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Landmark and Legend
Memphis, TN
Here we note legends-in-their-own-time and landmarks as they transition into history


 
Threatened Landmarks
The Heartbreak Hotel, a 128 room facility located across the street from Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion, is planned to be demolished after Elvis Presley Enterprises builds a new $70-million, 450-room hotel adjacent to the late rock 'n' role idol's property. The Heartbreak Hotel will close and be demolished, according to the plans, after the new hotel opens. The new hotel, named The Guesthouse at Graceland, is designed as a six story building located on property just north of the Graceland estate. The new hotel is tentatively scheduled to open in 2015, rumor is that the developers wish to open in time for "Elvis Week" in August, 2015. Given the approval process is just underway by June 2014, that would be a very aggressive construction schedule. Regardless, if the project goes forward, the Heartbreak Hotel's demolition would likely occur late in 2015 or in 2016.

In January, 2014, the owners of the Tennessee Brewery property at 477 Tennessee Street in Memhis, began to publicly discuss a demolition contract on the vacant building, which was built in 1890. The commercial real estate broker who represents the brewery’s owners said any plan would include the caveat that demolition would not be immediate in hopes that someone would step forward to save the building. During the spring, a brief use of part of the property included a variety of community events, primarily a beer garden with food trucks, and live music. As of early June, an August 1, 2014, demolition date still remained in the plans of the building's owners. Architectural historian Judith Johnson has said that the Tennessee Brewery is “most spectacular 19th century building in Memphis.”

In September, 2013, it was learned that the University of Memphis has approached the City of Memphis about the possibility of acquiring Audubon Park. According to published reports, the talks are in the initial stages but the city mayor has said that if the park should be transferred to the University it would remain open to the public and that the University would not put an athletic facility, like a University owned football stadium, there. Interim university president Brad Martin is also on record as saying the park would continue to function as a public park. Audubon Park is 373 acres with an 18 hole golf course, tennis center,  a forested walking trail, pavilion, and picnic tables. The Memphis Botanic Garden is also inside the park boundaries. Audubon Park was established in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the city and county each acquired land for it.

The properties once and perhaps best known as the Towery Building and a Holiday Inn, Union Avenue, both brands having left long ago, are under tentative contract for sale and the city is being asked to demolish the structures for the new development, according to an article in The Commercial Appeal, December 18, 2012. The three story office building fronts Union Avenue at McLean Boulevard and the eight story hotel behind it are currently empty. Towery Publishing once used the office space as its headquarters, the hotel was originally a Holiday Inn, though it had changed brands several times since then. Those involved with the proposed project are not saying what it is, but one advocate says he is a midtown supporter and believes the community will appreciate the plans. Neither those associated with the developer nor officials with the city would disclose the nature of the proposed redevelopment project for the southwest corner of that midtown intersection.

Raleigh Springs Mall, once a popular and bustling magnet for retail in the northern sections of Memphis which hosted major national retailers as anchor stores, is struggling to continue in business after a decade or more of declining occupancy. In the June, 2012, Tennessee State Representative Antonio Parkinson said the mall should be torn down if efforts to revive it are not successful. "Would I be opposed to the mall being torn down?  Absolutely not," Parkinson told WMC-TV news. In early December, 2012, one section on the north end of the mall which used to house a J.C. Penny's store was demolished. Mall management said it had been vandalized and had become a safety issue. In the spring of 2014, the City of Memphis administration proposed demolition of much of the mall, replacing it with city offices, including a police precinct, and space for commercial establishments.

[Update: May 23, 2014 - Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building has been inspected by Memphis city consultants and declared in good condition and not obsolete. The city administration is proposing purchasing the building and moving a number of offices which now occupy leased space around the city to it saying that will save money. The state apparently is willing to sell the building to the city for $2.2-million or in exchange for the city providing 400 parking spaces for 15 years to its employees closer to its new space in the One Commerce Square building. ]
The Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in downtown Memphis is to be vacated by the state midyear 2014. The 12-story building, opened in 1968 in the Civic Center Plaza area of downtown, is structurally sound but the state said it would cost $9.2-million to renovate it and that it was a better economic decision to move staff to another building. The state has leased part of the third floor and all of floors 2 and 4 through 10 for 15 years in the  privately owned One Commerce Square building at 40 South Main Street. About 480 employees work in the Hill building and most will move to One Commerce Square about June 1, 2014. A state spokesman has said a decision on what to do with the Donnelley J. Hill building has not been made, although there are published reports it will be offered for sale.
[Given the city's evaluation of the condition of the building, this site no longer deems it as a threatened landmark and will remove it from these pages in the not too distant future.]


Belvedere ApartmentsThe Belvedere ApartmentsTrousseau — KrogerSeessel'sTrousseau, Union Avenue
[June, 2014 update: Demolition is underway.]
These buildings are in between the threatened and going categories, as they may remain for a year or two but in just a few years will be gone. In rapidly moving developments in September, 2012, the Kroger Company bought the Belvedere Apartments
at 1745 Union Avenue, the building housing its grocery at 1761 Union Avenue,  the structures east of the grocery which used to be an antique store and the Trousseau women's clothing shop, and associated land. Kroger will begin development of the land in 2013 leading to a larger grocery with more parking. The plans Kroger midtowninclude demolishing The Belvedere Apartments and the old antique and Trousseau shops. The grocery chainformer Antique store, Union at Idewild St. reports it hopes to be able to keep the existing store open while constructing the new store. Kroger now owns Union Avenue frontage from Idlewild to Lemaster streets. The Belvedere Apartments, built in 1964, sit on a 1.12 acre plot. and the 10-story structure are more than any other building on Union Avenue east of Watkins Street. The grocery was long a Seessel's Supermarket before Seessel's sold it. Several grocery chains have operated stores there since, with Schnuck's selling it to Kroger in 2011.

Hotel ChiscaHotel ChiscaUpdate: March, 2013 - Barring a collape in financing or plans, this property appears to be on the verge of being saved. The private group has closed on the real estate contract purchasing the Hotel Chisca. It is expected renovation activity may begin during the summer of 2013.
On August 7, 2012, the Memphis City Council voted to conditionally provide $3-million toward the restoration of Hotel Chisca. An investment group reportedly now will proceed with the purchase. The group still must provide/obtain private funding for the purchase and millions in restoration costs.
Hotel Chisca, built  in 1913, sits empty and boarded up at 272 South Main Street. After serving as a hotel, the Church of God  in Christ (COGIC) acquired the building for $10 and located its headquarters there until the late 1990s. Thereafter, the building, still owned by COGIC, has been empty. Fire authorities have cited the owners for neglect and fines have been ordered. In the summer of 2011, reports are that COGIC has engaged a realty company to seek a buyer. Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission says he would like to see the building restored to a hotel or apartments. "The Chisca hotel is a very important part of that neighborhood. That space connects the South Main area that is so vibrant to the core of downtown which is so vibrant. So, to have that major block taken up by a vacant blighted building is a real hindrance to the neighborhood." (WHBQ-TV)
There are probably many historic features of the property, but one sure to be  popular is that the hotel was the site of the studios of WHBQ radio in 1954 where for the first time a record by an unknown singer named Elvis Presley was  broadcast.  DJ Dewey Phillips was on to something, as callers demanded he play it again, and again, and again on his "Red, Hot, and Blue" show. Although many others cite "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner and his band, recorded in 1951 also at Sun Studios, Rolling Stone Magazine considers Elvis' version of "That's All Right" to be the first rock-and-roll record.
The remnants of the radio studio have been moved to Sun Studios and is included in part of that tour. It is undetermined as of spring 2014 whether the radio studio remnants will be retruned to the Chisca for display when it reopens or not.

Highland Street branch, Memphis Public LibraryUpdate: October, 2013 - The University of Memphis says it plans to purchase the building that housed the Highland Street Branch of the Memphis Public Library,  which opened in 1951 at Highland Street and Midland Avenue. The library was closed for repairs after storms in April, 2011, due to flooding. In mid November, 2011, the City announced it would not reopen the facility. Staff were reassigned to other libraries after the storms and now the materials will also be similarly disbursed. The library had been expanded in 1959 and had a capacity of 60,000 volumes and had also undergone renovation in 1999. A city efficiency study recommended the branch for closing in 2007 since the new main library located at 3030 Poplar Avenue is less than two miles away. It's closing was proposed in 2008 during budget cutbacks but avoided the ax. The property may be declared surplus and sold. Major mixed commercial development is underway crosswise at the intersection (see the Highland Street Church of Christ page) and the University of Memphis plans to purchase property on the opposite side of Midland Avenue for a new "front door" to the university.

Prospect Elementary School (also MCS South Area Office)Update: On July 31, 2012, the Shelby County Board of Education voted to sell the property formerly used as Prospect Elementary School and the Memphis City Schools South Area Office to D Mae International Corporation, doing business as Young Man University, for $210,000. The selling price is $1.14-million less than what the property was appraised at in March, 2011. Memphis City School officials say vandals had stolen or damaged everything inside, including all plumbing and electrical fixtures, leaving the building with little or no value. The sale includes about 6.83 acres of land. Dr. Jeffrey R. Futtrell is listed as president of D Mae International Corporation. It is anticipated the building will be demolished by the new owner.
Prospect Elementary School, 2300 Hernando Road, opened in 1952 and closed as a school in 1981. In 1982, Memphis City Schools made it the South Area Office and it housed administrative offices, including those for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) and the Memphis Interscholastic Athletic Association. The building has been unoccupied since the 2005-2006 school year. Memphis City Schools proposes to sell the building and the 6.83 acre campus. Since the building's future is somewhat unknown, it is being listed here as threatened, however, it is very likely the building will be preserved and used by the future owners. Several organizations have expressed interest in the property, including charter schools, private schools, faith-based groups, community organizations, real estate investors, reading and literacy advocacy programs. The property has been appraised at a value of $1,135,000.

Longview Middle School (also Longview Junior High School)Longview Middle School,  1895 South Orleans Street, opened in 1955 as a junior high school with grades 7 through 9. In 1981, it was converted to a middle school with grades 5-8. It closed in 2007. Memphis City School proposes selling the building and 5 acres of land around it. The campus originally was 22.8 acres and also is the site of Alton Elementary School, which continues to operate. The school system plans to subdivide the lot to provide the 5 acres as part of the sale of the Longview structure. The Longview school consisted of 2 buildings. The primary classroom building is 3 stories and has 28 classrooms, a library, and administrative offices. An auxiliary building contains a gymnasium with locker rooms on the top floor and a cafeteria with one large classroom or storage area on the bottom floor. The city school system says there has been some community interest in purchasing the buildings. The two buildings and 5 acre lot are appraised at $2,015,000.

UTCHS: Randolph Hall, Feurt Building, Beale BuildingWhile many Memphians may not recognize these specific buildings, thousands of former students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center will. This web site gives more "landmark" weight to such buildings because so many people spent so much time in them, even if the broader community may not have any particular association with the buildings. More generally, people recognize the UT Memphis campus and its many buildings and may take note when there are changes but not particularly notice the individual structures. The campus is undergoing changes, with a new College of Pharmacy building, a soon-to-be-built cardiovascular research facility, and renovations to existing buildings. Three buildings have been targeted to be torn down as soon as funds become available. In fact, demolition of Randolph Hall, 790 Madison Avenue, the Feurt Building, 26 South Dunlap Street, and the Beale Building, 822 Beale Street, were already planned but have been postponed due to budget cuts. University officials say the old buildings are not worth any additional investment and need to be removed. The Beale Building, located on Beale Street behind the Scottish-Rite Building and next to the Office Depot store, originally was a bus barn but later was converted to offices for the University, including the College of Social Work. The Feurt Building originally housed the pharmacy and dentistry academic and laboratory areas. Randolph Hall served as a residence for students and should not be confused with the adjacent and not-as-tall Wassell Randolph Student Alumni Center (SAC) building.
You may find a reference to UTCHS in our notes. Over the past 40-years not only have new buildings risen and old ones been removed, but the name of the institution has changed. Now known as the University of Tennessee Heath Sciences Center (UTHSC), it was known for many years as the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences (UTCHS), and at one time simply as University of Tennessee - Memphis (UTM).



Mid-South ColiseumThe Mid-South Coliseum, opened in 1963, was last used for public events in 2006. The 11,00 seat facility is located on what is known as the Fairgrounds, though the Mid-South Fairis no longer held there and the property itself is undergoing major changes as the city of Memphis redevelops it. During its active period, the "round house" as MSU fans often called it, the Mid-South Coliseum was home of the Memphis State University Tigers basketball team, concerts, including one of the last performed by The Beatles, public ice skating, professional ice hockey teams (Memphis Wings and Memphis South Stars (1964-1969) and  in the 1990s, the Memphis RiverKings ice hockey team, professional basketball teams the Memphis Pros (1971–1972), the Memphis Tams (1972–1974) and the Memphis Sounds (1974–1975), boat shows, tractor pulls, and professional wrestling, among many other events. The future of the Coliseum has been in doubt since even before its closing, as event bookings dwindled after the opening of the 20-thousand seat Pyramid Arena downtown  in 1991 and even more after the 18-thousand seat FedEx Forum, also downtown, opened in 2004. In January, 2011, the Memphis Housing and Community Development director said the coliseum "has numerous safety and code issues, and it has asbestos throughout... It cannot compete with more modern facilities." Update: in March, 2011, the City administration proposed spending $25-million for improvements to nearby Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and demolition of the Coliseum. The matter appears yet to be resolved but  as late as April, 2012, Memphis mayor A C Wharton said, "I just don't see it fitting in." August 28, 2012, excerpt from The Commercial Appeal, "The plan now under study... would raze the Mid-South Coliseum and replace it with "tournament level" baseball diamonds and a new multipurpose indoor facility in a parklike setting."

The Plaza Theater / BookstarUpdate: The Osaka Japanese Fusion Bistro restaurant has opened in the space. This writer has not been inside to see what historic elements may or may not remain.
The Plaza Theater is being listed as threatened because the lease for the Bookstar store that has occupied the space since 1992 is being discontinued. While the building itself is not believed to be at risk, the elements of the movie theater that Bookstar preserved may be. As Bookstar renovated the space when moving in, several vestiges of the old movie house were preserved. The leasing agent says whether those details remain depends on the future tenant. "Except for the leveled floor, the main room has the shape and feel of a large theater.
A movie screen hangs over the magazine racks on one end of the room, and small projection windows overlook the room from the opposite wall. The men's bathroom has its own swerving sitting room with upholstered seating. Outside, the Bookstar sign is structured like a marquee, and underneath stands a glass-encased ticket booth." (The Commercial Appeal).

The Rowland J. Darnell HouseUpdate: November 10, 2013 -- Those advocating preseration of the Rowland J. Darnell House, aka the Nineteenth Century Club, have posted an additional $50,000 bond so that the court will continue the stay of its ruling against them. That means the building owners cannot demolish the structure while the appeal process goes forward. An appeal has been filed to the ruling of a chancery Court judge that the sale of the Rowland J. Darnell House, aka the Nineteenth Century Club, was legal.
A winning bidder was selected in a January 24, 2013, auction of the historic Rowland J. Darnell House, aka the Nineteenth Century Club. June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage, tells the Commercial Appeal, "... the winning bidder does not intend to preserve the historic building. 'It's very devastating to the community'" 
The house was built in the first decade of the 20th century at 1433 Union Avenue in Memphis.  According to the Shelby County General Sessions Environmental Court, the house must undergo substantial repairs to meet current fire and construction codes.

The Scottish Rite building site is desired by the University of Tennessee for a medical clinic.The University of Tennessee Health Services Center is proceeding to prepare a formal offer to buy the Scottish Rite Building at 825 Union Avenue in Memphis despite the organization's statement that it  has "no real desire to sell our building." The university wants to demolish the 101 year old building and put up a multi-story Clinical Services facility. A University spokesperson says if the offer is refused, "then we would have to assess what our next step would be.” In an earlier Commercial Appeal article (July 1, 2010), the executive vice chancellor and chief of staff of the university is reported to have said that using eminent domain to take the building is not being considered. According to newspaper, a decade of discussions between the University and the Memphis Consistory of the Ancient of the Accepted Scottish Rite resulted in an appraisal of the property which came in at $2-million, but that price did not interest the Scottish Rite.

Sterick Building, MemphisThe Sterick Building, 8 South Third Street, in downtown Memphis was put on the "Ten in Tennessee" of endangered historic structures in May, 2010. The Tennessee Preservation Trust calls the 29 story building a "unique example of a Gothic Style office building with attendant interior and exterior period architectural detailing..." At its construction in 1930 it was the tallest building in the South. until 1965, the tallest in Memphis. It has been closed since 1986. The building remains boarded up, with various owners over the years finding it uneconomical to renovate. It is said to contain environmentally hazardous materials such as asbestos. The Tennessee Preservation Trust says it is endangered by "inappropriate renovations, redevelopment challenges, and a looming land lease expiration." The least for the land upon which the building sits expires in 2025. As a major office building for decades in Memphis and the tallest skyscraper for many of those years, the Sterick Building was and is truly a landmark. Even today, it remains the fifth tallest building in the city. Update: According to a May 5, 2012, article in The Commercial Appeal, the Downtown  Memphis Commission is "pressing for a feasibility study of mixed-use development of the Sterick Building and national marketing of the empty landmark once the study is completed."

 
 
   
Cobblestone landing at Memphis RiverfrontRiverfront cobblestone landing - Many say plans of the Riverfront Development Corporation would seriously devalue the historic cobblestone landing in Memphis. For more information, see the websites of Memphis Cobblestones, Friends For Our Riverfront, and the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation.


Anderson-Coward House (Justine's)The Tennessee Preservation Trust has listed the Anderson-Coward House, 919 Coward Place, Memphis, which was the location of what was then considered the city's finest restaurant for many years, Justine’s, as an endangered historic property due to vandalism and neglect. The is believed to have been built in the 1840s and remodeled and expanded in the 1850s. See the Tennessee Preservation Trust website.



The Public Promenade, Memphis, TNThe Public Promenade on the river bluff at Memphis.  The Tennessee Preservation Trust says this property is in danger of being "leased to developers, and 400 foot high office buildings and a mall would be constructed that would change the entire character of the riverfront area--- and separate a significant portion of the city center from its long-standing relationship with the Mississippi River." See the websites of  The Tennessee Preservation Trust and the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation.
Update: The Tennessee Preservation Trust lists this historic property now as having been saved. While the original development plan seem to have been withdrawn, Landmark and Legend is not at all confident the Public Promenade is safe from historically
destructiveendeavors.