Putting neighborhoods on the National Register is an exhaustive, dedicated process. In this special series, the keeper of the Memphis Heritage Historic Properties Catalogue gives us snapshots of some wonderful but lesser-known historic neighborhoods.
Pinch-North Main Commercial District
By John Dulaney
As recently as 2014, the Pinch-North Main Commercial District’s status on the National Register was threatened after a routine review revealed that nearly half of its original 43 historic structures had been demolished in favor of surface parking lots for the neighboring Pyramid. After then-State Senator Lee Harris stepped with the help of June West of Memphis Heritage, the historic status of Pink-North was retained.
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Today, both ends of Main Street are being renewed. Quoting from Memphis Heritage’s Historic Properties Catalogue: “Pinch-North Main Commercial District once held much of the city’s first settlement and later became its earliest commercial district; in the early nineteenth century, this area was very near the then-location of the Memphis landing. Irish arriving here in those early years dismantled their flatboats and houseboats in order to construct shanties. It is said that the “pinch-gut” appearance of the poor and hungry residents was later applied to their “Pinch” neighborhood. A few early residences still survive, but most buildings are commercial establishments from 1880 to 1910 whose architecture is utilitarian and unpretentious. The district also includes a portion of Auction Square, one of the city’s four squares shown in the original town plan. The Pinch district as a whole is currently enjoying a new vitality, with the Great American Pyramid again in use and a number of rehabilitation projects under way.”
“…The major importance of the Pinch lies in the collection of modest commercial buildings that illustrates the type of business community that flourished there in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is also a last link to an ethnic vitality that has since disappeared. The Pinch-North Main Commercial District preserves the ambiance of a kind of urban neighborhood that no longer exists in Memphis.”excerpt from the 1979 National Register nomination
The district was listed on the National Register in 1979.
Above: Official map submitted with the Pinch-North Main Commercial District National Register nomination, along with the photos that show early commercial architecture remaining in the district in 1979. The building in the above photo stood at the southeast corner of Jackson and Main, and has since been replaced with a parking lot, a reminder that National Register listing alone does not protect landmarks from demolition.
Read more about Memphis’ National Register properties and all of Dulaney’s Districts featured throughout this issue of StoryBoard Memphis.
This article and all of Dulaney’s Districts originally appeared in print Issue X, the August 2019 Neighborhood Issue, front page and pages 12, 23-25.