Cherokee Arms Undergoes Rehab

By Sarah Baker

It wasn’t long ago that the Cherokee Arms Apartments complex in Midtown was on the market with a note of “in need of repair.”

The 30-unit Cherokee Arms Apartments complex at 1508 Madison Ave.

(Photos Courtesy of Gabrion Properties LLC)

But thanks to Memphis native and current Los Angeles resident Dana Gabrion, the three-story complex will soon breathe new life to 1508 Madison Ave. Under the entity Gabrion Properties LLC, she acquired the 30-unit, Class C investment-grade multifamily building for $455,000 in fall 2010 and hopes to have it ready for occupancy come June.

“I’d like to renovate it, hold onto it and lease it up,” Gabrion said. “I’m trying for the renovations to use as much stuff made in Memphis or made in America as possible and I’m trying to keep it historically accurate with everything I’m doing to it – I don’t want to do a botch job and just put the cheapest Home Depot stuff in there. I’m probably spending too much money on it for what’s smart to get back out of it, but I love the building and I love the historic buildings in Midtown, so I want to stay true to it.”

Gabrion is a graduate of the University of Memphis and a co-executive producer of “America’s Next Top Model.” She was recently honored by the university with the 2011 Outstanding Young Alumna Award and was elected to the university’s 2011-2012 National Executive Board of Directors.

Owning pieces of Memphis real estate is not new to Gabrion, as she owns the historic Talbot Heirs hotel in Downtown Memphis, where her parents oversee day-to-day operations. Gabrion also owns a triplex and guesthouse at 201 Central Ave. and a duplex at 233 N. Willet St., and recently bought the former Nylon Net Building at 7 Vance Ave.

“(These buildings) are kind of like orphan children to me,” Gabrion said. “Everyone thought I was crazy when I looked at the 1508 (Madison) building. They were like, ‘You’re not considering that, right?’ I was like, ‘Oh, no, definitely not considering that.’ I mean, it was a mess. But it was such a gorgeous building with good bones that I had to save it.”

With Gabrion in California, the rebirth of the building was handed over to Joey Hagan, principal at Architecture Inc. The firm is very active in the historic renovation and restoration of multifamily properties – being the architect of record for the Hope VI projects at University Place and Legends Park – but 1508 Madison still presented its fair share of unique hurdles.

Work is under way to breathe new life into the three-story complex at 1508 Madison Ave.

“The challenges with a building like that are the same challenges you have with any building of that age – none of the electrical meets code, none of the plumbing meets code, there is no HVAC,” Hagan said. “It had a big, massive boiler in the basement, which was really kind of the only way that you lived back in the ’20s. But certainly no air conditioning. That’s why we’re doing all new HVAC and no more window units.”

Various contractors and subcontractors are working on the building. For instance, the balcony restoration process, completed by Jesse Schroeder, took two and a half months of sandblasting and scraping to restore to its original state. And the fence was finished by Apex Ironworks in Midtown.

“I suspect that when it was built, it was probably a fabulous place,” Hagan said. “Judging by the age of the construction and the finish out of it, it was a really, really nice apartment building in the early part of the century.”

The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s office estimates Cherokee Arms was built in 1950, but local historian Judith Johnson has come across a record showing that J. Frazer Smith bought the land in 1924 and built the building. Smith also built Lauderdale Courts (now Uptown Square) and published a book called “White Pillars.”

Due to the scope of the rehab, Gabrion removed all the building’s tenants – with the exception of one man who’s lived there for more than 20 years.

“He’s a sweet man. I don’t really know his story, but I was like, ‘I can’t make him leave,’” Gabrion said. “And I’m not going to up his rent when we renovate it, either. I think he deserves it.”

Property management for Cherokee Arms is provided by Revid Realty LLC. Gabrion hopes to have the website up soon (, and will hang a banner for street visibility. Other than that, marketing efforts are taking a back seat.

“Ideally, I’d like for the target group there to be very diverse with college students and people who work in the restaurant and bar business in Midtown,” Gabrion said. “I’d like to do some cool things to the common areas, like put bike storage there, since it’s on the bike lanes and stuff.”