Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Adding to the Seal

Weathered but Beautiful Seal of the City of Memphis, City HallI love the seal of Memphis. It's historical and evocative without being divisive, and includes much of the essence of Memphis. The oak leaf (I believe it's a leaf from the White Oak) represents nature; the cotton boll, agriculture; the steamboat, transportation and commerce; and the gear, industry.

What I'd like to see added to it, and perhaps this is something that the Charter Commission can do, is a symbol of Memphis' creativity and ingenuity. This would be an official recognition of what has made Memphis and will make Memphis, as much as any of the other symbols. A symbol of Memphis art in counterpoint to a symbol of Memphis nature.

What would that symbol be?


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on the Tennessee Brewery

Memphis' CastleThe Citizens to Save the TN Brewery and South Main Historic District will be gathering signatures for the petition opposing the proposed development at the next South Main Trolley Night (the Friday after Thanksgiving -- this Friday, November 24th!). They've also asked that you contact your City Councilperson to state your opposition and provided a listing of contact numbers for all City Council staff (or you can go here for the contact info for the City Councilfolk themselves).

Below is a statement outlining their opposition.

Main Street Historic District Residents and Neighbors

Citizens to Save the TN Brewery and South Main Historic District

October 29, 2006

From the time of the initial South Bluffs neighborhood meeting on August 15th (when the consensus was that out-of-town developers would likely be held accountable to applicable zoning regulations), to the current date, the Brewery development project has moved ahead at an alarming pace. It is now upon us, literally!

As you have probably heard by now, a Detroit developer and his Nashville partner have requested a variance to several zoning codes so that they can construct a 14 story, ~140 unit condominium building enveloping the historic Tennessee brewery building (495 Tennessee Street). Concerns include:

1. the esthetics of the proposed building are not consistent with the standards that have thus far been maintained in the Historic South Main district

2. its height and mass will completely overwhelm the Brewery building, whether viewed from Tennessee Street (e.g., by neighbors and tourists on the Trolley), the River Walk, Tom Lee Park, Butler Park or from South Bluffs,

3. its height will cast too great of a shadow on homes to the north,

4. the density will create traffic problems that have not been addressed and

5. the proposed construction will destroy the character of the neighborhood. The people living in these 140 condos will be looking in the back windows of many houses in South Bluffs, not to mention the added traffic created by their requested density variance.

To date, the developer has requested and received initial approval from the Land Use Control Board (LUCB) for a code variance that would allow them to exceed the 9 story maximum height code in our South Main Historic District neighborhood, and they have requested a variance to exceed the 100 linear frontage restriction on Tennessee Street, so that they can extend the parking deck farther to the north, contiguous with the entrance to Butler park.

We and several others, including the Memphis Heritage Foundation, expressed our concerns to the LUCB, but they approved the variances based on staff recommendations, whose report failed to even mention the listing of the Brewery on the National Registry of Historic Places. We have engaged a local attorney (Mr. Robert Spence, former City Attorney) to advise and assist us in this matter, and he has filed an official appeal to the LUCB related to their decision to approve (with conditions), the height variance and frontage restrictions. Several others also spoke in opposition at the LUCB hearing, but we do now know how many also filed an appeal. However, our collective views in opposition to this proposed project can be voiced via the appeal Mr. Spence has filed. He is also now researching all relevant state, local and federal laws that will be important in our efforts to see that this project is done properly and in a manner consistent with the neighborhood.

As you may have read in the October 28 Commercial Appeal, the Board of Adjustment denied the developers’ request for a density variance (that the proposed project would substantially exceed), but they will likely appeal this decision and need only increase the number of supporting votes from 4 to 5 to gain approval. So the time to act is NOW.

If this project is to go forward in a way that is consistent with our South Main Historic District, it is critical that the residents of this area register their opposition to the current plans. It appears that the primary driver for enforcement of the applicable zoning rules and federal requirements for preservation of a National Registry of Historic Places building is that the neighbors register their objection.

Please drop us a note, call, or email to let us know how you feel. It is likely that we will need to present a note to the City Council to let them know how many residents oppose the development in its current form, in order to be sure that applicable zoning rules are enforced.

Mary Relling and Bill Evans


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Demolishing the Language of Destruction

Goldcrest Brewery (Threatened?), Butler Street, MemphisWhen reading about the life and death struggles of beautiful buildings, I keep hearing the same phrases and kinds of phrases used to defend demolition.
  1. Phrase: "We'd like to save it"
    Best Used With: Lots of public opposition to the demolition.
    This is only noxious when used by people who control the outcome. For instance in a Nashville Tennessean article called History or Hindrance?, a real estate developer made the following statement:
    "The real decision is how old, how significant and how salvageable is the house? … A house with minimal historical significance may not justify being saved," he said. "You can't keep every house that has some age on it, in my opinion." [The developer in September 2005 had demolished Evergreen Place, whose original section was built in 1785, making it 11 years older than Tennessee. Some age on it]
    You save things from acts beyond your control -- you don't have to save them from yourself. The firefighters had to save the Lincoln-American Tower from flames, First Church have to save the shell from the aftermath of the fire, Memphis Heritage has to save buildings all over town from destructive types, but the owner of the Chisca doesn't have to save it. It's not going anywhere unless they destroy it. Evergreen Place survived 220 years without previous owners having to "save it". By saying "save it", the destroyers obscure the intent to destroy by passing it off as an act beyond their control. They don't have to save anything; do nothing and the building will still be there.
  2. Phrase: "It's too far gone"
    Best Used With: mention of water damage and vagrants.
    This is a phrase oft-used to justify demolition of an unoccupied or unused structure. We can bring structures back from near-death and even death, so a building is never too far gone. Now, it might be too far gone for what they want to pay. But since that sounds cheap and greedy, they don't say that. They say it's too far gone and hope we don't ask any questions.
  3. Phrase: "if possible" or "when possible"
    Best Used With: audiences ignorant of what "possible" means.
    As in, "Renovate and put historic structures back into use, when possible."[friggin' pdf alert!] Again, history has shown over and over and over again that it's always possible to revitalize structures. Always possible. Now, your financial resources may not be enough, or your financial projections may not justify the resources necessary, but don't say it's not possible. That makes it sound like you would have to break a law of physics to do otherwise. As with "would like to save it", demolition becomes an unfortunate but fated outcome, like tearfully euthanizing old incontinent Fluffy. It's more like hitting the gas when annoying Fluffy walks behind the car. Again, the fewer questions about Fluffy, the better.
  4. Phrase: "it would be easier just to tear it down"
    Best Used With: mention of water damage, antiquated electrical wiring and asbestos removal.
    A lot less euphemistic and honest than the other phrases. But do you plan to rebuild it like it is now (minus the asbestos)? If you do, that's not easier. If you don't, then of course it's easier! It's easier for builders to dig trenches in the back yard rather than adding indoor plumbing. It's easier to throw Grandma off the bridge than take care of her. The bottom-feeder calculus: it's easier, disease and capital murder and cities laid waste be damned! All acts of destruction are easier than their corresponding acts of creation.

Goldcrest 51 Beer Logo, Goldcrest Brewery, Butler Street, Memphis

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Food stuff

Jerry's Snow Cones, 1657 Wells Station Rd, MemphisI just wanted to point out a few things I've read over the last few weeks about food in Memphis.

The first, which appeared quite a while ago, is Cherry Blossom Special's personal best-of places to eat in Memphis. I've eaten at about half of the places he lists and don't disagree with any. In fact, I couldn't agree more happily with his inclusion of Jerry's Snow Cones. Memphis is blessed to have the many flavored snow cones and ice cream creations of Jerry's. If Jerry can create such a fantastic business out of an old gas station in north Berclair, all of our dreams are possible.

Paul Ryburn is often writing about his trips to the many restaurants of downtown. Recently he wrote about and recommended EP's Delta Kitchen. An excerpt:
By the time I got there, they had rolled off the regular menu and onto their late night menu. From that, I had the Lobster Pronto Pup - a corn dog, but with lobster rather than a hot dog inside, over a bed of greens - SO good. Also recommended on the late night menu is the nachos with sweet potato chips, pepper jack and crawfish.
Check out these pictures also.

If I were a restaurant owner in Memphis, I'd want Paul stopping by. His descriptions of these places always make me hungry for their food.

Finally, another post by Paul that really isn't a Memphis thing, but it's by a Memphis guy (Paul), it's about food, and it's funny (especially the part about the old guy getting ready for his vegetables). Read on.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tennessee Brewery in 2D!

For your consideration, below are some elevations from the proposed development at the Tennessee Brewery:

East elevation:
East ElevationWest elevation:
West ElevationSouth elevation:
South ElevationNorth elevation:
North Elevation
My consideration:
  • The neo-modernist condominiums stuck to the back of the Brewery have no stylistic connection to the original building, which has been called the most architecturally interesting structure in town. Nor does the development have much (any?) connection to the structures in the neighborhood.
  • Why choose such a striking building as the Brewery and then swallow it with a hulking apartment block? The view of the Brewery from the west -- from Tom Lee Park and the Mississippi -- will disappear; the north and south views will almost disappear. For all practical purposes it will be reduced to an east-facing 2 dimensional facade, which is probably why Memphis Heritage Executive Director June West compared the project [pdf alert!] to Sam's Town, Tunica.Lost View from the West
  • Besides what it does to the Brewery itself, the other complaint against the development is the apartment block's mass. It will dwarf the rest of South Main and South Bluff. It will be half again as tall as the highest point of the Brewery (see picture above to get an idea of what that might look like). Balconies will hover above the courtyards below. South Bluff will look like Willie Loman's neighborhood.
  • Why did the Land Use Control Board approve this? Six citizens, mostly from the South Main and South Bluff neighborhoods spoke against the project. The only person who spoke for the project was Brenda Solomito, a consultant to the developers. Yet the LUCB approved it without a comment. No explanation why this project deserves a special exemption from zoning that protects the look and feel and value of a neighborhood. I truly appreciate the risks and the returns necessary for such a project, but those risks have also been faced by many others in the area who stayed within the zoning rules.
  • Never, ever underestimate the importance of icons like the Brewery to the identity of a city.
The development did have a regulatory setback a few weeks ago, as I had written about earlier. Also, I understand that one of the local neighborhood associations is circulating a petition in protest of this development. I'll let you know more about this when I get more details. Or if you get more details, let me know about it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Downtown Development Map Mashup

M for MemphisI created this map overlay of Downtown development projects from this thread and this thread created by bluff2085 on the Urban Planet Memphis forum.

While I might not like every project, most look pretty cool. The overall effect of this influx of money and people into downtown is historic and healthy.

By the way, I flatter myself by calling this a mashup. While it is pulling images and data from 4 different sources, the core component, the kml file is static. What would be much better if the Center City Commission could output their list of projects dynamically in a kml file. They already do it in an html file. To do it in kml, they would have to add geographic coordinates for each project and of course output in kml. They could link to developer's and architect's images and 3D models. Then we could have a real Memphis mashup.

Anyway, more to come. Next I think will be a map of Memphis' endangered sites and buildings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

El Dia de Los Muertos

The Hill Mansion, Union Avenue, Deceased, Demolished for a Fast-Food RestaurantI took this photo of the Hill Mansion on one of the last days of its existence, in 1979. It was located here. It was about to bulldozed to make way for a fast-food restaurant. On Union Avenue. We didn't have enough fast-food restaurants on Union Avenue. This beautiful piece of architecture and history had to go.

Wait, we did have enough fast-food restaurants on Union Avenue! Because within a year or so of the demolition, the fast-food restaurant that had to have that space was out of business. A few years later a Shoneys opened there and a while later it closed. Now the Cupboard Restaurant is there. (No hard feelings toward the Cupboard -- they didn't do it; plus their food is unique and good.)

Requiescat in memoriam, Hill Mansion!