Memphis Realty Trends, Past and Present
What does Memphis, Tennessee have in common 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. However, while old buildings and antebellum architecture is visible everywhere, Memphis realty has not stayed locked in past architectural designs. 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. A not-always successful struggle to inject Modernism into architectural design can also be evidenced in structures throughout the inner city and suburbs.
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. Clano Hall (1853), the Hunt-Phalen House (1830), and Annesdale (1855) are a few examples of everything from antebellum Federal brick architecture to Italian Villa style. 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. Unnecessary applied decorations were eliminated, buildings were to be “regular” looking rather than symmetrical, and volume was more important than mass. 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.
These new suburban residential areas became middle class modernist communities. High quality materials were used for spacious homes with large yards. The cottages and smaller homes were either 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.
Interestingly, Memphis reality and design was the first in the nation to really focus on better quality homes for more reasonable prices. In 1936, the Small Home Builder’s Association published a catalogue with over 100 design plans costing $2500 – $6000. Also, local architects offered their services at a reduced rate. Such was the community concern for helping residents secure their own homes after the Great Depression.
In some ways, WW II dampened enthusiasm for modern European architectural styles. Too much negative association slowed interest in International design. However, in the late 1950s, Mies van der Rohe made an attempt to reinvent modern architecture with 1-2 story steel framed houses with glass-curtained walls and free standing central stairways. 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. The city is slowly revitalizing itself, growing from the west. Older commercial buildings are being renovated while the Midtown area has salvaged its southern charm. 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. Please contact me for help with your modern day real estate needs.