VOL. 131 | NO. 131 | Friday, July 1, 2016
Aretha Franklin’s Childhood Home Safe for Now
By Madeline Faber
Aretha Franklin’s birthplace at 406 Lucy Ave. in South Memphis is getting an encore. Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has suspended his demolition order for six weeks to give some breathing room to the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corp.’s recently revived campaign to turn the house into a museum.
Jeffrey Higgs, director of LOCCDC, said Franklin has shown interest in saving the house. When Franklin was 2 years old, her family moved from Memphis to Detroit, the city most people associate with the soul music icon.
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has given the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corp. six weeks to develop a plan for turning Aretha Franklin's childhood home into a museum.
“She called me last Sunday,” Higgs said. Franklin wants to see the house moved into a larger museum and told Higgs that she’s willing to fund its next phase.
Higgs has been pursuing a similar plan for the past couple years. After the house was declared a public nuisance in 2012, longtime owner Vera House turned the property over to Environmental Court. Potter appointed Higgs as a receiver for the property so that LOCCDC could pursue redevelopment.
Those plans fell by the wayside as the house sat virtually untouched for years.
“By ordering this property to be torn down, I’ve gotten more interest than in the past four years,” Potter said.
At the court hearing on Thursday, June 30, Potter emphasized that he needs a viable plan to save the house from demolition. At the next hearing on Aug. 11, Higgs will have to present a fully fleshed-out plan with timelines and formal funding sources.
“Being interested and hopeful means nothing, absolutely nothing,” Potter said.
Higgs said that it will cost about $15,000 to stabilize and relocate the property. The shotgun house is located off a one-way street about a mile away from the tourist-trafficked Soulsville area.
Higgs has narrowed down three sites for the home’s future location. Whether it lands on Mississippi Boulevard, College Street or McLemore Avenue, Franklin’s house will be a complement to Soulsville’s Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Slim Collaboratory, the home of late blues musician Memphis Slim that reopened as a resource center for musicians.
Higgs’ initial budget for the project was $250,000. At Thursday’s hearing, Higgs said that he plans to construct an additional building adjacent to the property to host events or a gift shop, so the original budget will have to be amended once further details are hammered out.
“She (Franklin) could help us build an Aretha Franklin museum?” Potter asked.
“Absolutely,” Higgs replied.
Potter issued a demolition order for the dilapidated house in early June. Over the past few weeks, LOCCDC, Memphis Heritage and community members staged repair days in advance of Thursday’s court hearing.
Potter approved of the house’s stabilization. Recent photos show that the back addition of the house, which suffered a fire and was beyond repair, has been removed. The house’s windows have been boarded up, and the front porch’s rotten support beams have been replaced.
Potter said that grass needs to be cut and debris removed, among other minor repairs.
House and her grandson, Chris Dean, attended the court hearing.
“This house is a diamond,” said Dean. “I know for so long we’ve been trying to save it, and give it to the right person.”