Evans Upholds Nineteenth Century Club Sale, Demolition

By Bill Dries

Nineteenth Century Club Ruling

Chancellor Walter Evans upheld the sale of the Nineteenth Century Club building on Union Avenue by the club to a private company and denied a request to permanently stop any demolition of the historic building.

However, Evans in his written ruling Friday, Sept. 6, kept the temporary injunction in place until Sept. 20 that prevents demolition of the building and freezes the cash involved in the sale in order to give plaintiffs in the civil case time to appeal.

Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, one of two attorneys representing plaintiffs seeking to stop the sale and demolition, said after Evans ruling that there will be an appeal.

“The plaintiffs currently intend to appeal,” he said. “We have 14 days to perfect our appeal and we will be consulting with them and acting appropriately.”

Mulroy added the appeal will involve a stay of demolition pending a ruling on the appeal.

Evans said several of the plaintiffs who were former members of the club lacked standing because they had not paid dues and been active in the organization for several years.

And he said the decision by the club’s board of directors to sell the property to the Linn family for demolition and development of the land as an Asian-themed restaurant was legal and proper.

Nineteenth Century Club Ruling

The club’s leaders initially rejected an offer by the Linns because it involved demolition but had no viable alternative offers, Evans concluded. Meanwhile, the club’s membership continued to dwindle and it was going to General Sessions Environment Court on a regular basis because of building code violations that were too expensive for the club to fix.

Nineteenth Century Club Ruling

“If the temporary injunctive relief being requested by the plaintiffs is granted, irreparable harm would easily be imposed on all of the defendants to an immeasurable degree,” Evans wrote. “With all the enormous problems facing the defendants if the declaratory judgment and injunctive relief is granted, only a hollow victory would result to the plaintiffs.”

Evans rejected the claim by the plaintiffs that there would be irreparable harm to them if he allowed the sale and demolition to move forward.

“There is simply no evidence in the record to support such contention,” he wrote. “Two of the four named plaintiffs, for more than five years have not been involved at all with the affairs of the club or physically visited the club’s meeting place or paid any dues to support the activities of the club. … The remaining two plaintiffs cannot itemize any specific right, benefit or consistent use they have enjoyed in recent years and would lose if the building structure was demolished.”

The defendants include the Children’s Museum of Memphis to which the club donated most of the more than $500,000 the club got for the sale of the property to the Linns.

The museum plans to use the $485,000 to develop a new exhibit at the museum. But the money is frozen because of the court action.

Museum chief executive officer and former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett declined comment following the ruling which Evans read aloud in his courtroom.

“What people need to remember is that even the leadership of this group wanted to preserve this building,” said attorney Art Quinn, who represented the Nineteenth Century Club. “They made a good faith decision when they sold it. The leaders of this club literally cried when they made the decision to sell this building. They followed the law and they did what they felt they had to do acting in their fiduciary duties toward their organization.”