It's a decaying mansion in the physical throes of what appears to be certain extinction. Yet, even as the once illustrious Union Avenue landmark, home for decades to the noted philanthropic women's organization, The Nineteenth Century Club, dies an agonizingly slow death, desperate efforts for a reprieve from the wrecking ball were made to Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter on Monday.
The compassionate jurist sought to bring some clarity to the ambiguous intentions of the new ownership.
"He rightfully requested that they come back to the courts with the fire department in tow, the anti-neglect division, with a plan for demolition. What are you going to do? What's your time frame? When you going to do it?" explains Memphis architect Joseph Hagan.
Union Group LLC attorney Linda Mathis says, "I'm not authorized to make any statements on behalf of my client beyond what was made in court."
"He also requested that they come back with a plan for what their plans are for the property, are in the future. Not only are you going to knock it down, but what are you going to put back," adds Hagan.
The 106-year-old edifice was sold by the women's organization for $550,000 to an out of town owner in January. However, as a final magnanimous act, the now defunct group used the sale of items from the mansion to make an unprecedented donation to the Children's Museum of Memphis. Their $500,000 gift to the museum has already resulted in the creation of an exhibit featuring a replica of the front of the Memphis Fire Department's historic Engine House 18. It's projected to be the first of a number of new exhibits over the next few years, financed by the donation.
In the meantime, the mansion is fast becoming an eyesore. Trash, limbs and unmowed grass accentuate its ruin in the face of what was estimated by the former club would have cost $1.2 million to renovate. "The rumor on the streets is that it's going to be a strip shopping outlet. I mean, really!?" says Hagan.