Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saving the Union Avenue Methodist Church

Union Avenue Methodist ChurchMemphis Heritage is holding a meeting tomorrow, Thursday, May 27th, at 6 p.m. at their headquarters at 2282 Madison, to discuss the possible sale and demolition of the Union Avenue Methodist Church by pharmacy chain CVS. The church, built in 1923 and listed on the National Register, anchors the southwest corner of Cooper and Union, diagonally across from Playhouse on the Square's beautiful new theater.

Random notes:
  • There's precedent for CVS to preserve a historic building due to public outcry -- the Scherer Building in Chicago. In fact, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a complete initiative dedicated to the issue of chain drug stores destroying historic buildings.

  • If you don't think the church is that great, worth preserving, then advocate for a quality new urban design that complements Playhouse, rather than ignores it. CVS also has precedents for that.CVS really wants you to know they are on this corner by tom.arthur
    Just saying "tear it down!" is to cede to the default -- anturban blight. Progress in Memphis' built environment is to be fought for, never assumed.

  • We need to stop bashing Germantown Parkway to make points about Union Avenue. Let's stick closer to home and talk about the Medical Center from I-240 west to Dunlap. Devastated by hordes of parking lots built as enticement to commuters who didn't want to be there, and eventually weren't, the result is arguably the worst commercial strip in all of Memphis

  • Crappy development threatens Playhouse on the Square's investment of money and vision in that spot of Memphis. Especially a crappy development in the literal center of their vision.

    See: A 270 degree panorama I took from the front steps of Playhouse on the Square.

    Union Avenue Methodist Church PanoramaThe threat to this vision should be enough to stop a bad outcome, except it's not.

  • Preservationists and urbanists could combine forces with CVS to cajole or force Ike's/Walgreen's to sell CVS the soon to be vacant Ike's store on the southeast corner.

  • Join the cause via the Save Union Avenue Methodist Church Facebook page.
Union Avenue Methodist Church

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Blogger Michael Roy Hollihan said...

I'm not being flippant here, but if preservationists are going to force the congregation to hold onto the building until a suitable new buyer is found, who is going to help that congregation raise the money to maintain the building and property? The whole reason it's being sold is because they can no longer afford it. Don't folks care about the burden being placed on these families for the sake of other people's "visions"?

11:15 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Mike, first there are other buyers, but not at the price that CVS apparently is offering. Secondly, this isn't necessarily anti-CVS as it is anti-crap. If CVS preserves or builds as good as, or better, then bring on CVS! Thirdly, I know a family that is a member of the congregation and is opposed to demolition.

I'm talking about the literal vision (no annoying, rhetorically-ineffective quotation marks) of an institution, Playhouse on the Square, that has invested in the area and would see that investment damaged. Look at the panorama!

For the record, I am a Memphisist.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Great resources... thanks for posting! Hopefully CVS will be willing to have some open dialogue about the issue.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Michael Roy Hollihan said...

Thanks for responding but you didn't answer my question.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Chris and Kate Lareau said...

It's so nice to read your blog after reading the CA column comments. You should write a nice, level-headed letter to the editor. Thanks for blogging.

7:29 PM  
Blogger MATAlac said...

As much as I'm not a fan of Columnar Entrances, I couldn't justify the big tear in the fabric that knocking this down would do.

As for CVS rehabbing, I'm not sure another Chick fil'a moral victory compromise would apply here. This is a major corner lot. With the new playhouse, some place making is starting to take root. Union avenue is a hodge podge, tearing down the UAM would be like cutting down all the trees in Forrest Park, it feels that massive.

What I would recommend to the congregation is to begin a non-profit entity to save the building and sell it to them. The non-profit would rent the space out as a venue for lectures and concerts. The congregation could still meet in the space on Sundays and rent the space out for that time slot.

For a great example of this there is one of these operations in my area. This place is almost booked with lectures every night. The part I'm not sure about is re branding a church for mostly secular purposes. I could see how that wouldn't fly in a place like Memphis. Its too bad, theres a lot of empty time slots in churches that could be rented out.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Capt. Austin Maness said...

And, since Walgreen's has bought out Ike's
there's a decent chance that shiny new CVS will be sitting across the street from an empty slightly-older pharmacy building.

10:40 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Michael, sorry. I don't know completely how the Methodist church works, but I know the congregation wouldn't be stuck with the church if _no_one_else_ was interested. But others are interested.

No one said, "you can't sell!".

But here's my question to you: does CVS have a responsibility to its neighbors and their hard work and investment? Or should they just build the equivalent of a "car up on blocks in the front yard" without moral compunction?

matalac, I agree completely with you about the fabric of the city. This is much bigger than Chik-Fil-A.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Michael Roy Hollihan said...

Well, you just cast this as a moral issue when it's a question of zoning laws that a company must follow. I think having a "zoning overlay" type of thing should've been done years ago. But it wasn't. Now preservationists are coming in post hoc with demands. That's not fair.

The church congregation is poor and can't afford this delaying. Assuming some national Methodist group should/will pick up their financial burden is also unfair.

Demanding people preserve old buildings *simply because they're old* is a recipe for another Tennessee Brewery or Sterick Building. That's not preservation, that's cemetary building.

MH and their supporters shouldn't be coming in after situations get this far. They *should* be getting ahead of the situation, identifying landmarks that they think deserve saving or repurposing, and helping owners plan for the day when the property goes back on the market.

But that's just my opinion. :-)

5:29 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Mike, to borrow your device, you didn't answer my question. Do they have a moral responsibility?

Secondly it is very much a zoning issue now as part of the church property is zoned residential. CVS will need the community to agree to the _re_zoning change.

Thirdly, you're putting words in my mouth. I didn't use the word "old" anywhere in my post. I rarely, if ever, use it.

Finally, I agree with you about MH getting out ahead of these things. But as much as you'd make it a poor congregation vs. oblivous preservationists, it's not -- it's a wealthy corporation using resources to do crap vs. wealthy corporation using its resources to benefit both itself and the community.

Thanks for commenting.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

This is Hannah Bevills, Editor for which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian's needs. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together as one (no matter denomination) and better spread the good word of Christianity. has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward to an email regarding the matter, Thanks!

God Bless
|Hannah Bevills||

9:05 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

What happened to this blog? Is it still active? Anyone have any news about this based on the newly found deed requiring that the property be used for divine purposes???

4:47 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Tracy, I don't know what happened to me but at least the blog is still here.

I believe the deed restriction is still up in the air. While it is, and maybe far beyond, I hope the church stands.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have the reference for the deed in question? I should have saved that copy of 'The Flyer' :-) Did I understand correctly that Union Ave Methodist developed out of Lenox Methodist? If so, when did the church move to the Union location? Lenox Methodist was on Tunis and the NE corner of Summit, a corner that no longer exists, and that is the tract that is specified in the deed I was looking at on the county registrar's site. Perhaps this is a different document than the one in question. Couldn't locate a deed for Union Ave, but I'm sure it's there somewhere.

Memphisist. I like that :-)

Do we really need a drugstore on every street corner regardless of the neighborhood or aesthetic involved? I've also wondered if the CVS invasion has something to do with state employees being rolled over to CVS for their preferred pharmacy.

1:05 AM  

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