A vision of grandeur for the developing river metropolis at Memphis, the Gayoso House was built by Robertson Topp, a wealthy young planter. Topp was involved in the development of South Memphis, an area of houses, commercial buildings, and a hotel designed to grace the young city with high architectural style. He commissioned James Dakin, a founder of the American Institute of Architects, to design the structure, which was constructed in 1842. Its Greek Revival portico was easily recognizable from the river.
In the late 1850's Topp continued his
efforts to bring architectural distinction to Memphis, when the
Cincinnati firm of Isaiah Rogers, designer of the Tremont House in
Boston, contributed to an addition that almost doubled the Gayoso's
original 150 rooms. The addition featured wrought-iron balconies
overlooking the Mississippi; the supervising architect was James B.
Cook, an Englishman who stayed in Memphis for the rest of his
The Gayoso House became a Memphis landmark,
an oasis of modern luxury frequented by travelers passing through the
city by river, road, or rail. With its own waterworks, gasworks,
bakeries, wine cellar, and sewer system, the hotel offered amenities far
beyond those available to the rest of Memphis. The indoor plumbing
included marble tubs and silver faucets as well as flush toilets.
Gayoso House burned on July 4, 1899. To replace it, James B. Cook
designed a new hotel. His U-shaped construction surrounded a courtyard
screened from Front Street by a row of columns, which are no longer
extant. Goldsmith's department store bought the hotel in 1948 and used
it for offices and storage. Fifty years later, however, it was restored
for use as downtown apartments, residences, restaurants, and offices.