Judge: Nineteenth Century Club Owners Can Raze Building

By Amos Maki

A judge ruled Wednesday, July 24, that the owners of the historic Nineteenth Century Club building on Union Avenue can move forward with plans to demolish the property.

Nineteenth Century Club

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

General Sessions Div. 14 Court Judge Larry Potter said that because no Chancery Court suit alleging an improper sale of the property was filed by Wednesday that he had little choice but to allow the Union Group LLC to move forward with plans to raze the building at 1433 Union Ave.

“Since we do not have any more information I think at this point the appropriate documentation has been presented to this court that the code requires, and while I’m not happy about this decision, based upon what the (Memphis) Fire Department provided I must allow the owner of the property to do what they want to do with the property,” said Potter.

Two weeks ago Potter prohibited the building’s owners from taking any action on the property while attorney Webb Brewer explored allegations made by Nineteenth Century Club members who protested the sale and believed club members were required to vote on the sale, not just the executive committee, for it to be legal.

“At this time plain and simply I do not have a client to fit that bill and say I want you to file that suit for me,” Brewer said. “As a preservationist I hate that this looks like this may happen but as an attorney I can only bring a suit when there is a proper basis to bring a suit.”

Brewer said he and the leadership of the American Institute of Architects Memphis asked state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. to explore if the sale had somehow violated the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Act, which Webb said requires nonprofits disposing of major assets, such as the Nineteenth Century Club building, to get the approval of the attorney general.

The regal but decaying property on Union was built in 1907 by Rowland Jones, a Memphis lumber king.

In 1926, the 15,813-square-foot house that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places was acquired by the Nineteenth Century Club, a philanthropic women’s organization.

The Union Group acquired the nearly 107-year-old property for $550,000 in January after winning a competitive bidding process, beating out a group that offered $350,000 and wanted to turn the property into a women’s business center.

Dana Lin, a part owner of the Union Group, said the building would definitely be demolished. When asked if she could describe what the owners have in store for the property, Lin said, “not yet” before leaving court. The Lins operate Chinese restaurants, including several in the Memphis area.

The building’s owners had been cited by the city for owning or maintaining a dangerous or neglected building, which began all the legal proceedings over the property’s future.

On Aug, 26, Union Group officials will give the court an update on update on code and demolitions processes, including any permits the company may need.