Housing History

October 28th, 2010

You shouldn't have to imagine what the room looked like where the city's first Catholic mass was celebrated in 1839, you should stand in it, and in every room of your own simple storied cottage.

You shouldn't have to imagine what Victorian oppulence was like, what antebellum Memphis money bought, you should bask in it, be stunned by it throughout your own soaring 1852 mansion.

They are, after all, all yours.

As published in The Daily News, October 29, 2010, and in The Memphis News, October 30-31

We have the key to history. Open the doors.

Together, they are home to more than 300 years of Memphis.

In one, a pioneering school teacher lived and raised a family, holding the new city's first Catholic mass in the tiny drawing room. In the other, several of the city's first and foremost families held court in 25 rooms, standing on parquet floors beneath soaring, elaborately decorated ceilings.

They both have several things in common. They both have addresses on Adams Avenue, just blocks but worlds apart in their day. They both have original furnishings and possessions, rare things indeed among historical homes. Both have dedicated and knowledgeable champions and docents. Both are under the purview of The Pink Palace Family of Museums, itself under the purview of the Parks Division.

Both are closed. And they both belong to us.

The only history the past administration was interested in was that found on the mayor's résumé. And, unlike these houses, a lot of that was revisionist. As a result, they were closed down in a symbolic, and silly, budget-cutting gesture. The total cost of keeping both of these uniquely Memphis treasures open to us, our children, our visitors and to posterity wouldn't even be a burp in the bloat of that administration's patronage and largesse.

The Magevney House, a white clapboard, doll-like gem of a cottage, was built circa 1837. That's 173 years ago, less than 20 years after the city was laid out. People, only two things in Memphis are 173 years old and extant: the Magevney House and, according to my children, the song list on my iPhone.

Like many of the school children of my generation and since, I still remember field trips to the Magevney House back when I was in elementary school and the Earth was cooling. How small and carefully crafted it seemed, how something like this – about 2/3 adult scale and about my size at the time – could loom so large in our beginnings.

Wouldn't you like to see it?

Not one tower, but two, all the better to look toward the river from whence fortunes came. Not an arched wooden gallery, but stone, all the better to shade old money. Of course, every square inch of wall and ceiling, every imposing and original piece of furniture, is magnificently over the top. Of course, the stained glass windows came from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, the most famous World's Fair of all. This is the Mallory-Neely House, circa 1852 Italianate Villa, grandame of Victorian Village, formally dressed for visitors.

Wouldn’t you like to see it?

It's time. Time for tours again, for visiting another time in style. Time for afternoons beneath Eugene Magevney's arbor, friends gathered in the yard, around the kitchen garden. Time for grand times in the Mallory's grand parlor, strolls on the grounds, tea on the gallery.

These are our houses and it's time for our guests to arrive.

I’m a Memphian, and I'm asking Mayor Wharton to open our doors to one and all.

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