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VOL. 129 | NO. 210 | Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Restoration of Midtown Landmark Days Away

By Amos Maki

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Renovation of the historic Nineteenth Century Club building on Union Avenue in Midtown will begin in a matter of days, according to a local preservation group.

Crews from Archer Custom Builders will soon begin restoring the historic mansion to its previous glory, according to Memphis Heritage. LRK Inc. is the architect.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“Work will start next week on the restoration of the Rowland Darnell Home,” Memphis Heritage wrote in a Facebook post late last week. “We are very excited and very thankful that the owners have made this decision.”

It is unclear how much the project will cost, but a previous estimate reported that the repairs needed to bring the building at 1433 Union up to code could cost as much as $2.6 million.

The fate of the property kicked off an intense debate over the proper design and use of property, especially historic ones, in the city core, pitting everyone from preservationists to architects and community members against the owners, who wanted to raze the building and replace it with a retail center and restaurant.

The decision to restore the mansion for use as an upscale restaurant and event rental space represents a major victory for preservationists, who had feared the grand mansion located next to a Taco Ball on the southern side of Union would meet the wrecking ball, the same fate shared previously by other mansions that once occupied that stretch of Union.

The regal but decaying property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places was built in 1907 by Rowland J. Darnell, a Memphis lumber king.

In 1926, the 15,813-square-foot house was acquired by the Nineteenth Century Club, a philanthropic women’s organization.

But as maintenance costs mounted, the club, faced with dwindling membership and limited funds, was forced to sell the property it could no longer afford to take care of.

The Union Group LLC, whose owners operate several restaurants in the Memphis area, acquired the property for $550,000 in 2013 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.

Proceeds from the sale went to the Children's Museum of Memphis, but that gesture did not appease some former club members or preservationists.

Preservationists and a former club member filed a lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court challenging the sale of the property, claiming it violated the club’s bylaws and possibly state law.

A Chancery Court deadline for Nashville restaurant operator David Wachtell III to post $40,000 in earnest money on the property came and went.

Chancellor Walter Evans eventually upheld the sale and Union Group, which is affiliated with the Lin Family, owners of Memphis area restaurants Wang’s Mandarin House, New Hunan, Kublai Khan and Red Fish, began some preparatory demolition work.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 128 339 21,916
MORTGAGES 76 240 16,657
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 17 1,521
BUILDING PERMITS 0 641 43,132
BANKRUPTCIES 36 136 6,853
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 23 3,192
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0