If the Mallory-Neely mansion in Victorian Village were a woman, she'd look darn good for her age. But even this grand dame of Memphis' past isn't immune to time.
Built in 1852, the 25-room structure at 652 Adams is in dire need of a new roof and restoration work to about a third of its 70 windows, said Wesley Creel, administrator of programs for the Pink Palace Family of Museums.
The carriage house/visitor's center, situated behind the main house, is also out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Mallory-Neely mansion will remain closed to the public until the repairs and ADA-upgrades are complete.
"I'm hoping that we will have a new roof by Christmastime," Creel said. "That's usually how long it takes for all the processes to work. But we still can't open until we're ADA compliant."
Though Creel hesitated to set a date, he said the ADA upgrades might not be completed until spring 2012.
For years, the city-owned Mallory-Neely mansion was open to the public as a museum of Victorian culture, but it was shuttered in 2005 because of city budget cuts. That same year, the city of Memphis and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that all city-owned facilities would have to become ADA compliant.
As far as Creel is concerned, the roof takes top priority this fiscal year. It isn't leaking yet but has "major potential for some damage." About $268,000 is available to replace the roof, but Creel is hoping prospective contractors will bid the job for less.
That would allow for at least some of the windows to be repaired and weatherized — a custom restoration that could cost about $4,000 per window. To put that figure into perspective, Creel said some windows in the house are seven and eight feet tall.
Meanwhile, the city's capital improvement budget for 2012 allocates $36,000 for architectural engineering fees and $150,000 for construction, renovation, and repairs at Mallory-Neely. Those amounts could go a long way toward shoring up more damaged window casings and funding the ADA requirements, which include producing audio/visual tours for people with mobility impairments and improving the area outside the carriage house to make it wheelchair-accessible.
But first, a cash-strapped Memphis City Council must approve those amounts. Right now, the city anticipates a $70 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2012 that could lead to layoffs and other sweeping austerity measures.
Cynthia Buchanan, the city's director of Parks Services, appeared last week before a city council committee to submit a preliminary design schematic for the work. It was approved, so the next step involves a full council review on March 1st. After that, a bid package can be issued to contractors.
"We intended to open [Mallory-Neely] this year, but when we realized how massive the improvements were going to be, we didn't want to bring in the public when we might have to be doing things that were dangerous," Buchanan said.
Although frustrated by Mallory-Neely's dormancy, Scott Blake, executive director of Victorian Village Inc., looks forward to the day when the mansion finally reopens for tours.
"Our little area needs that kinetic energy [that will be created] when the Mallory-Neely House is open," Blake said.
Right now, amenities in the area, which lies between the downtown core and medical district, are limited. The Woodruff-Fontaine House at 680 Adams is the only continuously open museum in Victorian Village. The Goyer-Lee House sits empty and in need of extensive restoration work.
Blake is hoping a private developer will buy the Goyer-Lee House, which is for sale, and repurpose it as a bed-and-breakfast or some other tourist attraction. Whatever it becomes, the Goyer-Lee House, like Mallory-Neely, will have to be repositioned within historical guidelines.