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VOL. 125 | NO. 32 | Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back to Life

Victorian Village to rise again

By Andy Meek

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The Woodruff-Fontaine house is now a fully furnished museum, which includes scenes from Memphis’ past. It at one time was a part of the Memphis College of Art. When the college moved, the house was put under a 50-year lease to the local chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA).  Photo: Lance Murphey

A new chapter is about to be written in the story of a historic Memphis neighborhood once populated by statesmen, land barons and wealthy cotton merchants.

Area stakeholders have several projects in the works to breathe new life into Victorian Village.

Driving that effort is the untapped potential in the more than 150-year-old warren of architecturally notable mansions and small businesses.

The projects include raising money to pay for a master plan for Morris Park, the city’s imminent reopening of two historic homes and a variety of long-range heritage tourism items.

Funding is expected to be in place for the Morris Park master plan in a matter of months.

The city is taking steps to find a private-sector buyer for the shuttered Harsson-Goyer-Lee House at 690 Adams Ave., the earliest house in the city to have an air-conditioning system and once home to a riverboat captain.

That would free the city from its obligation to pay for restoring the home. And its reopening would dust off one of the many relics that Scott Blake, chairman of the Victorian Village Community Development Corp., said make the neighborhood unique and worth preserving.

“We’re probably the only Memphis neighborhood that has this sort of concentration of things,” Blake said.

The still-evolving pieces of Victorian Village’s revitalization all build on the idea of burnishing that history.

Plans for the neighborhood include:

  • Encouraging the city to tap the CCC to market and sell the Lee House. City officials already are tentatively on board. But because the home was a gift to the city, several legal and real estate issues still have to be untangled before a new owner can enter the picture.
  • Raising an estimated $70,000 to pay for a master plan that can be used to determine the future of Morris Park. The six-acre park at Poplar Avenue and Manassas Street has two basketball courts, two playground areas, a pavilion – and a bad reputation. It’s known to attract drug activity and the homeless.
  • And reopening two homes the city shut several years ago because of budget cuts. A manager of historic properties is being hired to facilitate reopening the Mallory-Neely and Magevney houses, which will happen in the near future.
Woodruff-Fontaine House  Photo: Lance Murphey

“Someone is being hired to start putting those plans together,” Blake said.

The Mallory-Neely House at 625 Adams Ave. is a three-story Italianate mansion with 25 rooms. Its stained glass windows were bought in Chicago in 1893.

The Magevney House, a clapboard cottage at 198 Adams Ave., was built by Irish immigrants and is one of the oldest residential structures in Memphis.

Former Memphis Heritage Inc. executive director Judith Johnson said the landmarks should be reopened as soon as possible because of their direct link to Memphis’ earliest days.

PROPERTY SALES 61 61 6,453
MORTGAGES 46 46 4,081
BUILDING PERMITS 113 113 15,474
BANKRUPTCIES 19 19 3,289