When First Tennessee Bank celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2014, employees paid tribute to Charles Q. Harris, a head cashier who could take credit for the bank surviving to enjoy its 150th birthday. For it was Harris who stayed behind to keep the bank — then known as First National — open during the dreadful yellow fever epidemic of 1878, while employees and owners of other businesses fled our suffering city. For his efforts, Harris was promoted to bank vice president, and when life slowly returned to normal in Memphis, he spent the rest of his days living peacefully in a lovely two-story stone home at 1380 Carr, in the heart of present-day Central Gardens.
This historic property is today the residence of Kathy Ferguson and her husband, Edward, and it’s only fitting that a house with such a history serves as their home, because Kathy is chair of the Central Gardens Home and Garden Tour, one of the most popular in our city, and scheduled this year for Sunday, September 11th. The year 2016 is special for the tour, as it is for this magazine, both of which are celebrating their 40th anniversaries.
“My husband and I have lived in Central Gardens for the past eight years, and 15 years in Midtown, and we love it here,” Ferguson says. “The tour is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our neighborhood.”
Organizing a home tour through a neighborhood that stretches across more than 500 acres and includes more than 1,540 properties can be overwhelming, especially when the challenge is to make each year’s tour different — and even more memorable — than the one before.
Central Gardens was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Even so, the tour got off to a somewhat slow start. According to Dr. Pat Wall, a former president of the Association, “the first home tours were literally friends opening up their homes on a Sunday afternoon, with the homeowners serving as hosts.” Wall and his wife, Jeanne, recall receiving an oil painting from the Association as a thank-you gift for hosting one of the early tours.
By about the fifth year, in 1981, the tours had become more organized, with a volunteer committee selecting six to eight homes each year. That selection can be a daunting task. “Many times homeowners approach us,” Ferguson says. “They have made renovations to their property, and they want to show them off. But most of the homes [we choose] are ones that we have already been in — we know the owners or residents — and we find something that appeals to us, whether it’s a great historical story or a special architectural feature.”
This year’s tour includes one home that was featured in the hit movie 21 Grams. Another was designed by one of our city’s leading architects (and in his day, a well-known author), and another house was occupied by a German baroness. Every house chosen, it seems, has a significant story behind it.
One of the Association’s goals is to highlight a different section of Central Gardens each year. “We like to move around, to show off different areas,” Ferguson says. “At the same time, the homes need to be close to each other so that our visitors can easily walk to each property, or we can shuttle them.”
This year’s tour, with the eight homes clustered along Belvedere and Carr, will offer special treats, such as a collection of vintage cars parked along the streets. “That’s mostly for the men,” says Ferguson with a smile. “I’ve been on tours and I know they can get bored looking at old homes, but they really love the old cars.”
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The Work House
571 Belvedere Boulevard
Owners: Jana and Andy Lamanna
Built in 1925, the Work House gets its unusual name from its first owners, Charles and Annie Few Work. According to architectural historian Judith Johnson, who provided much of the information published in the tour program, the family owned C.F. Work & Sons, a woodworking firm that specialized in golf clubs. Kathy Ferguson, in fact, has turned up a 1948 magazine advertisement for the company, which invited readers to “feel the clear click of the club head with woods of persimmon” and reassured golfers that “we have prewar inventories of persimmon golf blocks to ensure prompt deliveries to makers of golf clubs.”
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The Long-Sellers House
1348 Carr Avenue
Owners: Elizabeth and Matthew Domas
This house is something of a mystery. Although city records suggest it was built in 1903, making it one of the earliest homes in Central Gardens, Ferguson’s search through old city directories shows that no one occupied it for half a dozen years. In fact, she turned up a newspaper article from a small town in Arkansas which indicated that the first owners, a family named Long, were living across the river “because their Memphis home had succumbed to a fire.” At any rate, in 1909, the Longs sold the house to Isaac Sellers, a whiskey sales representative. If the home’s exterior looks familiar, that’s because the two-story home was featured in the star-studded 2002 movie, 21 Grams.
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The Smith House
1530 Peabody Avenue
Owner: Dr. Shawn Hayden
This impressive home was designed in 1927 by J. Frazer Smith, an accomplished architect and the author of a classic book, White Pillars: The Architecture of the South. In addition to beautifully crafted residences, his other projects in Memphis included Lauderdale Courts and the original Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital building. The house is actually a duplex, and in the 1930s, one side was occupied by Walter C. Chandler, who served as the city’s U.S. congressman during that decade, before being elected mayor for two terms in the 1940s. Living here with Chandler and his wife was his son, Wyeth, who himself became mayor of Memphis in the 1970s, and later served as a city court judge.
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The Strong House
581 Belvedere Boulevard
Owners: Terry Clark and Frank Armstrong
Constructed in 1921, this Mediterranean-style villa was singled out in Memphis: An Architectural Guide “as a low, delicately detailed, classical pavilion offering a welcome respite from the ponderous rhythms of the houses that surround it.” The original owners were Rumina and Amos Strong, a partner in a Front Street cotton company. For a while, the property was occupied by the Strongs’ daughter, a woman with the wonderful name of Creola, who lived here with her husband, Herbert, a teacher at Central High School. In 1971, however, the house was sold to the Baroness Mary McFall de Guzenburg. It’s really not clear where she acquired her title, since Mary, as everyone called her, was actually born in Memphis and attended Lausanne and later Southwestern. But she became an accomplished artist, spending time between Memphis and New York City, where she became a member of the Art Students League.
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1554 Peabody Avenue
Owners: Karen and Tyson Bridge
One of Central Gardens’ best-known houses, this twin-gabled stone mansion was built in 1907 to serve as the home of two widows, Mrs. Walter Goodman and her daughter, Mrs. John Richardson. Mr. Goodman had been a prosperous businessman, president of the Woods-Chickasaw Company, owner of the Dixie Electro-Magnet Company, and owner of a cotton plantation near Horn Lake. The wealthy widows hired the prestigious architectural firm of Jones and Furbinger — perhaps best known for designing the Claridge Hotel, the Shrine Building, and other local landmarks — to build their grand home.
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The Crosby House
1566 Carr Avenue
Owners: Betsy and Giles Robinson
Bankers seemed to prefer Central Gardens. Built in 1909, this was originally the home of Emma Tuther Crosby and Harry Howard. Howard was not only the president of National City Bank, just down the street from Charles Q. Harris’ First National Bank, but also served as vice-president and treasurer of the Reichman-Crosby Company, which manufactured parts for sawmills in the early 1900s. The authors of Memphis: An Architectural Guide, admired the imposing façade of this home, noting its Italianate tiled roof and grateful symmetry.
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The Oliver House
1355 Peabody Avenue
Owners: Barrie and Michael Simpson
Although today it is considered part of Central Gardens, this home was part of our city’s first subdivision, called Annesdale Park, when it was built in 1903. This was an ambitious undertaking, building homes so far away from the central business district (a notion that today sounds laughable) but the developers included such famous Memphis (and street) names as R. Brinkley Snowden, J. Bayard Snowden, and Thomas O. Vinton. The first owners were Ella and John Oliver, who was president of the Memphis Cold Storage Company, the first of its kind in the South, and still an imposing landmark on Front Street. According to Judith Johnson, Mr. Oliver (who has a street named after him in Cooper-Young) originally came to Memphis in 1860 to open a hat shop and after the war he got into the much more profitable wholesale grocery and ice storage business.
Another form of transportation will be a special feature of the 2016 tour. The Association is working with Revolutions Bicycle Co-Op in Cooper-Young to provide a bicycle tour of the neighborhood. Also available for the first time, for the lovers of flowers and trees, will be a self-guided arboretum tour, showcasing the magnificent trees that shade the homes of Central Gardens.
And the tour is becoming more high-tech. An app is available for download on the Central Gardens Neighborhood Association website (centralgardens.org), which offers GPS-guided tours of the homes on this year’s tour along with some 80 other historic properties in the neighborhood.
“We hope to draw anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 people,” says Ferguson, “and I hope it’s not just Midtowners, or even Memphians. I hope somebody passing through town learns about our tour, and comes by on Sunday afternoon to see a part of Memphis they might normally never visit.”
40th Annual Central Gardens Home and Garden Tour
Sunday, September 11, 1 – 6 p.m.
Hospitality Center: Parking lot at Belvedere and Peabody
$12 each for groups of 10;
$15 in advance at designated ticket outlets;
$20 on the day of the tour.
For ticket locations and other information: centralgardens.org
Home Sweet Home 1976-2016
For 40 years, Central Gardens residents have opened their homes and other neighborhood landmarks to visitors during the annual tour. Space prevents listing every building featured on previous tours, but these are some of the highlights:
Robinson House (688 S. McLean) — This was the former residence of religious performing artist Bette Stalnecker, who purchased the set of four 76,000-pound columns from the demolished Goodwyn Institute on Madison and added them to the façade. (2011 tour)
Wellford House (205 S. Belvedere) — This grand home was built in 1903, before Belvedere was landscaped into one of our city’s most beautiful boulevards. The high, terraced lawn is the result of the once-hilly street, then called Arcadia, being leveled. (2005 tour)
Beverly Hall (1560 Central) — Constructed in 1905-06, this handsome red-brick mansion, a Central Gardens landmark, is often considered one of the finest private residences in Memphis, located on a shady two-acre lot. The original construction cost was $115,000 — more than $3 million today. (2004 tour)
E.H. Crump House (1962 Peabody) — Built ca. 1908, this was the private residence of “Mr. Crump,” the boss who dominated Memphis and Tennessee politics from 1910 into the 1950s. (2012 tour)
The Magic House (295 Kimbrough) — Built in 1935, this was promoted as the American Legion Magic House because it showcased the latest innovations and gadgets of the day, including fiberglass insulation, an attached garage, and central air conditioning. (2003 tour)
Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral (1695 Central) — Constructed during the Depression, this stunning Italian Renaissance-style building provides the perfect terminus for Belvedere Boulevard. (featured on various tours over the years)
Lloyd T. Binford House (1731 Peabody) — This was home to the president of the Columbia Mutual Insurance Company, but better known as our city’s notorious censor, whose condemnation in the 1950s of seemingly innocent films made Memphis a laughingstock. (2001 tour)
Church of Scientology (1440 Central) — Formerly a private residence, the building was converted into the offices of the Church of Scientology between 1997 and 2008. Prominent members included Isaac Hayes and Lisa Marie Presley. (1991 tour)
Rozelle House (1737 Harbert) — Constructed in 1853 as a plantation house, Rozelle House (along with Clanlo Hall) is one of the two surviving antebellum homes in Central Gardens. Extensive, historically accurate renovations have earned the homeowners multiple awards.
Clanlo Hall (1616 Central) — Tennessee Supreme Court Judge William Harris bought 40 acres from C.W. Rozelle and also built a plantation home in 1853. For many years, these were the two major dwellings in what is now Central Gardens. The Harris Home was renamed by the 1954 owners, who combined the first two letters of their three daughters’ names: Claire, Ann, and Lois. (1997 tour)
Lang House (1600 Peabody) — This home was a marriage gift to Frank Lang from his wealthy father-in-law, whose family allegedly were the founders of Four Roses bourbon. (1991 tour)
The Wedding House (600 S. McLean) — Built in 1892 in the Queen Anne Revival style for an executive at the Memphis Appeal, it later was the home of General Sessions Judge James White, earning its name because so many weddings were conducted over the years in its front parlor.