Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Start Defacing our Economic Advantage

During his 12 Suggestions talk last year, Jeff Speck made his audience gasp when he showed that Memphis had replaced the Masonic Lodge

with the Blake Building.

Former Union Planters Building at 2nd and Madison

On Halloween I had a few minutes to ponder this very weird replacement while I waited for a bus on Second Street.

I pondered the Blake Building's rigid box form, the panels and ornamental grills aggresively enforcing opaque 2-dimensional facades,

the strangely placed fire panels,


the structure on top of the box.

Standing there, bored and a little liquored up, I wondered: is it possible that the original building is still there, hidden under a goofy modernist facade?

Then last week, I had the honor of talking with Keith Kays, the architect leading the charge for the protection and appreciation of Memphis' great modernist buildings. I mentioned the goofy building at 2nd and Madison and he said, "you know, the original building is under all the panels"

Wow! It is still there. Very, very exciting.

Except ... it isn't. The hidden building isn't the Masonic Lodge, the Victorian in the photo at the top. Unfortunately that really is gone. Speck's liner notes,

note that it was demolished in the early 20th century and replaced with the Germania Building that is now presumed hidden at 2nd and Madison. While I don't know what the Germania Building look/s/ed like, I do assume that a structure built on a prominent downtown corner in the early 1900s is probably still pretty beautiful.

Conceivably Memphis could have 2 good outcomes from this.
  1. By removing the panels and grillwork, we can daylight the early 20th century Germania Building underneath

  2. By re-forming the freed groovy modernist panels and grills in a more porous manner somewhere else on our streets, we can create urban space where there's only urban void now.
I'm hoping to get closer soon and see if I can get pictures, from inside or out, of the hidden building.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

I'm no architect, but I feel pretty confident that whatever's under those panels has GOT to be more attractive than the Blake Building.

Hope you follow up on this; I'm curious now.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

March 22, 1959
The Commercial Appeal

"Downtown Memphis will have a new multi-storied building. Union Planters National Bank yesterday announced it will tear down its seven-story Manhattan Branch Building at Second and Madison and replace it with an ultra-modern banking house. The cost and number of stories of the new structure on the northeast corner of the intersection were not revealed. Vance J. Alexander, chairman of the UP board, and John E. Brown, bank president, said workmen will begin tearing down the old building soon. Construction of the new building will start about July 1."

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's the old 7 story Germania Bank Building hiding under the panels...

I think this building is just mid century ugly.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

....but at least it's ultra modern!!

5:48 PM  
Blogger Mel Spillman artwork said...

Sweetness! If the project moves forward, I will volunteer to help.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

Here's a link to a postcard showing the old Germania Bank...

http://www.usgwarchives.org/tn/shelby/postcards/cotarc.jpg

The 2nd street side of the bank is on the right....the old Cotton Exchange Bldg is on the left.

The Germania Bank appears to be fairly plain box of red brick with not much ornamentation or detail...still better than the newer UP bank.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

There's a better picture of the Germania Bank on page 54 of Rob't Dye's "Then & Now Memphis". (Book can be viewed on line)

The picture was taken c. 1915 at 3rd & Madison looking west. The bank is in clear view....a fairly handsome seven story red brick structure. Once again, I don't think it's hiding under the Blake Bldg facade. The buildings have the same footprint but the old bank was definitely a bigger box.

1:09 AM  
Anonymous memphis belle said...

I think part of the problem is a lack appreciation for modern architecture. Not in defense of this building, but an acknowledgment that modernism in Memphis has never been widely embraced.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
anyhow thanks for the good read!

1:15 PM  
Blogger Selina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:18 PM  

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