APPROVED: Two Historic Properties to be added to the National Register

The National Register designation of two local historic properties approved by the Memphis Landmarks Commission were approved this week by the State Review board of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The applications for the 1923 Cherokee Arms apartment building on Madison Avenue and the West J. Crawford House on South Lauderdale now move to the National Park Service to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The 100-year-old Cherokee Arms apartment building is a significant representation of apartment dwelling in the streetcar suburbs of a growing Memphis in the 1920s. While the c. 1870s West J. Crawford House is a stunning example of a bygone era in the South Memphis neighborhood of Vance-Pontotoc known as “Millionaire’s Row” that was occupied by wealthy and influential Memphians. It is one of the few remaining Victorian-era homes still standing in the area.

The Cherokee Arms, 1508 Madison Avenue, Memphis, 1923

“I was really excited to be asked to put this on the national register,” said Judith Johnson. Ms. Johnson of Judith Johnson & Associates completed the application on behalf of building owner Dana Gabrion, who expressed her appreciation and thanks for the consideration.

“It is a really unique example of the style of architecture and it retains integrity really well over the history of it,” said Judith. “It was really fascinating, with the different owners and different uses it’s had over time. The current owner did an extensive rehabilitation about 8 or 10 years ago and it’s in great shape and we see it having a prosperous future.”

“Memphis is blessed with so many grand, small apartment complexes like this from that period,” said State Review Board board member Jim Thompson. “Whenever I drive to Memphis I love to look around to see all the great architecture. I sure wish Nashville had that – what we did have has been destroyed. It’s a beautiful building.”

The following is quoted directly from the National Register registration form, filed with the Memphis Landmarks Commission effective December 21, 2023 (MLC agenda Dec 21, 2023):

The Cherokee Arms consists of a Block type multi-family building located at 1508 Madison Avenue in Midtown Memphis. Built in 1923, it is three stories tall and constructed of reinforced fireproof concrete with dark red brick veneer. The apartments are Italian Renaissance Revival in style with a projecting tiled pent roof supported by heavy wooden brackets on the facade roofline as well as a brick soldier course water table, belt courses, and inlaid brickwork on upper floor. The apartments retain the original fenestration pattern of single, 6/1 double-hung windows and multi-light doors with transoms, side lights and patios or balconies on upper floors. The main entry has a notable ornamented terra cotta surround. The site has a tiled walkway from the street to the building, and decorative brick walls with decorative coping and inset-contrasting blocks extend from either side of the building. These give the appearance of a walled garden of a villa. A parking lot is located to the rear (north) and east. The Cherokee Arms is located in an area of mixed-use commercial and multi-family housing dating from the mid-1920s to the present. The apartment building retains its overall architectural integrity. 

The Cherokee Arms Apartment Building first appears in the 1925 City Directory. It was in the 1926 City Directory that the tenants are first listed. The building was occupied by a mix of middle-class single and married professionals and widows. It would appear that Suite 102 was the leasing office as it is listed as vacant until at least 1930. Some tenants worked in sales, bookkeeping, and accounting in the finance and insurance industries. It also housed a number of writers, salesmen in the motion picture industry, and professional musicians who always lived on the top floor. Apt. 107 was home to a safety engineer for U.S. Fidelity & Guarantee Company. Apt. 302 housed Miss Jessie B. Sharp, a feature writer for the old Memphis Evening. Both the secretary/treasurer for the Memphis Street Railway Company and the Memphis Cold Storage Warehouse Company lived there in the early years.

In 1930, the tenants’ occupations included advertising, bookkeeping, waitress, nurse, salesman, service manager accountants and a pharmacist. In 1941 when the United States entered WWII, there were a lot of single women living there including widows, secretaries, nurses, a librarian, and a secretary/treasurer of an auto parts company. Apt. 101 now housed the building manager and Apartment 102 was now a living unit. A few long-term tenants had remained there since the building opened in 1925.

The West J. Crawford House, 290 South Lauderdale Street, Memphis, 1876

The addition of the West J. Crawford House to the National Register is significant for the era as well as for the legacy of the Vance-Pontotoc district, which was briefly on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. The area suffered from suspected arson cases during the 1978 Fire Department Strike that destroyed twelve landmark homes, disrupting the neighborhood’s historical significance and severing the building’s direct association with Millionaire Row, the esteemed neighborhood known for its Victorian mansions.

The addition of the historic house honors one important corner of the district’s legacy.

“This house is near the backyard of our office,” said board member and local architect Juan Self of Self+Tucker Architects, which is housed in the historic Universal Life Insurance Building on nearby Doctor MLK, Jr. Avenue and Danny Thomas Blvd. “My window has a view to it, so I look at it every day and pass it every day. I’m glad to see this nomination.”

The following is quoted directly from the National Register registration form, filed by the property’s owner, Jarayda Jenell Payne, with the Memphis Landmarks Commission effective December 21, 2023 (MLC agenda Dec 21, 2023):

The West J. Crawford House is a two-story Italianate residence located at the intersection of East Pontotoc Avenue and South Lauderdale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. The Crawford House was once a Contributing building to the Vance-Pontotoc Historic District (NR Listed 3/19/1980, Delisted 3/18/1987). Facing west on South Lauderdale Street, the West J. Crawford House was built between 1876-1877. It is surrounded by residential and religious properties. The house’s character-defining features include its irregular plan, brick veneer exterior siding, continuous concrete foundation, original arched hooded wood windows on the west, south, and north elevations, overhanging eaves, decorative brackets with detailed molding, dentil work, classical first-level wooden porch with Doric columns, iron balustrade, cornices with detailed molding, and a ca. 1905 stone foundation. The property includes one other Contributing resource, a ca. 1888 two-story carriage house. 

All images courtesy of National Register registration form filed with the Memphis Landmarks Commission, December 21, 2023

History of the West J. Crawford House 

The first resident of 290 South Lauderdale Street was West J. Crawford. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Crawford moved to Memphis to seek his fortune. Crawford served in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Following the end of the War, Crawford acquired undeveloped land on Lauderdale Street. The neighborhood surrounding Lauderdale Street was known as “Millionaire’s Row” and was occupied by wealthy and influential Memphians. The neighborhood consisted of a mixture of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Victorian Houses. Crawford constructed an Italianate-style residence on this tract of land between 1876 and 1877. He made several modifications during his residency, including adding a full length, classically influenced front porch in 1905 and arranging the construction of a carriage house on the east edge of the property between 1887 and 1897. 

Crawford became involved in the cotton industry while living at 290 South Lauderdale. He served as the president of the Cotton Exchange from 1885 to 1886. He along with other partners founded The Commercial Appeal. Under Crawford’s guidance, the newspaper expanded its editorial services and production facilities. From 1894 until 1923, Crawford served as the primary owner of the newspaper and held the positions of founder and president of the publishing company. Despite his lengthy tenure, Crawford’s achievements were overshadowed by his managing editor, C. P. J. Mooney, who would be remembered as one of the most remarkable newspaper journalists in the history of Memphis. 

Crawford departed the house in 1913. It remained vacant until it was purchased by Santina Carimi, an Italian immigrant, in 1924. Santina Virga Carimi resided in the house until her death on January 24, 1977. Upon her passing, the property was inherited equally by her daughters, Lucille Carimi and Jennie J. Carimi. Lucille, also known as Lucia Carimi, passed away on October 9, 1993, leaving her share of the property to Jennie J. Carimi, who remained the sole owner until she died in 2010. Lucia, a devout Catholic, held a special place in her heart for her family’s property, which they called home for 100 years. The only notable changes made to the property throughout their ownership were replacing the roofing material in 1992 and the enclosure of a back porch between 1924 and 1934. 

The West J. Crawford House has a high level of integrity. The property remains at its original location, above the street grade of South Lauderdale and East Pontotoc Street, facing west on South Lauderdale. The setting has changed since the Period of Significance due to the establishment of public housing projects like Foote Homes and Cleaborn Homes and the demolition of neighboring historic structures. The area also suffered from suspected arson cases, destroying twelve landmark homes. These events disrupted the neighborhood’s historical significance, severing the building’s direct association with Millionaire Row, the esteemed neighborhood known for its Victorian mansions. However, the area remains primarily residential in nature, and many of the new residential constructions feature similar setbacks from the main roads. The West J. Crawford retains its integrity of materials, design, and workmanship.

Though the exact date of the first Italianate building constructed in Memphis is unknown, we can speculate the style arrived and gained popularity between 1845 to 1890 when dozens of Victorian homes were built along “Millionaire’s Row,” an exclusive wealthy neighborhood in Memphis. The Vance and Lauderdale areas, neighborhoods once considered part of Millionaire Row, boasted an impressive concentration of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Victorian frame houses constructed from the mid-nineteenth through the early-twentieth century. Notable Italianate examples included the Jesse J. Busby House and the West J. Crawford House. The Busby mansion was initially built for cotton merchant Jesse J. Busby in 1866 and can be found at 678 Vance. The Jesse Busby House featured ornamental brackets, cornices, cast iron attic vents, pressed metal window heads, arched windows, an arched entrance, rusticated columns, carved wood columns, dentils, and a jigsaw balustrade, crowned by a distinctive gable above the second floor. The West J. Crawford House was also constructed in the Italianate style a short distance from the Busby House in 1876. Despite the popularity of the style, the Busby, Crawford, and Griggs Business and Practical Arts College are the only surviving examples of Millionaire Row’s Italianate buildings. 

The construction of the West J. Crawford House and development of Millionaire Row was representative of a revival in residential construction in Memphis following the devastating effects of the yellow fever epidemic and the Civil War. As people gradually returned to the city after fleeing the epidemic, they needed to rebuild and revitalize their homes. The Italianate style and the resurgence of Victorian architecture during Reconstruction offered the community a fresh start and a sense of optimism. The urbanization and redevelopment efforts that followed the war contributed to the expansion of Memphis, particularly in the previously underdeveloped Lauderdale area. The Italianate style, with its countryside charm and association with the elite members of society, resonated with the post-war period and became a popular choice for a newly emerging middle class. Once considered too costly to reproduce, they were now less expensive, so families and builders could use them as reference manuals to design their buildings. These architectural styles reflected the recovering city’s changing landscape and aspirations. 

The Carriage House

The Carriage House is a two story, brick, metal gable roof, rectangular building with continous brick foundation. A one story shed roof addition constructed between 1888 and 1897 is located on the south elevation (façade). It is clad in brick and roofed in metal. All four windows are filled with wood, double hung, one-over-one light replacement windows sat upon brick sills. A replacement four panel metal door is centered on the elevation. Discolored bricks to the east and west of the main entrance indicate previous entrances that have been bricked up. Two, wood, double hung, two-over-two light windows crowned by segmental arch brick and sat upon stone sills are located on the second story of the façade. Cast iron bars are located in front of the windows. 

Both the Cherokee Arms apartment building and the West J. Crawford House nominations go before the Tennessee Historical Commission State Review Board during its January 24, 2024 meeting. Details here:

Tennessee Historical Commission State Review Board January 24, 2024 meeting details and access

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