When Clarence Saunders planned his palatial estate, Cla-Le-Clare, it was to be a showplace, his sanctuary of superlatives. It would to be the largest house in Memphis, with self-sufficient electrical power and its own ice factory. There were stables, tennis courts and the country’s largest private golf course. There were to be riding trails and log cabins on an island in his private lake. Saunders’ audacious estate was just outside of the Memphis borders and located directly across Central Avenue from the Memphis Country Club, sure to be viewed by the city’s gentry. But few knew how far his dreams for the property extended. Saunders transformation of the former farmland into his dream manor included a technological makeover of the landscape.
Saunders asked engineers to design a mountain trout stream and a shoreline with rolling surf on his property south of Poplar Avenue in the flatlands of the Mississippi River Valley. Trout prefer cool water running streams to insure the maximum amount of oxygen in the water. When water temperatures rise above 70 degrees, the ability of the water to carry dissolved oxygen lowers and trout become lethargic and stop feeding. Because Saunders hoped to fly fish, this would be a problem.
Electric World, the electrical engineers’ journal, reported in 1922 that Saunders planned to have ” … a crystal-clear brook flowing over a rocky bed, its course interspersed with falls and with the gamut of mountain trout inhabiting its stream… Although Mr. Saunders is transporting a complete stream from Colorado, bringing boulders, moss, ferns and the fish, he had to reckon with the natural temperatures of Memphis… To care for this he has arranged a duplicate electrical refrigerating scheme, one system to operate in case the other is interrupted, and thus will insure his trout that they will remain as cool as in their Colorado home. Engineers are at work…designing electrically operated agitators concealed beneath the surface [of an artificial beach]…to create an artificial surf.”[i]
Electric World did not say how this was to be accomplished or at what expense, but their breathless account of Saunders’ plans reiterates his ability to convince anyone of nearly anything. Like everything but the Pink Palace building, Saunders’ dream of a Memphis trout stream and surf-filled beach evaporated along with his first fortune.
[i] Electrical World, Volume 80 Number 13 Page 682, McGraw-Hill, 1922
Steve Masler is the Manager of the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. He has a graduate degree in Anthropology from Northern Illinois University and has lived in Memphis for 35 years. He has been the manager of the Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island, Chief Curator of WONDERS: The Memphis International Cultural Series, collected objects for the Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum and managed the replication of the Ramesses the Great statue, all proving that he can’t seem to hold on to a job. His favorite artifact at the Pink Palace is the 300 million year old Pennsylvanian Fossil Plant Slab.