Judge Prohibits Nineteenth Century Club Demolition

By Amos Maki

A Shelby County General Sessions Court judge has prohibited the owners of the historic Nineteenth Century Club building on Union Avenue from doing any demolition there while an attorney investigates if the sale of the building was legal.

General Sessions Div. 14 Judge Larry Potter on Wednesday, July 10, granted attorney Webb Brewer’s request to delay for two weeks a ruling on if the building’s owners, the Union Group LLC, had submitted a proper demolition plan so he could determine if the club’s bylaws were followed when the club was sold.

Brewer said he had been contacted by a member of the club who protested the sale and that it was his understanding the entire membership of the club was required to vote on the sale, not just the executive committee, for it to be legal.

“Based on my preliminary work there may be some validity to a Chancery Court case challenging the sale,” Brewer said.

Linda Mathis, the Union Group’s attorney, protested the requested delay, saying the ownership group had a contract with a demolition contractor and was ready to move forward with their project.

“At this point my folks need to move forward because they have contracts with people for demolition,” Mathis said.

Potter said granting the delay was not an easy decision.

“Do you ever pray for wisdom?” Potter asked. “These matters, holy smokes, are not easy. We’ve got, I’m sure, people who do not want this structure torn down, and people who purchased this building and want use of that building, whatever that may be.”

The stately but decaying property at 1433 Union Ave. was built in 1907 by Rowland Jones, a Memphis lumber king.

In 1926, the 15,813-square-foot house that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places was acquired by the Nineteenth Century Club, a philanthropic women’s organization.

The Union Group acquired the property for $550,000 in January after winning a competitive bidding process, beating out a group that offered $350,000 and wanted to turn the property into a women’s business center.

The building’s owners had been cited by the city for owning or maintaining a dangerous or neglected building. Potter had stopped the Union Group from doing any demolition work on the building until a demolition plan was submitted to the court. Mathis submitted that plan July 10.

The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 24, at 1:30 p.m.