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VOL. 125 | NO. 174 | Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Council to Vote on Fate of Lee House

By Andy Meek

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Sometimes, a classic is allowed to gather dust indefinitely on the shelf, its value and artistic worth in danger of being forgotten.

That’s the fate historic preservationists have been trying to reverse for the Lee House at 690 Adams Ave. And now, after months of planning a new future for the home, they’re close to having a reason to celebrate.

The historic Victorian Village residence, which began its existence in the 1840s as a four-room farmhouse that grew to become the upscale residence of a wealthy Memphis family, is close to enjoying a new lease on life.

The Memphis City Council is scheduled to discuss next month a transfer of the home’s ownership from the city to the Center City Development Corp. The CCDC would then work to put the home up for sale to a private sector buyer or entity that would restore it and reopen it to the public.

“That house is basically gutted on the interior, and it’s been vacant for four or five decades now,” said Andy Kitsinger, senior vice president of planning and development for the Center City Commission. “So there’s a lot of work that needs to be put into it.

“The neighborhood would like to see that house put back into use, and we’ve been working to try to get it in the hands of a private developer or any developer. It’s currently city-owned property, but as the development corporation for Downtown, we’re probably in the best position to structure a development proposal for it.”

Victorian Village neighborhood stakeholders have been “daydreaming about possible uses for the house,” according to the August issue of “The Voice,” the neighborhood’s newsletter. Among the uses being imagined is everything from a restaurant with apartments above to a law firm, design studio or even use by a college.

It wouldn’t be the first time the property has been used as a school. The Lee House, once the home of riverboat tycoon James Lee, also once was the site of an art school that was a forerunner of Memphis College of Art.

Among other historical tidbits about the home, it was one of the first in the city to feature a functional air conditioning system.

“While maintained in its original condition for the past 50 years, it has never been restored, and (it) awaits a private investor to fall in love with the wonderful mansion and restore it to its former glory,” the neighborhood newsletter reads. “Our principal goal is to restore the old girl and make it a place of life, commerce and tourism.”

The project represents one of several items on a sprawling to-do list for Victorian Village that includes raising money to pay for a master plan for Morris Park and reopening some of the neighborhood’s historic homes that have been shuttered.

The neighborhood has a passionate and committed neighborhood development corporation and a rich concentration of history dating to Memphis’ earliest days, when the city’s commerce and culture were still shaped by the city’s status as a rough-and-tumble river town.

Meanwhile, a new historic advocate has recently set up shop in Victorian Village. Jennifer Tucker, the historic properties manager for the Pink Palace Family of Museums, recently moved from an office at City Hall to the neighborhood’s Mallory-Neely House.

She’s working to get that home, as well as the Magevney House, reopened after they were closed to the public several years ago because of city budget cuts.

PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468