The Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee is trying to raise $2 million to buy the 175-year old Hunt-Phelan house, 533 Beale St., in what could be the latest change for the antebellum home that is the last mansion on a street once lined with them.
The house itself would continue to operate as a place to rent for private events, said Trevor Thompson, the foundation’s chief executive officer.
“I wanted to change the paradigm as far as supporting the foundation,” he said.
“We will still use the mansion for events for rental, and of course, that income will support the mission of the foundation. … It’s a historical landmark.”
The more recent brick building by the historic home, which houses condominiums and part of a bed-and-breakfast operation, would be a temporary home for sickle cell patients and their families. And Thompson said there are plans for research labs and similar facilities in future buildings on the property. That would include a primary care medical clinic and a goal of having the largest sickle cell trait-testing program in the three-state region.
“My background is leadership and policy. … I want to work with parents to provide supplemental education opportunities to help their children cognitively, living with the disease,” Thompson said of plans for a school for sickle cell patients that would help them not miss as much school while they undergo treatments.
The ambitious idea touches on several themes in Memphis history and at least one theme from the history of the mansion itself: In its long life, the Hunt-Phelan home served as a Civil War hospital.
The concept of extended-stay housing for parents and other family members of children undergoing medical treatment is not a new one for Memphis.
Target House, which is for patients and their families at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is on the grounds of what was once the St. Peter Orphanage at Poplar Avenue and McLean Boulevard.
A major part of the city’s medical history includes the work of Dr. Lemuel Diggs as a pioneer in research on sickle cell anemia. In 1938, Diggs opened the fourth blood bank in the U.S. at the old John Gaston Hospital, and his research breakthroughs included the collection and storage of blood, and a technique for separating plasma from blood cells.
The clinical pathologist, who was professor of clinical pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, was considered one of the world’s leading authorities on sickle cell anemia, writing about his findings in literature and textbooks on the disease. He founded the first comprehensive research center on sickle cell anemia at UTHSC.
Diggs’ work in sickle cell anemia research continues at St. Jude, which Diggs was instrumental in helping to establish.
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare recently opened its Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, which serves as an outpatient clinic for adults and the city’s first dedicated emergency infusion unit.
The Inn at Hunt Phelan opened in 2006, with a new building that serves as the inn portion of the property. The historic home includes a restaurant, bar and lounge, and was rented out for private parties.
The mansion was open for tours over four years starting in 1996, operated by Elvis Presley Enterprises in a partnership with property owner Bill Day.