The subject of the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was brought to light several weeks ago when Frank Campbell found three identical vintage postcards of it and sent one to the Press asking for information about the business.
Research shows that the motel had three sets of owners before it closed and was ultimately demolished. Information sources come from the late Dorothy Hamill and Kenny Johnson.
Older area residents may recall the triangular complex that was located at what is now identified as 2115 Kingsport-Bristol Boulevard (N. Roan at Sunset Drive). Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was built in 1945 soon after Robert Johnson returned from military service. Several years prior, he purchased Marion’s Camp, renamed it Broadway Camp before selling it to Cecil Crowe who changed it to Broadway Court.
Johnson’s new business enterprise was located in a sparsely developed area in North Johnson City about a mile from the city limits (located near what is now John Exum Parkway). While listening to the radio, Robert heard the announcer speak of Beverly Hills. He liked the sound of the name and decided to call his motel, Beverly Court. People frequently asked him if Beverly was his wife’s name, but he informed them that her name was Dorothy.
Robert and Dorothy started with 25 units. In those days, the highway to Kingsport and Bristol was two-lane. The D. (Doxie) D. Marable Gift Shop was located directly across the highway from them. Within a year, the Johnsons bought a lot across Sunset Drive and built a house for their residence. The couple found the motel business very interesting with never a dull moment.
The back of an old postcard from that era states: “One mile north of city limits; U.S. 11E, 19W, 23 and 41; 25 units, Tub and shower, radios, fans, steam and electric heat; Phones 2166 and 9175; Member of United Motor Courts.”
On one occasion, Robert found a billfold in the motel driveway soon after he rented a cabin to a family. Since he was sure the man had dropped it, he put it in his office without looking in it until the family returned from dinner. When they got back, the man corrected identified the wallet. Robert learned that it contained $8,000. People often placed their wallets and other valuables in pillowcases and slept on them during their stays. Diamond rings and valuables were frequently left on washstands, causing the unfortunate traveler to drive many miles to retrieve them.
In 1962, the Johnsons sold Beverly Court to businessman Robert Dennis and moved to Florida. They also sold their home and a nearby farm they owned. Dennis got his start in the diner business in Newport, Tennessee where he owned the Coffee Pot Restaurant. Later, he acquired the Peggy Ann Restaurant in Kingsport as well as the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop in Johnson City. The successful entrepreneur was also co-owner of several enterprises in Johnson City, including the TPI Corporation, manufacturers of electrical heating and air ventilation products.
Facts about the third owners who took over the reins of the Court in the 1960s came from Kenny Johnson, a resident of Newport, Tennessee. They were Ed and Lexie Leonard Reedy, Kenny’s great aunt and uncle. The couple lived in Boones Creek near the train trestle while the Leonards ran the Boone Station General Store. Kenny spent many pleasant hours at his relative’s business in the 1960s while growing up.
Since the Reedys did not have any children of their own, many of the younger clan became their “adopted grandchildren.” The youngsters loved to go to the coffee shop and grill to eat anytime they could convince their parents to take then.
According to Kenny: “Every Christmas Eve, the entire extended family and many of our friends would gather there for a fabulous Christmas party. We all exchanged gifts with Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed. The scene looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Santa Claus would always make an appearance.”
Kenny recalled some specifics of the motel. “It was a standard motel room common for the 1950s and ‘60s. It had a bed, desk, chair, television with rabbit ears and a small bathroom containing a tub and a shower. There was nothing fancy about it. I ate in the restaurant many times. It was a real treat back then. There were booths lined along three walls with several tables in the middle. A soda fountain type bar was close to the kitchen. The furnishings were Art Deco. They served traditional plate lunches with food items that included chicken, green beans, potatoes, roast beef, corn, pork chops, hamburgers, fries, hot dogs and club sandwiches.
“Behind the motel on Sunset Drive was a white house. I am not sure if the motel owned it. Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed lived in the house across from the Court on Sunset. There were also a few rental rooms there. Traveling salesmen occupied a large number of rentals for two or three days at a time. My cousin, Don Leonard, told me that another great uncle and aunt, J.M. and Beatrice Leonard, co-owned the motel for a while. J.M. and Lexie were brother and sister.
“The swimming pool, located south of the office and coffee shop, was added in the early 1960s. It was probably the first real swimming pool that I ever swam in. On hot summer Saturdays, all of the extended family would drop by for a swim. With so few pools back then, it was a real treat. Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed were the most gracious hosts.”
Kenny remembered when his aunt and uncle decided to retire: “They sold the property to First Federal and built one of their branches there. The Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was much more than a motel; it was a family business that was enjoyed by the whole family.”