Putting neighborhoods on the National Register is an exhaustive, dedicated process. Here the keeper of the Memphis Heritage Historic Properties Catalogue gives us snapshots of some wonderful but lesser-known historic neighborhoods.
By John Dulaney
Memphis neighborhoods or districts come in all sizes, shapes, ages, types, and official standings. In Memphis, we are blessed with 56 – yes, fifty-six – that are officially recognized as historic.
The most varied set is probably the one accepted by the National Park Service for its National Register of Historic Places – “the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” Among other requirements, the properties listed in this inventory should be “districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.”
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One quality that almost all candidates for the National Register should have in common is their age; a district or other structure, site, etc., must almost without exception be at least 50 years old, and be significant to the history of its community, state or nation.
The website of the organization Memphis Heritage Inc., www.memphisheritage.org, describes in its Historic Properties Catalogue more than 210 examples of properties here in Memphis and Shelby County that are now, or used to be, listed on the National Register (NR).
As just mentioned, NR properties come in many sizes and types. Examples of the latter are residences (Graceland, Magevney House), churches (Clayborn Temple, Idlewild Presbyterian), commercial buildings (One Hundred North Main, Tennessee Brewery), schools (Peabody Elementary, Central High, Rhodes College), entertainment venues (Mid-South Coliseum, Orpheum Theatre), cemeteries (Elmwood, Memphis National), transportation sites (the Memphis Landing), etc. In addition to these more or less single structures, 56 of the 191 Memphis properties currently listed on the NR are generally labeled “historic districts.” Well-known examples are Victorian Village, Court Square, Overton Park, and Central Gardens. Nine other examples of historic districts will be described below and throughout this issue, including some not so well known.
There is also an even more select set of properties, which is the collection of National Historic Landmarks. This diverse group, some 2600 strong, includes Valley Forge and Pike’s Peak, the White House and Hoover Dam, and Watts Towers and Churchill Downs. Memphis’s four entries here are Beale Street Historic District, Chucalissa Indian Village, Graceland, and Sun Record Company.
Many of Memphis’ National Register properties are marked by public plaques. Memphis Heritage.
Memphis’s Recognition of Local Historic Districts
Complementing such national listings, certain so-called “local historic districts” have been recognized by the City of Memphis as worthy of being preserved more or less in their historic condition. Quoting now from Memphis Heritage’s Historic Properties Catalogue:
“This effort is overseen by the Memphis Landmarks Commission (MLC). The joint Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development (OPD) staff now manages the MLC as well as the Land Use Control Board (LUCB) and the Board of Adjustment. Memphis’s local historic districts were once known as Memphis Landmarks Districts, but since the adoption of The Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code (UDC) by Memphis City Council on August 10, 2010, they are now codified as Historic Overlay Districts (see Section 8.6 of UDC). Protection of such districts is ensured by seeing that “all exterior new construction, building alterations, demolitions, relocations, and site improvements visible from the street must be reviewed and approved by” the MLC. Every newly-designated Historic Overlay District must have developed its own set of MLC- and City Council-approved Design Review Guidelines.
“After adoption of the Unified Development Code, Memphis approved “Historic Overlay District” status for the nine former “local historic districts” that are also listed on the National Register. These are: Annesdale Park, Annesdale-Snowden, Central Gardens, Cotton Row, Evergreen, Gayoso-Peabody, Glenview, South Main Street, and Victorian Village. . . . Lea’s Woods and Rozelle-Annesdale are likewise local Historic Overlay Districts but are not listed on the NR. Memphis also has two single-lot Historic Overlay Districts: these are Collins Chapel and Maxwelton, which are on the NR . . .”
In 2018, residents of Cooper-Young Historic District (HD) and Speedway Terrace HD applied for Historic District status, and their applications and design review guidelines were duly approved by the required number of residents and by MLC and LUCB. The City Council gave the two HDs what might be called temporary or tentative approval of Historic District Status; the approval is temporary because the council is also considering new rules governing development in such districts. The four Vollintine HDs making up the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association or VECA have also expressed interest in becoming a Historic Overlay District.
Memphis’s National Register-Listed Properties
Memphis’s NR-listed “historic districts” generally fall into the categories of commercial or industrial sites, residences, parks, or college campuses. Ten can fairly be called primarily commercial, industrial or civic, 37 are residential, 6 are parks or park-like, and 3 are portions of college campuses.
Examples of Memphis’ Historic Districts described throughout this issue of StoryBoard Memphis include one commercial district, six residential districts, a park, and a college campus. The black and white maps shown in these examples are those used in the properties’ original NR nominations. They and many other images are borrowed from Memphis Heritage’s Historic Properties Catalogue that can be accessed at www.MemphisHeritage.org.
Individual District maps from left: Normal Station Historic District; St. Paul Avenue Historic District; LeMoyne College Historic District (LeMoyne-Owen College); Chickasaw Heritage Park (De Soto Park); Pinch-North Main Commercial District; Greenlaw Addition Historic District; Vollintine Evergreen Historic District; Third Addition to Jackson Terrace Historic District; and Arlington Historic District.
Read more about all of Dulaney’s Districts throughout this series from Memphis Heritage Keystone and StoryBoard Memphis:
- Normal Station Historic District
- St. Paul Avenue Historic District
- LeMoyne College Historic District (LeMoyne-Owen College)
- Chickasaw Heritage Park (De Soto Park)
- Pinch-North Main Commercial District
- Greenlaw Addition Historic District
- Vollintine Evergreen Historic District
- Third Addition to Jackson Terrace Historic District
- Arlington Historic District
This article and all of Dulaney’s Districts originally appeared in print Issue X, the August 2019 Neighborhood Issue, front page and pages 12, 23-25.