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Making Memphis

Posted on | August 27, 2011 | Comments Off on Making Memphis

What does Memphis, Tennessee share with big cities like Chicago? The answer would be: an exceptional number of historic buildings. The city can boast of over eleven thousand national register listings. However, while old buildings and antebellum architecture is visible everywhere, Memphis realty has not stayed locked in past architectural designs. The monetary cycles, plagues, and wars of the wider country have all effected the architectural style of the city. 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. Everything slowed down, including building projects as the city worked hard just to survive. Homes from the years prior to this stall, the 1830s – 1850s can be still seen today 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.

By the 1890s, functionality had become more important in architectural design. Superflous architectural flourishes died off as an emphasis on regularity and volume came into vogue. Modernism had begun to influence the designs of both houses and commercial business properties, including factories. 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. Smaller dwellings tended toward Craftsman style or a modern version of Greek Revival design. Occasionally, an imitation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School style was also interspersed, boasting bands of wooden casement windows, horizontal lines, and deep overhanging roofs.Very utilitarian housing projects were also included, but it wasn’t until 1924 that the city started designating certain areas to be residential, commercial, or industrial.

Atypically for Memphis, Memphis led the nation in focusing on the design of smaller affordable homes. In 1936, the Small Home Builder’s Association published a catalogue with over 100 design plans costing 00 – 00. Also, local architects offered their services at a reduced rate. Memphis’s special interest in home ownership dates from the Great Depression.

In some ways, WW II dampened enthusiasm for modern European architectural styles. 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. Not really popular, the effort gradually died out in Memphis realty although his work can still be seen there today.

Today, Memphis has had a prolonged buyer’s market, and hopeful home owners can choose from fine homes in the downtown and riverfront areas. Memphis has rejuvanated itself starting with a downtown renaissance and working its way west. Older commercial buildings are being renovated while the Midtown area has salvaged its southern charm. In the far east, faux-estates with acreage abound. While there are homes for sale in every price range, values are appreciating, and the higher the price the more the competition. If you’ve got a family to wean Memphis offers professional basketball, museums galore, a packed annual festival calender, a variety of cultured activities, and a laid back southern drawl.

That’s a basic description of the history of Memphis realty.

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