To Live Again: A News-clipping History of the Sterick Building

From the Memphis Room archives: A newspaper-clipping history of the “Queen of Memphis”

Historic Sterick Building bought by local developer

Midday Friday, March 31, the Memphis Business Journal headlines hit the local news and then quickly went viral on local social media. Memphis developer Stuart Harris, representing a father-son team that came together to broker their purchase of the long-vacant “Queen of Memphis” (or “the Queen of the South,” depending on what you read), announced the monumental real estate deal and their vision of bringing the historic Sterick Building back to life.

The 29-story, 350,000-square-foot Gothic Revival skyscraper, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, has occupied the north-east corner of Madison and North B.B. King Boulevard (Third Street) since 1929. Until 1957, it was the tallest building in the South. It has been vacant since 1986.

The weight of this historic moment and it’s hoped-for, potential revival cannot be overstated; many have wondered if they’d ever see this day come. To many Memphians, it’s the most beautiful fencepost of the Memphis skyline. And since its vacancy it has held a soft-spot in hearts all over, even to those young enough to have never known it as anything but empty, a symbol of romantic hopes against Memphis cynicism – why can’t they figure this out?

But Stuart Harris’s statements – a “commitment to making sure this historic building sees a bright new future” – and their real estate deal to once and for all solve one of the buildings biggest acquisition and revival obstacles, offered hope.

The first obstacle was that of an unusual 99-year dual-ownership land lease that has handcuffed land ownership under the building and has for decades complicated restoration efforts in the building’s infrastructure. As reported by the Memphis Business Journal (MBJ), the Harris team addressed that long-standing issue by finally brokering a deal to purchase the land from the ownership group made up of the Grosvenor, Petree, and Jefferds families, and working out the lease issue with Equitable Financial Life Insurance Co., the final lease-holder of the property.

With the land and lease issues resolved, and “tower and land reunited for the first time in its history” (MBJ), the team can now focus on the physical restoration before them. The team’s work won’t be easy. As our gallery of newspaper-clippings shows, the iconic building has been plagued in the past by problems with elevators, plumbing, electrical, and more.

With this hopeful news, StoryBoard dug into the Memphis Public Library’s Memphis Room archives to present the highlights of the building’s storied, up-and-down and down-and-out history through the following newspaper-clippings, from the Commercial Appeal, the old Memphis Press-Scimitar, and even the Memphis Daily News.

Our gallery history starts in 1956, when the 27-year-old building was sold to a New York real estate firm. For the building’s early history, we encourage readers to visit Josh Whitehead’s Creme de Memph blog and his documentation of the Sterick Building’s development, original renderings and application permits.

We present these clippings in their raw, unbridged glory as preserved by the Memphis Room.

1956: New Yorker Buys Sterick Building

CA (Commercial Appeal) and PS (Press-Scimitar) coverage in June and August, 1956

1959: a New Manager, and a New Restaurant

1973-1974: Sold again, and the Future Looks Up

1978: Sterick Added to Historic Register

Commercial Appeal coverage in 1978

1979: Threat of a Shutdown, Water Pump issues, and Sold yet again

1982: A New Paint Job

Press-Scimitar coverage in September, 1982

1983-1984: A Crisis, and yes, New Owners

1991: Sterick Bldg. faces auction

CA coverage in 1991

Creme de Memph: The Early Days of the Sterick Building

From Josh Whitehead’s Creme de Memph blog: “The Sterick Building,” posted in 2014

The Sterick Building.  Once the tallest building in the South, it is now the fifth tallest building in Memphis and the tallest empty building in Tennessee. Over the years, its tenants left for newer structures, such as the First National Bank Tower, 100 N. Main and Commerce Square downtown, as well as the many office buildings that were built in the City’s new “downtown” along the Poplar corridor. Today, the Sterick is completely empty. 

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