Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Entrepeneurs of CODA

Attending the CODA conference last month convinced me that this organization is one of the most important in Memphis. And its greatest effect is yet to come.

My favorite session was not in the original program. When a speaker had to drop out, the conference filled the space with a discussion by the Rhodes CODA fellows. These Rhodes students discussed the cultural projects that they undertake as part of their fellowships. It was a creative and critical conversation between each other about their projects and best approaches. We witnessed the process, and the process -- arts entrepeneurship -- is very exciting.

Not just temporary, academic, learning projects, the projects, by CODA standards, must be sustainable. The organization, group, institution or business that the student creates must be built to survive its founder's graduation from Rhodes and possible departure from Memphis. And it must survive in the community, not just Rhodes.

These are not academic projects created by future leaders. They are real-world arts startups created by entrepeneurs now!

I think Memphis can -- should -- learn a lot from what they're doing. Huzzah to Dr. Timothy Sharp and John Weeden for their innovative leadership.

Update: Art Scene on WYPL TV-18 has an interview this week with John Weeden, Assistant Director of CODA.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Zippin Pippin Listed on National Register

Second to Last Hump, Zippin Pippin, MemphisI received word from Denise Parkinson that the Zippin Pippin has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What does this mean?
  • Listing in the National Register honors the property by recognizing its importance to its community, State, or the Nation.
  • Private property owners can do anything they wish with their property, provided that no Federal license, permit, or funding is involved.
  • Owners have no obligation to open their properties to the public, to restore them, or even to maintain them, if they choose not to do so.
  • Federal agencies whose projects affect a listed property must give the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment on the project and its effects on the property.
  • Owners of listed properties may be able to obtain Federal historic preservation funding, when funds are available. In addition, Federal investment tax credits for rehabilitation and other provisions may apply.
[emphasis mine].

Many congratulations and thanks to Judith Johnson, Denise, Steve Mulroy and the Save Libertyland crew for this great work.

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A Good Question

John Weeden of Weeden Arts Watch and Rhodes' CODA fame concludes a very interesting series of posts about a recent trip to Portland with a question for his readers.
Would you please help me out on this by letting me know what you believe to be the best aspects of Memphis, and why they contribute to a particular sort of 'cool' unique to Memphis? Of course, there's the obvious music pedigree of the blues, rock n'roll, jazz and soul, but that's almost too easy. Enough books have been written on Memphis music to fill the entire Library of Congress, but I'm looking for the 'what else' here. What else is there to Memphis beyond blues and barbecue? What make us special? What makes Memphis most Memphis?
Go over and answer. While there check out the images of Weeden's handwritten notes on the Portland trip. Visually inspiring.

I also have to write something about the mind-expanding CODA conference I went to last month.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Learning from Carnies

Lessons from the Mid-South Fair and Cooper-Young Festival about creating energy in permanent places:
  • Not just walkable -- walk required.
ride at the Mid-South Fair, Memphis
  • Strong and fun visuals, coming from everything and everywhere.

  • Strong and pleasant smells coming from restaurants and vendors.

  • Use variety.
Funnel Cake -- Deep-Fried Goodness, Mid-South Fair, Memphis
  • People variety.

  • Cost variety.

  • Loss leaders -- something you can do and see without spending money or lots of it.
Moon Bounce with dog theme, 2006 Cooper-Young Festival, Memphis
  • Lots of kids stuff, including animals, playgrounds, art, spaces, etc. Doesn't mean you can't have "adult" stuff, but kids should be encouraged.

  • Lots of micro-to-small structures and spaces.

  • Lots of micro-to-small businesses.

  • Closeness of people.
  • Fun.
lights of a ride at the Mid-South Fair, Memphis
  • Lighting that encourages fun.

  • Anything that encourages all of the above.
Shriners at the 2006 Cooper-Young FestivalLessons to avoid:
  • People drive from all over Memphis to support the Fair and Festivals. A permanent place cannot consistently depend on people coming from all over the metropolitan area to support its energy. I just don't think you can sustain that drive-up market permanently (see Overton Square).

  • Depending on a wider, drive-up market will create parking pressures and attendant mindsets, which will undo the places (see Overton Square).
How do you create energy without requiring half that half the city drive up?
  1. start with a small place. Make it smaller if possible.

  2. Encourage a density of activity, and expand from there.

  3. have many festivals and interlocking events per year. Think of ways to make a separate event part of the larger community. With interlocking events, the participants should walk, walk, walk! The more walking connections created between events in your neighborhood the more energy and the more people will want to live in your neighborhood. Which will help...
  4. mini-city at the 2006 Cooper-Young Festival, Memphis
  5. encourage greater residential density and variety, immediately around the neighborhood commercial centers, especially in the empty lots. Memphis has lots and lots of empty lots. You won't get density and closeness if you tear down standing structures and leave empty space.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rome Redux, Part II

My earlier lost point about Rome and Memphis is this: the only difference between Memphis and Rome is the concentrated, continuous, cumulative application of imagination to the riches that God and/or Nature have given us.

The Gazillion Dollar Question: what has prevented us from a concentrated, continuous, cumulative application of imagination?

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rome Redux

Sears Crosstown from the Auction Street Bridge, MemphisMy take from the film, Rome: Impact of an Idea: Sixtus V began the creation of modern Rome by joining special places -- piazzas -- with arteries he laid out to connect the piazzas. His plan created dynamic connection as people moved between the places, pulled visually by the piazza's monuments in the distance and spiritually/economically by the piazza's uses and meanings. His and his architect's (Domenico Fontana) monument of choice: the obelisk.

After the film, there was a great discussion on the film's thesis and its application to Memphis. I hope all of the Urban Land Institute films (the next is Edmund Bacon's film on Paris) will have discussions like this. In fact, I think ULI should hold regular discussion forums, movie or no.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Path to Rome Goes through the Paw Paw Patch

Paw Paw Tree in Overton Park, MemphisAll the greatness of the world is here and now, in the forests and imaginations and backyards of Memphis.

Don't believe me? Read this Wikipedia article on the Paw Paw Tree, the ubiquitous understory of the Overton Park Forest. Afterwards take the Sierra Club's second Saturday Old Forest Hike (next hike, December 8th).

Then go back in time, to tonight, and see Rome: Impact of an Idea at the Memphis College of Art in Overton Park (details). Thus prepared, you will be free of the neo-colonial conceit that Memphis is unworthy of the Idea.

By the powers invested in me by the Holy Writ of the Blessed And Sanctimonious Gates of Memphis, I command thee to do all of the above.

Memphis is Rome. Rome is Memphis.

Dead Urbanist Sixtus VExplore, discover, imagine, create, build, teach, learn, refine, repeat.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Jewels of Memphis: Hotel Chisca

This is the fourth and final installment of a conversation I had with June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage about the 4 great and threatened buildings of Memphis: the Sterick Building, the Sears Crosstown Building, the Tennessee Brewery and the Chisca Hotel. I've split the conversation into 4 parts for each building in the order above, the reverse order of the apparent threat. Which means, the Chisca Hotel, where in 1954 the voice of Elvis Presley first met radio waves, is in danger.

GoM: I would think of all the buildings [4 Jewels of Memphis, the Sterick Building, The Sears Crosstown, the Tennessee Brewery, the Chisca], the Chisca would be the most at risk.

JW: Right now it is. I got the name of the developer who is working with COGIC [the owner of the Chisca] and actually phoned him several weeks ago. He answered the phone and I was glad he would speak with me. I introduced myself and told him of my concern for the Chisca .

To back up, one of the things I'm realizing, and it's hard when you're a one-person band, how important it is to be pro-active about a building, about your concern for a building, rather than when it's in imminent danger, when the wrecking ball is coming next week. It's our responsibility to be as pro-active as we can.

Hotel Chisca from South Main, MemphisSo it's important to call people, and try and work with developers ahead of time -- to say "we're concerned about this building" or "we're here to help you" vs. "we're here to fight you". We want to make this a win-win situation for as many groups as possible.

What came to mind was, when we met about the [Tennessee] Brewery, after we had gone through all the battles downtown, the developer's representative from Franklin, Tennessee came and met with us, and some of the property owners on Tennessee Street, as well as the developer's spokesperson, Brenda Solomito. We met here at Memphis Heritage. He said " I wish I had come to meet with you 6 months ago. " We wished the same. So that pretty much set in my mind that, if at all possible, we should talk to the people working with these properties before it gets to the point where we see a plan and know that it's going to be a problem.

With the Chisca, about a year and a half ago, maybe 2 years, we saw the original plans. Keep in mind that the Chisca has gone through a myriad of projected redevelopment plans that never came to fruition, with COGIC as well as some other partner they've hooked up with.

In this newest plan, this developer has taken the major step of developing a Hilton Garden Inn in the parking area to the east of the Chisca. When they first submitted the site plans they showed the existing Chisca and the Hilton side by side and part of the old Chisca was gone. That's what caused us in to be on the defensive -- to say, "wait a minute!" They had moved the development to the east with no verbal or written documentation for what their plans were for the Chisca.

My concern is that once they start construction on the Hilton Garden Inn, drilling the pilings and other supports, the construction of the new building might create cracks in the foundation, etc. And they'll say, "oh my goodness, it's made the old Chisca unstable/unsafe!" And then they'll go, "oh woe is us! We're going to have to tear it down!" So I want to get the word out ahead of time -- hey wait a minute, you don't have to do it that way. You can protect this building.

The same sort of issues happened when they planned for the building of the FedEx Forum. There was great fear that construction on the Forum would put First Baptist Beale Church as well as Clayborn Temple and St. Patrick -- the nearby historic churches -- in danger . So obviously I think we need to be cautious and concerned, and be wary in watching that development.Hotel Chisca, Main Street, Memphis

So when I spoke to the developer I asked him what his plans are for the Historic Chisca Hotel. He stated to me that they do not have any plans for the Chisca Hotel.

I was not confrontational. I really wanted to get to know him. We had a good conversation and I just said that I wanted him to be aware that we're concerned about the future of the building. And we would be more than willing to work with him and COGIC on any future plans.

If they ask for demolition, it will have to go before Landmarks Commission. More than likely it would get disapproved for demolition. Then they could go before the City Council and appeal landmarks decision. My concern is that right now, for development reasons, they would let them tear it down.

I think the ideal situation for that Hotel is a restoration, much like the Claridge House did or like the Wm Len. Quite frankly I think it would be great for it to be a historic hotel .

I use this concept lately -- I say " if you had friends coming to Memphis, where would you want them to stay, if you had any choice?" The answer is, The Peabody or the Madison. Where are they? They're both in historic properties. The issue is, if you build the right type of space in a historic property, you can command a higher room rate as well. And that being the gateway, in my mind, to South Main Historic District , to have a new structure built there vs. restoring the Chisca would be a tremendous mistake, a tremendous mistake. When South Main curves there, the Chisca is the main thing you see when you're standing at Peabody Place, when you look south you see that building. To have something like that go away would be devastating.

GoM: Beyond the economic value, it has emotional value with the Elvis Presley fans.

JW: Yes, they are on notice. I've been in touch with staff of Elvis Presley Enterprises on several occasions. But we don't want to cry wolf because the developers haven't committed to demolishing the building. In my heart of hearts, I think that's what they (and COGIC) want to do. But they haven't literally said that, so until they actually move in that direction, my goal is to convince them that it's much more effective to restore the Chisca vs. tearing it down.

I'm trying to think the positive vs. the negative but that could play a huge role in this.

GoM: What the physical state of the building right now?

JW: You hear about the problems of redevelopment, the cost of the asbestos removal, the cost of the restructuring for earthquakes , and all that -- that's a very sound building, a very sound building.

They've created much safer ways to do asbestos abatement, and there are even ways of covering up where it's not as costly to take it out.

GoM: When did they start using asbestos?

JW: The 1920's.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Boll Weevil's Feast

King Cotton Bound, Punch MagazineMemphis should appropriate Guy Fawkes Night and honor the Boll Weevil on November 5. We will call it The Boll Weevil's Feast. It will be held on the cobblestones.

Statue celebrating the Boll Weevil, Enterprise, ALAt the start of the festivities, King Cotton and his throne will be hoisted high above his subjects. Citizen Weevil will arrive and light the fuse that starts the revolution and the fireworks. As the fireworks proceed, Cotton will grow larger and larger, soon becoming bloated. At the climax of the fireworks, the Tyrant Cotton explodes, raining down cotton candy and weevil candy for the kids to enjoy.

Guy Fawkes Night fireworksCall it a ritualized revolution against history. For a night we will be free from historical anti-narratives that even today we can't escape.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Southern Gothic Science Fiction: John Brown and The Boll Weevil

early prototype for time machine before angel financing The hero will be John James Brown, John Brown's great-great-great grandson. Modern Brown, a brilliant nuclear physics grad student at CalTech, is so moved by his ancestor's work that he builds a time machine and prepares to take a pair of Boll-Weevils back into America's South, long before the Civil War. His goal -- overthrow the Tyrant Cotton and with it the institution of slavery.

The WeevilHis antagonists will be a corrupt SEC athletic director and an evil blight consultant, who have been anonymous trolls on the Civil War message boards where Brown has revealed his plans. Knowing that their empires will never exist if Cotton doesn't rule the South they pursue Brown into history. Brown must release his hungry comrades before his trackers release their toxic cocktail of malathion and DDT.

A feel-good Terminator movie for all ages.

By the way, I realize that the plot thus described doesn't sound very Southern Gothic. But Southern Gothic Science Fiction sounds better than anything else I could think of.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Ouch! the benefit

Details at Highlights:

Who: The Subteens, Perfect Fits, The Billy Worley Band & more!!
What: Rock-n-roll Benefit
When: Saturday, November 17th
Where: Hi-tone

If you can't make it, you can still help. Go to and make a contribution.

A great opportunity to give back to someone who has given and done and made so much.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big Box in the Square

Overton Square detail, Trimble Street, MemphisJeramia of OnMemphis linked to my previous post on Overton Square (thanks, Jeramia!) and noted a CA comment against a big box retailer moving into Overton Square. Quoth Jeramia in response:

That would be truly awful, just imagine all the Midtowners shopping and spending money so close to their homes. It’s frightening to imagine that those people might even walk or ride bikes to the store rather than hop in their cars and drive to Wolfchase.

I’m not sure how a big box retailer could possibly be worse than empty buildings.

I should say, it wasn't me who expressed the concern. Nor am I opposed to that use. I do shop from time to time in large retailers.

It's not the big that's the problem for me, it's the box.

they build it suburban style, with parking and the box exposed to the street, it adds nothing permanent to the neighborhood. Yes, we save a few miles driving, but we will still drive because we won't want to walk. The slight convenience will be overshadowed by the visual pollution and exposed dagger it permanently plunges in the Heart of the Arts.

If they build it to blend with classical midtown storefront, streetfront architecture, parking above or below the store, or at worst, recessed behind a masonry wall on a side street (see the parking lot of the Southern College of Optometry as an example), then it will add to the neighborhood and make it a better place. They could build a pedestrian entrance on Cooper that matches the storefronts on Madison, giving the complex two strong pedestrian entries, and a richer mixed use and look. Then they could make the driving entrances on either Monroe or Trimble. The pedestrian entrance from Madison could be from the clock tower over Trimble to the store. Fun for the kids, fun for me.

Shopping is a commodity.

Create value. Create place.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mojo, Photo, Rummage, Resolve

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Expansion of the Beast?

beyond rehabilitation, functionally obsolete, or just empty?Last Saturday's CA article on the relocation of Le Chardonnay and Bayou Bar and Grill quoted Jimmy Lewis, real estate agent for the people who own Overton Square, about the rest of the complex:
Palm Court, the former TGI Friday's restaurant and the space at the corner of Madison and Cooper, formerly occupied by Club Vortex and The Looney Bin, are functionally obsolete and could impede any future sale or redevelopment of the property.

"Either it has to be made efficient or something else has to be done," Lewis said. "The owner is trying to figure out the best option and that is what is being studied right now."
Mr. Lewis' comment reminds me of this from an earlier article in the Memphis Daily News:
Overton Square Investors LLC recently demolished a building on Cooper that used to house Cancun's restaurant. The building had been vacant for about five years and Lewis described it as "beyond rehabilitation."
"Functionally obsolete" sounds like "beyond rehabilitation" in utero.

I might end up adding both to this list.

By the way, Tuscany (formerly La Tourelle) has closed. 3 businesses with 60+ years in those original locations now gone. What did they have in common? Their customers could see the ever-expanding Beast.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

All Hail Boll Weevil on Guy Fawkes Night!

conspirator Fawkes, of the Gunpowder Plotconspirator Weevil, of the Hang Out in the Cotton Boll 'til It Dies PlotThe Weevil is to King Cotton as Fawkes is to King James I.

Fawkes took too long (seconds) to light the fuse and the Weevil took too long (150 years) to walk up from Mexico.

And like Fawkes, the Weevil is about to get it.

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Sculpture at Brewster

new sculpture outside William Herbert Brewster ElementaryThis is the art work I mentioned on Thursday. I like it but it's unfortunate that it has to fight with those lightposts for visual territory. It wins, but it's still unfortunate.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Dancing Trees of Overton Park

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2nd Annual Broad Avenue Arts Walk

Metalworks on Broad Avenue, MemphisAs mentioned at the artbutcher and Roger Allan Cleaves site:
The Historic Broad Business Association presents the second annual Broad Avenue Art Walk on Friday, November 2nd from 6-8 pm.

The walk will feature galleries and open studios on Broad Avenue between Hollywood and Collins.

In Gallery 1 of West Memorials at 2481 Broad there will be a viewing of a Private Collection.

Additionally there will be open studios at Dan Spector’s Archicast at 2527 Broad as well as Jerry Coulliard’s Metalworks at 2537 Broad

Adam Shaw’s Studio at 2547 Broad, will feature a show of work by Kevin Harthun, Stomy Bailey, Adam Shaw.

doorway on Broad, MemphisAt Material at 2553 Broad will present Piling It On, new paintings by Arkansas artist Steven Wise.

At LRP Gallery at 2571 Broad at Bingham they will feature works by Richard Morrison, Alan Peeler, Amy Hutcheson.

Down at Spaces at 2617 Broad, Rhodes Senior and CODA Scholar Lauren Kennedy will present a selection of works by Alex Carter’s paintings.

While not officially open for business, Jim Marshall will be showing off The Cove in the building that used to house the world famous Beer Joint.
Bonus: check out the very large, cool sculpture going in front of William Herbert Brewster Elementary School at the corner of Sam Cooper and Collins (just around the corner from Broad). I noticed them installing it today.

sign on Broad Avenue, MemphisAlso, is all the signage for the world famous Beer Joint gone? The Beer Joint was, is and will be an awesome name for an art space, a beer space, any space.

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