Owning a piece of Memphis history may be as easy as cash-and-carry.
Memphis Heritage will host its biannual Architectural Auction October 20th and, for the first time, will include a cash-and-carry section with items priced from $2 to $25.
"That's our yard sale," says Memphis Heritage executive director June West. "People can go in and literally buy what they like. We have so much stuff."
In addition to the cash-and-carry section, the event will feature both live and silent auctions with items from all over Memphis.
There's a green bar dating back to the 1940s or 1950s that came from South Main's Chisca Hotel. Memphis Heritage will use it to serve the evening's drinks, but it's still for sale.
"It would take a pretty big room," West says, assessing its lure to potential buyers. "But it's in two pieces, so it's very manageable."
The auction also will feature an E.H. Crump Stadium sign, a juke box once used in a local club, and two animal heads — a giraffe and a wildebeest — formerly at home at the Pink Palace.
"[The giraffe] was at an office supply store on Union for a long time. It was an era when that was something cool to do," West says, "but I have a hard time with it."
One donor couple bought a cotton-classing table in Memphis with the intention of converting it to a dining room table. They moved to Texas and took the table with them, but recently donated it to Memphis Heritage.
"It's a little classier than you might think," West says. "It was made here in Memphis and has cool emblems on the side."
There are also items with less definitive history: a grocery store delivery bike, a switchboard, two antique stoves, a Murphy breakfast table (which at first glance, looks like a set of double doors), and assorted finials.
Most of the items are donated or scavenged.
"People call us throughout the year. They'll say, we have 40 doors from a church. Ultimately, we want to have a warehouse where we sell things year-round," West says.
For now, though, Memphis Heritage holds the auction every other year to have enough time to amass and organize items.
If the group knows a building is being demolished or renovated, Memphis Heritage might ask for certain architectural elements, such as the top of the former Court Square gazebo or limestone from Number One Beale (both up for auction). Before Baptist Hospital was imploded, the group worked with Bioworks to preserve some of the hospital's green marble.
"We stay on top of things," West says.
Or items might be acquired through what Memphis Heritage calls its "preservation posse" or, alternately, its dumpster diving division.
"We've got lawyers, carpenters. We'll e-mail or call people and say, we saw such-and-such on the side of the road. Go pick it up," West says.
Despite the trash-to-treasure aesthetic, the event's best-kept secret is perhaps the site of the auction: the old marine hospital near the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Actually, that entire area — located south of downtown and found by heading toward the I-55 bridge to Arkansas — is something of a secret.
The hospital's earliest buildings date back to the 1880s, but the main building was erected in 1937. It closed as a hospital in 1965, but the government continued to use the facility for other things until the end of the first Gulf War.
For now, the buildings look kind of creepy, but it probably won't stay that way for long. The owner has plans for the property.
"It ultimately will be made into condominiums," West says. "The cool thing about that site is that you feel like you're in a historic Midtown building, but you're on the river. The views are phenomenal."
The inside is still raw, however, and with the bargains at the cash-and-carry section, West suggests wearing jeans. But at least you won't have to dumpster dive.