Home Tour Detour: Central Gardens goes digital for 2020

‘Tour Detour’ dials back into a rich archive for a clever, ‘selfie’-guided way to enjoy the neighborhood’s historic homes beginning Sunday, September 13 and running thru Sept 27

For this annual Mid-South home tour, they come from miles around to visit an elegant past – or an elegantly renovated present – to walk through these grand, 100-year-old mansions built on subdivisions with familiar names like Roynan, Harbert, Snowden and Overton.

Home Tour Sunday is a special day in the Central Gardens neighborhood, and a special day in Midtown, Memphis. For many it is the highlight of the year, and depending on the weather either an informal preview to the fall season or the last gasps of summer. It is visited by hundreds annually and is on author Samantha Crespo’s list of 100 Things To Do in Memphis Before You Die.

‘They’ are the throngs of visitors from Collierville, East Memphis, Arkansas, North Mississippi, other provinces of West Tennessee and even from visitors from all over the country who arrive on a typically-sunny Sunday, brave the heat and stand in 30-minute lines to elbow and nudge their way inside and visit a little bit of Southern history.

Of course, this year there can be no nudging, no elbowing, and no visits inside. Instead, the organizers of this year’s annual Central Gardens Home & Garden Tour did what so many event organizers have had to locally and across the country, and they got creative.

More like creative, innovative, interactive, comprehensive and ultimately, inspirational (see Behind ‘Tour Detour’ below). This year’s online tour offers a taste of the physical with twelve featured “selfie homes” that encourage visitors to walk the neighborhood in their self-guided tour. And although nothing can replace the feeling of physically walking through the living, dining and drawing rooms of these elegant homes, this online tour detour gives participants something they wouldn’t be able to find while waiting in the late-summer heat: the chance to visit the histories of dozens of homes and past Home Tours from the ease and comfort of their fingertips, with a “20-year virtual retrospective plus 12 featured selfie homes for prizes.”

It’s just the kind of wonderful escape we can use during this difficult year.

Further Reading: Hidden gems in Central Gardens: “Selfie” homes help highlight the neighborhood’s diverse architectural styles, hidden gems and landmarks alike

Interactive Detour Map, from the tour website and Google map.

Home Tour Then & Now: The 1935 American Legion “Magic House” at 295 Kimbrough Place. At left in black & white, an undated photo from Central Gardens–Stories of a Neighborhood; at right, photo from the Home Tour Detour website and interactive Google map.

Behind ‘Tour Detour’

Katherine Schwartz knew she had to act. 

With the world quickly shutting down the second week of March due to the escalating pandemic, and as committee chair for 2020’s Central Gardens’ annual Home & Garden Tour, ‘Kat’ Schwartz knew right away she’d have to start contacting home owners about the prospects of inviting patrons into their homes – after all, the 2019 tour had been the biggest tour on record, with close to 2,000 patrons making their way slowly, shoulder to shoulder, through seven historic homes over five hours. 

But the September tour was still six months away. Wasn’t it too soon to think about postponing or canceling? 

Having friends and family in the medical field, Kat was already hearing that this thing, Covid-19, was going to be serious and deadly, and was not going to go away any time soon. She wasn’t alone in her early actions. Within that mid-March period of less than three weeks, the NBA season was temporarily canceled. Every performing arts venue in Memphis postponed or canceled their March, April and May shows. Museums, restaurants and bars shut their doors, and Congress began talking about economic relief. 

And Home Tour home owners? After discussions with Kat, they all agreed that with so many unknowns and with all the necessary preparations now in question – and in some cases remaining renovations up in the air – cancelling or postponing the tour made sense. In addition, most of the tour sponsors were local small businesses, and already these business owners were putting into question their 2020 expenses, or facing the worst. In light of the shutdown and with respect to these small businesses, Kat’s early assessments and actions proved prescient. 

The Central Gardens board agreed, and Kat and the Home Tour committee went back to the drawing board. By mid-June they had a new plan in place, a home tour “detour,” and the committee members began making the preparations necessary to put on a virtual tour, which included a complete re-vamping of the Central Gardens website, a comprehensive retrieval and cataloging of 20 years of prior Home Tours, and an interactive Google map of the 100+ homes from those prior tours. It was an impressive undertaking, and the committee completed the work in less than three months.

Home Tour Detour is free for everyone, but Central Gardens is accepting donations that will help the neighborhood in its upcoming efforts to update its listings on the National Register of Historic Places and for an alley lighting improvement project that could serve as a model for alley safety improvements for neighborhoods all over Memphis. 

To visit this year’s Central Gardens Home Tour ‘Detour’ check out their new and improved website here.

Further Reading: Hidden gems in Central Gardens: “Selfie” homes help highlight the neighborhood’s diverse architectural styles, hidden gems and landmarks alike

Mark Fleischer is a past president of the Central Gardens Neighborhood Association

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