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. 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.
Update: October, 2013- Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in downtown Memphis is to be vacated by the state. 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. A state spokesman has said a decision on what to do with the Donnelley J. Hill building has not been made.
The Belvedere Apartments — Trousseau — Kroger — Seessel's
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 include demolishing The Belvedere Apartments and the old antique and Trousseau shops. The grocery chain 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 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.
Update: 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.
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, 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.
While 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).