The millionaires may be long gone from Millionaire's Row in Victorian Village, but a little city money and some private donations are helping the historic district make a comeback.
In the late 1800s, stately mansions lined Adams Avenue, which earned the street its opulent nickname, "Millionaire's Row." But urban renewal in the 1960s led to the demolition of many of those grand homes. In recent years, efforts to revive the neighborhood now known as Victorian Village have been slow-moving.
But the area is finally seeing a renaissance that includes museum re-openings, an expansion of one historic home's special event capacity, a planned bed-and-breakfast, and plans to redesign Morris Park.
"We can do a lot in that area for very little money," said Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris, whose district includes Victorian Village.
The ball began rolling last fall. In November, the city-owned Mallory-Neely House, an Italianate villa built in 1852, was re-opened to the public as a museum after being shuttered during a round of city budget cuts in 2005.
"In that first two months of the Mallory-Neely House being re-opened, there were 500 visitors," said Scott Blake, executive director of the Victorian Village Inc. Community Development Corporation. "What we've also seen from that is the Woodruff-Fontaine House's visitorship almost doubled, because now there's more than one thing to see in the neighborhood. It's also been great for Mollie Fontaine Lounge."
The Woodruff-Fontaine House, a French Victorian home built in 1870 that has served as a museum for years, is expanding its parking lot and the rear garden to bring its capacity for special events up from 150 people to 500 people. That's funded in part by $25,000 from the city.
In about three weeks, the James Lee House, a long-vacant home that once served as home to the Memphis Academy of Art, will be handed over from the city to a new owner, who plans to open a five-suite bed-and-breakfast. In January, the James Lee House was granted a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) and a $130,000 development loan from the Downtown Memphis Commission.
"We'll have a 24-hour event area. Now all we need is a neighborhood grocery store and a coffee shop," Blake said.
Next up for Victorian Village is a redesign of Morris Park at Poplar and Orleans. Victorian Village Inc. raised $35,000 to start the design phase, and the city matched it. Last summer, the city parks department signed an agreement for Ritchie Smith Associates to begin the redesign process, which is currently underway.
"That's a high-profile park. It's the gateway from the Medical Center to downtown," Harris said. "You have a lot of people from the community north of Poplar using the basketball court, and the park has a good reputation for providing space to social service providers."
The new design may include expanding the basketball court and adding seating around it. Blake said they also want better lighting and landscaping that leaves sight lines open for security.
"There were more than 100 crimes committed in that park last year. It's the lighting and the fact that many of the buildings don't have a 24-hour presence," Blake said. "We need more residences that overlook that park."
Also in the long-term, there are plans for a Jefferson Avenue greenway as the city adds planned bike lanes down that corridor.
"As part of the greenway plan, we want to put monumental cast-iron streetlamps at the Orleans intersection with banners," Blake said. "We want people to say, 'Hey, [Victorian Village] is something I've got to see.'"