, Rainbow Lake, Veterans Plaza, Greensward, and other features. The Old Forest Arboretum of Overton Parkmarker, one of the few remaining old growth forests in Tennesseemarker, is a natural arboretum with labeled trees along trails.


Overton Park was designed by landscape architect George Kessler as part of a comprehensive plan that also included M.L. King Riverside Park and the Memphis Parkway system. The planning began in 1901, and Overton Park was established in 1906. The park is named for John Overton, a co-founder of Memphis.

In the 1960s and 1970s Overton Park was the subject of controversy when 26 of its were slated by highway planners to be demolished to build Interstate Highway 40 through the park to make it easier for suburban commuters to get to downtown. However, many residents of midtown formed a group known as Citizens to Preserve Overton Park and challenged the plan in court. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Courtmarker ruled in their favor in the landmark case Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe.

Overton Park was selected for inclusion in the 2009 Landslide Program sponsored by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. This program "spotlights great places designed by seminal and regionally influential landscape figures, which are threatened with change."

Levitt Shell

Overton Park also includes the famous Shell Theatre, where Elvis Presley gave his first paid concert on July 30, 1954.

The Overton Park Shell was built in 1936 by the City of Memphis and the Works Progress Administration for $11,935, as part of the New Deal. Designed by architect Max Furbringer, it was modeled after similar shells in Chicago, New York, and St. Louis. The WPA built 27 band shells, the Overton Park Shell is one of only a few that still remain.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Shell was the site of Memphis Open Air Theater orchestral shows, along with various light opera and musicals. However, on July 30, 1954, Elvis Presley opened for headliner Slim Whitman, and performed what music historians call the first-ever rock and roll show.

In the mid-1960s, the Shell was turned over to the Memphis Arts Center, who planned to raze it in order to build a $2 million theater. However, a campaign led by Noel Gilbert, long-time conductor of the Memphis Concert Orchestra, gathered 6,000 signatures in order to prevent its destruction. Later, in 1972, the Shell was nearly removed in order to build a parking garage, but was again saved by the outcry from the community.

In 1982, the National Conference of Christians and Jews proposed a restoration, and the Shell was renamed in honor of Raoul Wallenberg. However, they could not raise the necessary funds, so by 1984, the previous plan for a parking lot began once again. This time, the Shell was saved by Mayor Richard Hackett. He pledged to fund a renovation if a private group would spearhead an arts program.

In 1985, the Shell lay dormant for the first time in its history. In 1986, a corporation was formed by private citizens named Save Our Shell, Inc. For the following 20 years, Save Our Shell presented hundreds of free programs there.

Levitt Shell, June 2009.

In 2007, the Shell was renamed Levitt Shell at Overton Park and a large-scale renovation funded by the Levitt Foundation was begun. The renovation was conducted by Memphis firm Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects with state-of-the-art audio and visual design. With the completion of the renovations on September 8, 2008, free concerts are now once again held in the Shell.

Memphis Zoo

Memphis Zoo entrance gate
Overton Park Zoo (now named the Memphis Zoomarker) began in 1906, when a resident of Memphis couldn't keep his pet black bear in his backyard. He had it put in a pen in the park, which attracted many people, inspiring the idea to place more animals on display. The Memphis Zoo is now one of the largest in the United Statesmarker, attracting 1 million visitors per year. The zoo houses two pandas, who are local celebrities, as well as three polar bears, brought in to the Northwest Passage exhibition which opened in March 2006.

The Memphis Zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. The Zoo has been a major tenant of Overton Park for more than 100 years. The city-owned land currently designated to the Zoo was defined by the Overton Park master plan in 1988. The Zoo is set on , of which approximately are developed.

The Memphis Zoo was recently ranked "#1 Zoo in the U.S." by The Zoo has completed over $77 million for renovation and expansion since the early 1990s, making it one of the finest zoological parks in the nation. The Zoo's animal inhabitants reside in one-of-a-kind exhibitry, such as Northwest Passage and CHINA - home to giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le. The Memphis Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Memphis Zoo, Ya Ya and Le Le are trademarks of the Memphis Zoo.

In February, 2008, the Memphis Zoo cleared of old growth forest in the Old Forest Arboretummarker at Overton Park in order to begin construction of the Zoo's new Teton Trek exhibit. The Teton Trek exhibit will feature animals native to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem such as grizzly bears, elk, gray wolves, trumpeter swans and sandhill crane.

The Zoo's decision to clear old growth forest to build the Teton Trek exhibit has been criticized by Citizens to Preserve Overton Park and Park Friends Inc .

The Zoo’s conservation department’s mission statement is “To use science and technology for greater understanding of the natural world's ecosystems, to preserve the biodiversity of our plants and animals and to educate the public on conservation priorities.”

Veterans Plaza.

Veterans Plaza

Veterans Plaza contains memorials to the veterans of Memphis and Shelby County who were killed defending the freedom of the United States. It is located in Overton Park just to the south of the Memphis Zoo and to the west of the Greensward. The 2-acre area is home to a collection of memorials: WWI (1926), WWII (2001), Korean (2003), Vietnam (2003), and Desert Storm (2003). The WWI memorial consists of the Doughboy statue, which is the hallmark of the area; it was made in 1926 of copper from pennies that were collected by local school children. A series of five bronze panels provides detailed information of the Korean War. A plaque providing the history of Veterans Plaza states that "... through these memorials we pay honor to 1,525 Shelby County veterans who were killed in the 20th and 21st century wars." An adjoining plaque provides commendation for Pete Dugan, a WWII veteran, "... honoring his steadfast commitment to the cause of Veterans Plaza in Overton Park."


Located in Overton Park and bounded by Veterans Plaza, Rainbow Lake, the Memphis Zoo, and the Golf Course, the Greensward is one of the largest open areas (about 3 acres) in Memphis with no designated purpose other than outdoor recreation. It provides a safe place to play frisbee and soccer, jog, picnic, make music, ride bikes, romp with dogs, fly kites, and just hang out. There are no predetermined locations for activities; users just stake a temporary claim to unoccupied areas and have fun. People of all ages use the Greensward. A portion of the Greensward is used for overflow parking for the Memphis Zoo on busy days.

In March 2009, the public became aware of a plan by the City of Memphis, Tennesseemarker Engineering Division, under the name "Lick Creek Reroute," to reduce flooding in the Lick Creek watershed by diverting floodwater from the main channel of that stream—which flows through Overton Park—into a multi-acre detention basin in the Greensward. The detention basin would slope downward to a maximum depth of approximately 18 feet, and is estimated by the City Government to be likely to be inundated by floodwater some five to seven times each year. The City estimated the cost of this project at some $4 million. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park opposes the proposed plan on the grounds that it would irreparably damage the park's value to the residents of Memphis, Tennesseemarker. The City Government asserts that the public will continue to be able to enjoy the park, and that the slope of the basin will barely be noticeable to park users.

On June 9, 2009, the City of Memphis, Tennesseemarker decided it would not proceed with the plan for a detention basin in the Greensward. An engineer with the City was quoted as saying, "We think it was an appropriate plan, but we've shelved it." Instead, the City will explore two other options, one involving part of the park's golf course, the other involving construction of a berm on another part of the park grounds.

Old Forest Arboretum

The Old Forest Arboretum (172 acres) is a forest tract and natural arboretum located on the east side of Overton Park. It is open to the public daily without charge. The Old Forest is on the National Register of Historic Places and includes over 300 plant varieties. Walking trails are maintained within the area, and markers identify 32 tree species.

Golf Course

The 9-hole Overton Park Golf Course is located in the southwestern part of Overton Park. It is a 2,222-yard, par 34 course with 3 sets of teeboxes for different levels of golfing experience. Built in 1926, the Abe Goodman Golf Clubhouse is a Tudor-styled, brick building with a patio.

See also


  1. Memphis Park and Parkway System Retrieved 28 May 2007
  2. The Cultural Landscape Foundation: 2009 Landslide Program.
  3. Levitt Shell History
  4. Levitt Shell: Schedule
  5. Wolff, C. "Group upset zoo took out 139 trees to build Teton Trek", ' 'The Commercial Appeal' ', March 5, 2008. Accessed April 19, 2008.
  6. Memphis Zoo website. [ ' 'Teton Trek FAQ' ', Accessed April 19, 2008.
  7. Meek, A. "Group Opposes Clear-Cutting For Zoo Exhibit", ' 'The Daily News' ', March 21, 2008. Accessed April 13, 2008.
  8. Action News 5 Video "Forest group upset at Memphis Zoo for removing trees", ' 'WMC-TV Memphis' ', March 5, 2008. Accessed April 19, 2008.
  9. Lauderdale, Vance. The Doughboy Statue--Overton Park's "Vicious Beast". Memphis Flyer. May 7, 2009. Accessed May 30, 2009.
  10. French, David. Pete Dugan--Passion for Patriotism. Memphis Tech High Alumni. Accessed May 30, 2009.
  11. [ Tom Charlier, "Overton Park may get major alteration to control flooding; Culvert, retention basin may be built; citizens group opposes plans," Memphis ' 'Commercial Appeal' ', March 7, 2009. Accessed March 8, 2009.
  12. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, "The Tragedy of the Commons?" Mar. 5, 2009
  13. [ Tom Charlier, "City drops Overton Park flood-control plan after citizens express fears of creating muddy pit," Memphis ' 'Commercial Appeal' ', June 10, 2009. Accessed June 10, 2009.
  14. The Golf Course Net: Overton Park Golf Course
  15. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park: This one's for the lovers. April 30, 2008.

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