If you think the housing market has taken it on the chin, you can imagine what the downturn has done to historic homes.
Lately, though, things are looking up for Memphis' oldest residences. The Magevney House on Adams downtown, shuttered by city budget cuts in 2005, will reopen its doors to the public starting September 7th.
The grand reopening follows closely on the heels of the Mallory-Neely House's reopening as a historic house museum last November. It was also closed in the 2005 budget season. Both the Magevney House and the Mallory-Neely House are operated by the Pink Palace Family of Museums.
On top of an already tight financial situation, the homes were forbidden to reopen without making accommodations to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The renovations proved to be a difficult undertaking for the Mallory-Neely House. The city funded a new ramp for the back of the house, along with some ADA-approved bathrooms, but the second story of the home remains off-limits to visitors with disabilities. Instead, those visitors are offered a virtual video tour of the second floor — also funded by the city — which is screened in the carriage house behind the home.
The Magevney House found itself in a similar predicament. A two-bedroom clapboard house, dwarfed by the surrounding buildings in the heart of downtown, the home is so small that structural changes to make the home wheelchair-accessible would compromise the historical integrity of the home. As an alternative, the Pink Palace created a virtual tour of the Magevney House, which will also be on display at the Mallory-Neely carriage house.
"We had ADA consultants, funded by the city of Memphis, come in and do an audit and tell us what could be done. It was determined that the only way to make the Magevney House 100 percent compliant would ruin the historical character of the house," Creel said. "[The virtual tour] is the same length as a real tour, and we point out the same artifacts in the same order as a real tour."
The Magevney House was built by Irish immigrant Eugene Magevney in the 1830s and serves as a snapshot of antebellum life in the South. Here, the city's first Catholic baptism and first Catholic wedding took place, and next door sits the historic St. Peter Catholic Church, founded in part by the Magevney family. Eugene Magevney died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1873, but the home remained with the family until it was given to the city in 1941.
The family stipulated that the house be open to the public free of charge, unlike the Mallory-Neely House, which is able to charge admission to visitors. The stipulation creates a sticky wicket for operating and maintaining the historic home, and though the city funds maintenance of the property, the daily operating costs of the home are left to the Pink Palace. Without any extra funding to reopen the Magevney House, Creel said the Pink Palace is relying on its devoted staff and generous volunteers to keep the home open every first Saturday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m.
"We're stretching, but we think we'll have enough money to do this by judiciously watching every hour somebody's on duty," Creel said. "It's a part of Memphis history that we'd like to share with the public. I wish it were open more often, but we're doing the best with what we've got."