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Picardy Place Historic District


Home on Picardy Place, ca. 1945, Picardy Place Historic District, Memphis, TN, National Register

Photo: Home on Picardy Place, ca. 1945, Picardy Place Historic District, Memphis, TN. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Photograph by Nancy Jane Baker, 2014, for nomination document, Picardy Place Historic District, Shelby County, TN NR# 14000450, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

The Picardy Place Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016.

Description

The Picardy Place is located in the Midtown area of Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, near the center of the I-240 Loop between Poplar Avenue and Central Avenue. This general area is well-known for its historic residential districts such as Chickasaw Gardens to the east, Idlewild, Cooper Youngand Central Gardens to the west. Picardy Place consists of smaller homes on smaller amounts of acreage, while the other historic districts showcase grander estates set back on large residential lots as well as more modest homes on good-sized lots.

Minimal Traditional Style or form of architecture is highly discussed as to whether it is a style or a form of architecture. The Minimal Traditional style is a consistence structure found across the United States in the years between 1925 to as late as the 1960s. McAlester states "The earliest of these (modern styles), the Minimal Traditional style, was a simplified form loosely based on the previously dominant Tudor style of the 1920s and 1930s. Like Tudor [Revival] style houses, these generally have a dominant front gable and massive chimneys, but the steep pitch is lowered and the facade is simplified by omitting most of the traditional detailing." They became popular first in the 1930s and then became the dominant style of the post-war, late 1940s and early 1950s.

For the purpose of this documentation, Minimal Traditional is its own ubiquitous house style. The distinctive styles of the 1920's such as the English Revival or Spanish Eclectic were stripped of their details to be marketed as Modern English or Modern Colonial cottages. The Craftsman style bungalows of the 1920s were considered out of date and a forlornly time-worn form. Minimal Traditional houses were the new, small, affordable middle class families stand-by for good architecture. While it is true the Depression stopped the more ornate or grandiose styles; Art Deco, International, and Art Moderne were reforming themselves into the style of the modern era. These styles contributed to the streamlining of the small house style.

Home owners were traditionalists at heart and in their taste thus the Minimal Traditional Style with simplified Colonial Revival details were the houses in demand for the home owner with a modest budget. However, the materials used to construct the new "modern Minimal Traditional" homes were the same excellent materials as the larger, more expensive homes. Most often the Minimal Traditional style houses were one-story houses with a cross-gable or hipped roof; sometimes with a basement or a half second story. Minimal Traditional lacked the built-in and interior finishes of the more expensive homes. The average size was eight hundred to one thousand square feet and there was very little cabinetry included in the structure. Easily recognized by their parallel orientation to the street some with a forward-facing gable, the Minimal Traditional style often has a hood or overhangs that protect a small front porch. Large "picture" windows mark the location of the living room as the "eyes on the street" approach to neighborhood living.

Eight of the lots within the Picardy Place front on South Fenwick Road, a street that was previously known as Outlet Avenue and runs north to south to connect Poplar Avenue to Central Avenue. Four of these properties bracket the entrance to the Picardy Place to the south while the other four do the same to the north. The remaining fifteen lots circle the Picardy Place dumb bell designed cul-de-sac. The cul-de-sac and entry are capped with curbs and gutters, a three-foot tree planting lawn and a three-foot concrete sidewalk from Fenwick Road into the subdivision. Fenwick Road also has a curb and gutter, three-foot tree planting lawn and a three-foot concrete sidewalk. There are concrete light poles with crane neck lights in three places in the tree planting lawn area of the subdivision. The wiring for the street lighting is underground. Several mature trees dot the front yards of the houses behind the sidewalk. The houses are set back an average but consistent distance from the sidewalk. The majority of the houses have concrete sidewalks to the driveway and each structure has a standard eight-foot concrete driveway with a ten-foot curb cut. A six inch drainage culvert empties onto the street side sidewalk and driveway of 193 Picardy Place. A storm drainage intake is located at the end of the east/west section of Picardy Place and a fire hydrant is located on the south side of the entry way street in the tree planting lawn (area between the curb and the public sidewalk). The rear property lines of the properties facing the Picardy Place part of the subdivision are enclosed by a six-foot wood fence.

Significance

In the mid- to late-1800s in Memphis, like the rest of the mid-south, wealthy landowners began to sell their property to be divided into smaller lots and residential subdivisions for profit. The Picardy Place subdivision, like its neighbor subdivision, Chickasaw Gardens, followed this trend. Similar to the Chickasaw Gardens subdivision, which was originally owned by Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders, the Picardy Place subdivision was once part of the property of a well-known public figure, James Chamberlain Jones. Jones, a former Governor of Tennessee, was born on April 20, 1809 near Nashville and was the first Governor to be born inside the state. He married Sarah Watson Munford of Danville, Kentucky in 1829 and began his life as a farmer in Nashville. During the next ten years, Jones became a lawyer and served in the Tennessee State House of Representatives despite lacking a formal education. In 1841 and again in 1843, he defeated James K. Polk, the future President of the United States, to become the youngest governor of Tennessee.

Memphis was growing at a faster rate than any other American city in the 1850s with three western rail routes converging in the city. The economy was thriving because of the growth of cotton and cottonseed oil mills along the Mississippi River. Jones bought a large expanse of land on the outskirts of town from Buckley Kimbrough on April 21, 1849. The farm fronted Poplar Avenue which at the time was called State Line Road. In the center of the property, Jones built "Homeplace," a comfortable home for his wife and their nine children and moved everyone to Memphis, Tennessee around 1850. Jones took a particular interest in railways and the benefits that their installation would have on Tennessee and the South. In Memphis, he had become a man of primary importance in the development of the city. He worked with other Memphis businessmen such as Robertson Topp, R. C. Brinkley and Sam Tate who were interested in getting the railroad into the "bluff city." The Memphis & Charleston Railroad was chartered in 1846. The stockholders made Jones president of the railroad in April of 1850. He briefly served as the President of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad before and while entering political office from 1851 to 1857 as a United States Senator. Senator Jones drove the last spike of the railroad from Memphis to Stevenson, Alabama in March of 1857.

During Senator Jones' terms in office, Memphis saw many grand houses built along the east side of downtown on the east and west axis thoroughfares. The cotton crops were bringing in fortunes for the community and for the cotton brokers. The added benefit of the railroad transportation continued to grow. In 1857, Jones's political career ended and it was commonly believed that his poor health throughout his life forced him not to seek re-election. His interests shifted fully from politics to railroad transportation. He was a prime mover in the merger of three projected railway lines. Jones had just had an attack of cholera, which he had suffered from all his life, when the merger was signed. Jones died on his farm on October 29, 1859.

Upon his death, Jones's wife, Sarah, became executor of his estate which included the deed to their farm. In 1870, she divided the majority of her land into fifteen lots to create the Sarah W. Jones Subdivision. A "Homestead Reserve" in the middle of the divided property remained under the ownership of the Jones Family. There were several roads indicated on the plat named after the family members. However, few of these lots sold immediately due, in part, to the Yellow Fever plagues which posed a worse problem than Reconstruction after the Civil War. The city suffered through epidemics in 1867, 1873, 1878, and 1879. Thousands of people died despite the heroic efforts of physicians, clergy, volunteers, and black militia units.

The declining property values and a generation of poor fiscal management pushed the city of Memphis into bankruptcy, resulting in the loss of the city's charter in 1879. The "Taxing District of Shelby County" - Memphis, revived and became a modern city. Frugal governmental spending ideas by the Taxing District of Shelby County repaid Memphis debts causing the state to restore the local home rule charter in 1893 with the return of economic growth and population. "Technology revolutionized urban life: electricity, trolleys, skyscrapers, artesian wells, sewage and sanitation facilities, and the automobile restructured Memphis lifestyles. Rural immigration and extensive annexation sent the city population past 100,000 by 1900."

At the turn of the century, Memphis' population grew dramatically. Housing demand shifted from the upper class to the working, middle class after annexation as they were before, perhaps more so because public utilities were available after 1899. Residential subdivisions and districts were established to the north and south of downtown, as well as, eastward into the newly-annexed land. As this movement east continued, estates and large farming properties were subdivided into single family housing districts. Central Gardens, to the west of Picardy Place Subdivision, is one such example, with a core of several streets of large homes and more modest homes surrounding the core. Home ownership grew to be less exclusive during the 1910s. The stability of the economy allowed for building materials to be extremely inexpensive. The impacts of the automobile caused few physical changes in the design patterns of subdivisions in the pre-World War I Memphis. Many of the new subdivisions were consciously designed to be inward facing and self-contained in order to isolate them from the surrounding traffic pattern. These self-contained subdivisions were built not exclusively for the wealthy, but instead were a device used to protect the integrity of a development from the noise and intrusions of contemporary life, as well as, from intrusions of inappropriate land use development. Unemployment was low, wages were high, and land costs in the subdivision were being forced down by the large amount of land for sale. The combinations of these factors created the real opportunity for home ownership among the middle class.

Aspiring entrepreneurs created investment and realty companies and began buying and subdividing land. In 1926, one such entrepreneur, O.C. Howser, a principle in Autumn Investment Company, purchased Lot 13, the southwest corner lot of the Sarah W. Jones Subdivision. In April 1926, he subdivided Lot 13 and it became known as O.C. Howser's Picardy Place Subdivision. In the design of Picardy Place, the street of the original Picardy Place Subdivision was poorly conceived with two egresses on the "Outlet Street," the north-south street (currently Fenwick Road). Nearly every lot was sixty feet by one hundred and twenty-five feet in size. The area in 1926 was still part of Shelby County and Fenwick Road had yet to be paved or named. The spread of development eastward continued through the 1930s, though the pace slowed due to the effects of the Depression.

In 1929, the Picardy Place Subdivision was annexed into the City of Memphis. Not being the most prosperous year of this nation's history, 1929 was possibly the reason that nothing was built on this property until the early mid-century. As the "boom of the 1920s" gave way to the Great Depression, Memphis supported its economic future through the organization of the Cotton Carnival. The City capitalized on the main local resource, cotton, to promote the City throughout the South. During the 1930s, the Edward Hull Crump political power brought many New Deal dollars for public buildings, public housing and improvements in urban structure. World War II brought enormous military and industrial expansion to the Memphis economy, "including the Memphis Depot and even a German POW camp."

Following the example of Levittown founder Abraham Levitt's first housing development, Strathmore in New York, was built in the mid-1930s of smaller, simpler Minimal Traditional Style homes. The Minimal Traditional Style was imported to Memphis with the creation in 1937 of the Memphis Small House Construction Bureau by J. Frazier Smith, a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). There were at least one hundred stock plans for houses within a price range of $2,000.00 to $6,000.00 created by local groups of architects, developers and contractors. "World War II brought a nearly complete halt to residential construction between 1942 and 1945." Picardy Place seems to be the exception which was due to the small number of lots and to the solid financing of the speculative developers of the site.

"Post-World War II Memphis gave the world important innovations in lodging and shipping as the birthplace of Holiday Inns and Federal Express. Elvis Presley put Memphis on the map in rock and roll music, and St. Jude Hospital made important strides in the battle against catastrophic childhood diseases." It also included the return of thirty thousand veterans back to Memphis. The mid-1940s saw the rapid growth of American families as troops returned home, nineteen thousand of whom were married. Affordable housing was in high demand. With the enactment of the G. I. Bill of Rights during the Roosevelt Administration, new neighborhoods began to grow on previously-vacant lots. A vast number of new houses were built in the Minimal Traditional Style with Colonial Revival and Modernist influences during 1940-1960.

Within the immediate post-war years a new type of entrepreneur emerged to provide housing for whites. Speculative developers providing housing in quantity due to the vast and inexpensive land, a growing dependence on the automobile, and the development of mass-produced, simplified building materials, house plans and stylistic influences. These factors in addition to the availability of government-insured loans served to change land use patterns for Memphis residential, business and industrial development in what became the first outer-ring suburbs.

In November of 1944, the Picardy Place Subdivision was re-designed into the beginnings of its current day appearance. The design had a single outlet onto the same 'Outlet' Street but the interior was more of a dumb bell street shape. Two months later, in January of 1945, the plan for the Picardy Subdivision was revised to enlarge the cul-de-sac ends of the dumb bell design. This represents the current as built layout of the property now known as the Picardy Place.

Three of the lots -163 in 1942, 169 in 1939, and 175 in 1942- on South Fenwick Street from the O. C. Howser Plat had been constructed prior to the final plat for Picardy Place being recorded. The dumbbell portion or the interior properties of the subdivision on Picardy Place (the street) began with the building of the first home in 1944 to the last house being finished in 1948. The last house completed for the entire subdivision was 187 Fenwick Street and was built in 1952.

After World War II, architectural influences became simplified in response to the mass-production of suburban house forms to accommodate the thousands of veterans and other civilians now employed in the new industries in Memphis. Prominent double-pile cottages of the 1940s with Minimal Traditional Styling continued in popularity until their form gradually blended with the more modernist forms of the ranch house. The Minimal Traditional Style is the transition between the traditional Eclectic houses, such as the Colonial Revival/Neoclassical, and the more modern Ranch house of the late 1950s. This style provided financial stability and continuity for residential developers of Post-War America. Picardy Place Historic District is a succinct example of Memphis' Minimal Traditional style.

† Jillian Jung and Nancy Jane Baker, Memphis Landmarks Commission, Picardy Place Historic District, Shelby County, TN, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Picardy Place Historic District Map

Street Names
Fenwick Road South • Picardy Place

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