Over the last year the ax has hovered over two Victorian-era homes that make up part of Victorian Village: the Magevney House and the Mallory-Neely House. Both were closed last year and their future remains uncertain. That leaves the Woodruff-Fontaine mansion as the only Victorian Village house open to the public.
While the closings shocked and saddened Scott Blake, he's moving forward, you might say, instead of looking backward. He heads the Victorian Village Association, whose goal is to encourage private developers to build in the area. "We've got a lot of property -- some of it vacant, some as possible teardowns -- that's perfect for building single-family, freestanding homes," says Blake of the 10-block neighborhood bordered by Poplar, Danny Thomas Boulevard, the alley behind Jefferson, and Manassas.
The activist also puts his money where his mouth is. A resident of Victorian Village for nine years, he owns three properties on Jefferson, including a house built in 2004. His business, Design 500, is two doors east of his home. Blake also recently purchased two lots on Jefferson, and construction will soon begin there on Italianate-style houses for which he's the designer. He predicts the need for more residences as growth continues in the medical center.
Victorian Village is already home to such professionals as attorney Richard Fields, restaurateur Karen Carrier (of Cielo on Adams), and others who have bought and restored historic structures. Regarding the association's overall plan, Blake explains: "We want to keep the [old] look but also add new places where people live and work."
Meanwhile, the Mallory-Neely and Magevney Houses are still maintained by the city's park services' museum system and they're checked regularly for temperature, humidity, condition of antiques, and security. While Blake knows the demands of maintaining a historic home, he says of the Mallory-Neely House, "It's a national treasure. It would be a shame to have it closed for good."
Since the mid-1960s, the Woodruff-Fontaine House has seen thousands of tourists pass through its stately rooms. Currently the only Victorian Village structure open to the public, the French-Victorian mansion, at 680 Adams, is owned by the city under a lease that expires in 2011 and sets rent at $1 a year.
"We're operated by the Memphis Chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities but we get no money from the APTA," says chapter president Maureen Pera. Neither does the city provide funding, except for occasional help with building repairs.
Instead, money for operations and maintenance comes from grants, donations, tour fees, membership dues, and rentals of the carriage house and club rooms. "It takes at least $3,500 a month to run the buildings," says Pera, "and our utility bill one month was $2,300. Our biggest issue now is having the exterior of the [main] house repaired and painted."
A nagging problem for the chapter is the sad state of the adjacent James Lee House, which the group also operates and the city owns. The vacant, deteriorating structure serves no public or private purpose and its renovation would cost "at the very least $1 million," adds Pera.
As for the Woodruff-Fontaine mansion, she remains upbeat, as the APTA applies for more grants and promotes the mansion to large tour groups. "We have no plans for closing," says Pera. "We don't intend to let that happen." -- M.S.