What does Memphis, Tennessee share with big cities like Chicago? The answer would be: an exceptional number of historic buildings. In fact, the city ranks near the top when it comes to national register listings, with over 11,500 properties, most of which are located in the Midtown and Downtown areas. While historic examples can be seen everywhere, Memphis doesn’t feature just one style. As the city has experienced ups and downs financially and the effects of both World Wars and the Great Depression, the design of both commercial and residential buildings has been altered. An attempt to apply modern principles can also be seen throughout the wider urban area.
The predictable growth of Memphis, central hub for Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee was hampered in the 1870s by a series of epidemics that cut the population almost in half, reducing it to 32,000. The city slowed down and boasts few buildings from that period. Homes prior to the epidemics can still be viewed, especially in the midtown area. Federal Brick architecture and Italian Villa style can be seen around Memphis. Victorian, Italian, and French designs can be appreciated in Central Gardens, the Evergreen Historic District, and Annesdale Park.
The 1890′s ushered in an era of functionality and utilarianism in Memphis realty design. Unnecessary applied decorations were eliminated, buildings were to be “regular” looking rather than symmetrical, and volume was more important than mass. The influence of modernism spread from residential to commercial and even industrial properties. Many of the older buildings on Union Ave., Main St., Second St., and Madison were torn down, replaced by more modern steel frame buildings designed by Chicago architects. Other older buildings were resurfaced to appear modern. Skyscrapers started appearing by 1914, and streetcars encouraged the development of subdivisions such as Central Gardens, Estival Park, and Annesdale Park.
Blue collar communities established themselves in that area. Higher end properties can also been seen with expensive materials and spacious yards. Crafts man style and Greek Revival designs were prevalent in the lower level dwellings. Wood casement windows of the Prairie school can even be occassionally seen.Practical housing projects were also pursued, but the city didn’t start zoning until 1924.
Interestingly, Memphis realty and design was the first in the nation to really focus on more rob homes for more reasonable prices. The Memphis small builder’s association published a catalogue with more than a hundred design plans costing less than six grand. Also, local architects offered their services at a reduced rate. Memphis’s special interest in home ownership dates from the Great Depression.
Patriotic fervor during the Second World War slowed adoption of modern European design. Too much negative association slowed interest in International design. A small historical oddity was the late 1950 attempt by Mies van der Rohe to restablish modern design with steel framed houses and glass curtains. Remanants can be seen in Memphis even today.
Memphis currently benefits from a slow and steady appreciation in the housing market. Memphis has rejuvanated itself starting with a downtown renaissance and working its way west. Older buildings are being saved with Midtown especially retaining an antebellum grace. The further east, one finds a more suburban feel with lovely country homes and acreage. While there are homes for sale in every price range, values are appreciating, and the higher the price the more the competition. With pro-sports teams, museums, year-round festivals, cultural activities, and southern ambiance, Memphis Tennessee offers a great place to settle in and raise a family.
That’s a basic description of the history of Memphis realty.