Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Love Me Tender

By John Griffin

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Lauderdale courts was of the first two public-housing projects built in Memphis. It was completed in 1938 and, unlike later public housing built here, was constructed by the WPA, a federally funded jobs program initiated after the Depression and noted for a high level of design and workmanship throughout. Under a recent federal mandate from HUD, the Memphis Housing Authority is now charged with de-densification and is making plans to demolish across the city.

J. Frazer Smith, the author of White Pillars, an influential book on the antebellum plantation homes of the Mid-South, was the chief architect of Lauderdale Courts and its companion project, Dixie Homes. Dixie Homes is the more modern in terms of overall design. Lauderdale Courts has a more restrained Georgian feel, tempered by a flat roof and deco details around the entrance doors that suggest the modern movement of the '30s and '40s.

The complex was planned as a whole with Market Street being turned into a green promenade through its center. The largest buildings were two long, three-story buildings that front on North Third Street, running north from Exchange to Winchester Avenues. Behind them were smaller units clustered around courtyards. MHA has expressed a willingness to sell off the two largest units fronting on Third to a private developer.

The two buildings now have 66 units apiece and stand one block from the convention center, two blocks from city hall and The Pyramid, and have easy access from I-40. They are on the National Register of Historic Places, which entitles the developer to substantial tax credits for a certified rehabilitation.

The grounds around these two buildings have an abundance of mature trees that make them both shady and very welcoming. There's even an open area behind one of the two buildings that could easily accommodate a parking deck and still leave enough room to provide a safe, secure development with ample open green spaces.

Either market-rate apartments or a hotel seems the logical way to develop these two buildings. There's certainly an ever-increasing demand for more apartments downtown and the location is perfect for either choice.

The important historical footnote is that Elvis, Gladys, and Vernon lived here from 1949 to 1953. 149 Winchester, Apartment #304 was their home while Elvis was in high school. He practiced in the basement laundry room and performed at parties in the recreation hall. This suggests a ready market for a hotel that could be added to the tour that annually brings 800,000 people to Memphis.

Contact: Judith Johnson, director, Memphis Heritage Inc. (901) 529-9828.

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