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Photo by Steve Roberts

Chris Lotterhos: A heart for the homeless inspired T-shirt line 

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

After growing up in East Memphis and graduating from Germantown High School, Chris Lotterhos split his time in college between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, playing baseball for two years at each school. Before he could complete his five-year degree program in business and graphic design, he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Poised for a career in baseball, Lotterhos was in the minor leagues for about three years and made it to the Triple A level. However, he left the game to start his own business, an indoor sports academy for kids.

“When I was in my 20s, I took my life savings of $12,000 and headed to Jackson, MS,” recalled Lotterhos. “I had a partner who was playing in the major leagues at the time. Once we got that facility going, I moved to Nashville to start another one in the Cool Springs area of Franklin. I was fortunate enough to work with over 5,000 kids within a period of about 10 years. Then I sold the company to a franchise called Velocity.”

Lotterhos wanted to return to Memphis to be closer to his family. With strong entrepreneurial skills, he used his creativity and educational background to invent the world’s first sun screen vending machine. Then he spent the next 10 years marketing his product while raising awareness about the dangers of skin cancer. Ultimately, he placed his invention in 35 states and eight countries.

“The trajectory of my life changed again after I got a divorce,” said Lotterhos (who is now happily remarried). “For a while I shelved my entrepreneurial endeavors, taking a job in sales, then working for the owner of BB King’s to help market that restaurant, as well as Lafayette’s Music Room. I found I really loved working Downtown — there’s such an artistic and free-spirited vibe.”

Being in that environment brought Lotterhos into contact with something else that stirred his heart — members of the area’s homeless population.

“I got to experience Memphis in a different way,” explained Lotterhos. “All my life I’ve had a heart for homeless people. I made regular donations, but as I started to get to know some of the homeless people on a personal level, I found I wanted to do more than just give part of my pay check.”

The question for Lotterhos became, “How can I do more with my own limited resources?” The answer came from a blend of his entrepreneurship, business and marketing background, and his talent for graphic design.

“I came up with the idea of selling T-shirts to raise money to help provide shelter for the homeless,” said Lotterhos.

His company is called “7 Homeless Grove,” and Lotterhos likens the name to a street address for those without a place to call their own. His T-shirt line is being sold in over 60 retail stores in the Greater Memphis area and beyond. To date, that money has provided over 250 nights of shelter.

“These retailers have stepped up tremendously to be a part of what I call a ‘love mission’ that is like a pay-it-forward exchange,” said Lotterhos. “The shirts aren’t designed just to be cool, I want them to be more about the city and what it represents.”

His designs sport slogans like “I Love Memphis - We Grit, We Grind, We Give.” In Nashville the saying is “I Love Nashville - We Sing, We Smash, We Share.” And playing off a favorite phrase heard around Oxford, MS, his shirts read, “We Hotty, We Toddy, We Love Everybody.”

The T-shirts come packaged in cotton drawstring bags, with the suggestion that the bags can be filled with hygiene items and given to those in need. Proceeds for shirt sales not only help pay for the production of more T-shirts, the money also buys pre-paid nights of shelter at the Memphis Union Memphis.

“I started this business in April (2017) and it has been built on a shoestring budget without any sponsors or investors,” said Lotterhos. “With the support of my wife, Melissa, I’ve been making it work paycheck to paycheck, actually, T-shirt to T-shirt. I feel like Memphis is one of the most giving cities around, and that gives me confidence that this endeavor is my platform to fuel my desire to be part of something positive in our city — it’s really about the people in the city.”

To learn more about 7 Homeless Grove, check out Lotterhos’ posts on Instagram and Facebook.


STREETSEEN  |  Mitchell Dunn

Photo by Steve Roberts

Mitchell Dunn: Rebuilding the past through art

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Native Memphian Mitchell Dunn grew up in Whitehaven in 1960s and 70s, and graduated from  Harding Academy. As early as he can remember, he had an interest in architecture. During his high school years, he recalled writing a paper on “Four Grand Mansions of the United States.” In it he profiled houses such as The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina; the Carson Mansion in Eureka, California; and the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California. He also included a house that he could see out of his window at Harding Academy — the Kingsland estate on Cherry Road. Although not on the same scale as the others, it piqued his curiosity (he views it as the second grandest private home built in Memphis, second only to The Pink Palace)..

After high school, Dunn studied architectural drafting at a two-year college, an effort that helped better developed his drawing ability. But his true interest in art began at an early age in his own home, Both of Dunn’s parents (Bobby and Mariam Dunn) were artists in their own right. They met as students at the Memphis College of Art, when the school was located on Adams Avenue in Victorian Village.

“My love of art and architecture seems destined to be as my parents met and dated while attending classes in some of the loveliest turn-of-the-century houses in Memphis,” said Dunn. “Mother was a freelance artist who worked in retail drawing fashion illustrations. Dad worked as a commercial artist at Merrill-Kramer, a commercial advertising agency formerly located where Otherlands Coffee Bar now sits on Cooper Street.”

When Dunn was in his early 20s, he worked alongside his father at the advertising agency doing paste-up artwork. He went on explore his love of houses, doing painting and restoration work. Also, at one point, he started doing construction activity inspections for a number of local banks That work was tied to commercial lending. The residential work brought Dunn up close and personal with architectural details of a variety of housing styles. It also furthered his architectural education of things like corbels, pediments, and moldings.

In 2008, when the local economy “imploded,” especially with regard to the housing market, Dunn began taking Continuing Education classes at the University of Memphis, mostly pertaining to real estate appraisals. This endeavor led to him drawing houses for real estate agents to use as closing gifts for clients and homeowners.

“I wish I had known a long time ago that my heart was going to be with long-ago mansions,” lamented Dunn. “In fact, I probably would have gone to school in order to teach architectural history, focusing on grand domestic architecture.”

After decades of study, his goal now is to rebuild the grand mansions of Memphis that have been lost to time. He intends to expand his efforts to other buildings and churches across the nation. Dunn has cultivated a business, “Distinctive Home and Architectural Portraits.” Clients are usually individual homeowners, as well as real estate agents, who commission his work.

“Some of my house portraits are given as Christmas presents, others are offered year-round for birthdays and other occasions,” explained Dunn. “The drawings are often done in graphite, some in colored pencils.”

He is working towards a series of drawings depicting local “lost” architectural landmarks, such as the former home of Napoleon Hill that held court on Union Avenue. He hopes to turn the “lost” originals into prints. Dunn explained that technology has been a great help in his search for architectural treasures.

“I’ve used Google Maps to see if a structure is gone or still standing,” explained Dunn. “And there are all sorts of the databases that you can tap into, with Memphis Room type formats, to locate these grand old homes. For me, it has become a passion to learn as much as I can.”

But after exhausting all of the resources he has been able to find to document local residences of bygone days, Dunn says he is at the point now where he needs to connect with members of local families in hopes of locating surviving photographs of their former homes and their stories.

“It is cost prohibitive to think that we can ever rebuild the great mansions that have gone by the way,” said Dunn. “Some of the Old World craftsmanship required for the details have been lost, too. However, art can tell the tale. I feel like with each drawing, I’m rebuilding a piece of the past — one brick at a time.”

To learn more about Mitchell Dunn’s work, contact him at villasallay@hotmail.com