Love For City. Art and Preservation done right: The Medicine Factory

Two short blocks west of Florida Street, just south of the railroad underpass near Loflin Yard, drivers may turn west on Virginia Ave West and find themselves heading toward a dead. Keep going. For at the end of street, at number 85, sits The Medicine Factory, in an area that could be described as South Junction South.

Photograph of exterior of The Medicine Factory
85 Virginia Avenue West, south of South Junction

Erected in 1912, the unassuming gray-taupe brick building anchors a blossoming arts and residential district. Directly across the street on the north side, the old McMillan Imports building at number 80 is under a renovation and modernization, being repurposed for residential use, and on the south side, behind the Medicine Factory, sits other warehouses awaiting new life, including the old United Warehouse building that faces Crump Boulevard.

The building at number 85 housed The McConnon Company (household and medicinal products) through the 1930s, William Stewart’s coffee company through the 1950s, and a mattress company, the National Rose Company, before being left vacant for three decades.

“Ask Vance,” for Memphis Magazine, said that it’a “a rambling two-story brick structure at 85 W. Virginia (or, more accurately, Virginia Avenue, West). Since it’s located on a dead-end street, few people probably notice it, but that etched-glass ‘Medicine Factory’ sign by the front door is certainly intriguing. The sign itself isn’t that old, but it pays tribute to the colorful history of what was at one time an office and factory for one of this country’s largest mail-order suppliers of products for people as well as poultry.” (read more of Vance’s history on the Medicine Factory here).

Since 2005, the building has enjoyed revitalization and reuse, led by Memphis business Phillip Lewis, who bought the building In 2005. Lewis “converted the old factory into studio space for artists,” said Ask Vance. “He’s the one who put the ‘Medicine Factory’ sign by the door, while also making major renovations, including a new roof, heating and air conditioning, and replacing more than 150 broken-out windows.” By 2018, nine artists were using the space.

Medicine Factory logo, from its website

In 2018, Mr. Lewis sold the property to his father, also named Phillip, and his brother, Joseph. And in 2019 the pair received a $150,000 loan from the Downtown Memphis Commission that addressed a leaky roof and windows that could have discouraged further activation of the space from events and new tenants.

Today, the beautifully renovated space is fully activated with artists lofts upstairs and a multi-use space on the ground floor that the owners rent out for parties, receptions, art showings, photography, and even music videos.

For more information on the Medicine Factory, interested parties can visit their website

Currently, artist David Mah’s moving and introspective “Days Like These” art exhibition occupies the space. The show will be on exhibit until April 10, by appointment.

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