For years, Memphis Heritage has fought to save the old Lowenstein building near Court Square from demolition. But after last week's destructive blaze downtown, executive director June West feared the fight might be over.
"If a building has nine lives, it may be the Lowenstein building. They've been trying to tear it down for years because of neglect," says West. "It would be awfully sad if it met its match."
Last month it seemed as though Memphis Heritage had succeeded in saving the building. The structure, built in the 1880s, was slated, along with the Lincoln America Tower and the Court Square Annex, to be transformed into a $49 million mixed-use development.
The blaze consumed most of the annex building, and the remaining structure was brought down by a wrecking ball shortly after. There is still a question whether the Lowenstein building and the Lincoln America Tower can be salvaged.
"If, for any reason, they decide those buildings cannot stand, I want to hear it from some really outstanding civil engineers," says West.
West says the Lowenstein building was constructed partially from cast iron. The Lincoln America Tower, which was built in 1924 as a smaller version of New York City's Woolworth Building, was covered with terra-cotta tile.
"That tile has been put in a kiln and fired to an outrageous level," says West. "It had to be the wood filler, the construction inside both buildings, that caught on fire."
Termite-infested wood at the First United Methodist Church on Poplar at Second is believed to be what fueled the fire, which began around 3 a.m. Heavy winds caused embers from that fire to float over to Court Square.
West hopes to see the development project move forward using what's left of the remaining buildings. The development was insured and will move forward in some form.
"My gut is the Lowenstein and Lincoln buildings will be okay," says West. "But you never know until the jury comes in and the fire marshal says this is what we have to do. But to lose those two landmarks, as well as the church, would just be devastating to downtown."