A small city like Memphis, Tennessee! What could it possibly have in common with big cities like Chicago? A myriad of historic buildings, maybe? As a matter of fact, with over 11,500 properties, most of which are located in the Midtown and Downtown areas, the city ranks at almost the top of national register listings. Albeit the fact that if you look around there are old buildings and antebellum architecture all over the place, Memphis real estate has transcended the old architectural designs. The economical and financial graph of the city has been quite a roller coaster ride. Also, Memphis has been greatly affected by the World Wars and the Great Depression. Effects of which can be seen on the designs of both commercial and residential buildings. A not so successful attempt to infuse Modernism into architectural designs can be seen in structures all over the inner city and suburbs.
Due to a series of epidemics in the 1870’s, the population of Memphis fell dramatically to 32,000. Half of what it was! This became the reason for the held back growth that Memphis, which was the central hub for Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, encountered at that time. For the city was working hard to step out of the miseries, everything, including the building projects came to a halt! Homes dating back to 1830s-1850s still stand tall in the Midtown area. Clano Hall (1853), The Hunt-Phalen House (1830), and Annesdale (1855) are some examples of buildings that speak for antebellum federal brick architecture and Italian Villa style. The Central Garden, the Historic Evergreen District, and the Annesdale Park pour out Victorian, Italian and French designs adding to the city’s elegance.
By the 1890s the architectural designs grew more functional and efficienct. Needlessly applied decorations were avoided and the buildings became more chic and standard rather than symmetrical. When said “efficient”, it implied that the buildings were about more space and volume rather than mass. Houses, commercial buildings, even factories started reflecting Modernism in their designs. Union Ave., Main St., Second St., and Madison were given a makeover when the older building here were swapped for modern steel frame buildings created by artists from Chicago. Others were just given touch-ups to appear modern. By 1941, Memphis knew the “bird’s-eye view” and the “worm’s-eye view” when skyscrapers festooned its streets. Central Gardens, Estival Park and Annesdale Park were a result of increased streetcars.
The newly settled uptown residential areas were home to middle class modernist communities. Large homes with large yards were created using high quality material. Smaller homes and cottages sported either Craftsman style or a modern version of Greek Revival design. Bands of wooden casement windows, horizontal lines and deep overhanging roofs, the typical Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School style can be seen sprinkled on the city here and there. Quite functional housing projects could also be seen, but it was in 1924 when the city actually started authorizing places as residential, commercial, and industrial.
What’s more fascinating is that Memphis real estate and designs were the first in nation that emphasized on better quality homes for more reasonable prices. The Small Home Builder’s Association, in 1936, released a catalogue with over 100 design plans costing $2500-$6000. Also, to help modernize the city faster the local architects offered their services at a reduced rate. This concern from the community helped Memphis out of the Great Depression and provided people with home security.
Also, World War II somehow diminished the zeal for European architectural styles. A lot of negative association dampened the interests in International designs. Interestingly, Mies van der Rohe, in late 1950’s made a futile attempt to reinvent modern architecture by introducing 1-2 story steel framed houses with glass curtained walls and free standing central staircases. The style didn’t get much popularity though; it can still be seen in Memphis.
There has been a lot of difference in Memphis realty from ‘then’ to ‘now’. Today, the city offers quite an extended buyer’s market and those who hope to own a home soon can choose from an excellent line of houses that Memphis’ downtown and riverfront presents. Gradually fortifying, the city is growing from the west. While the older commercial buildings are being restored the Midtown area has reclaimed its southern appeal. Walking further to the east, Memphis boasts serene outskirts with beautiful country homes and estates. The city offers a home for everyone. Homes for sale in every price range! The values are pleasing and greater the price more the competition. Pro-Sports teams, museums, year round festivals, cultural activities and southern ambience all of it makes Memphis, Tennessee one of the best places to live in and grow!
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