By the time you read this, the largest oak in my neighborhood will be history. It stood for more than 100 years on the hill just down from E.H. Crump's former home on Peabody Avenue. The tree was visible from Cooper Street, more than two blocks away, where its mighty crown could be seen rising over the Midtown area hardest hit by last year's windstorm.
Fortunately, the oak was so big and healthy that it withstood the windstorm. Unfortunately for the oak, the lot was sold to local developer Ben Duke. Then the going got weird.
The corner lot is on the dividing line between two neighborhoods on the National Historic Register: Central Gardens and Idlewild. Two modest brick homes occupied the lot. They were torn down by a giant bulldozer over the course of two or three days, as children walked past on their way to Idlewild Elementary. Next, a dozen mature trees were demolished. Bewildered neighbors gathered on nearby Courtland Avenue, asking each other what was going on. No signs were posted to inform the public of the demolition.
In fact, the only nearby signs were one for the Idlewild National Historic District and a plaque describing Boss Crump's life and property. According to Central Gardens Neighborhood Association president Sharon Birch, the mighty tree that stood between these signs "fell through the cracks." It took plenty of effort by the bulldozer to make it fall, and a last-ditch attempt to save it turned out to be too little, too late.
In fact, some residents said the tree demolition was necessary for saving a historic home.
"This is a remarkable victory for the neighborhood," Birch says. The Central Gardens Neighborhood Association Web site touts the "dedicated preservationists" who are "proud to live on our tree-lined streets." Birch is proud that the lot being cleared will be the new resting place for another historic home that is to be moved from its current address next to Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Originally slated for demolition, the vacant house has been given to the developer by the church. The plan is to truck the brick, stone, and stained-glass building down Peabody Avenue and set it up beside the Crump house. The rest of the lot will then be subdivided so that a total of three homes will stand where before there were two.
"It's my opinion that this is a good in-fill development," says Birch. "We've been working on this for six months. It's so exciting!" When asked if she had shared her excitement with her counterparts at the Idlewild Neighborhood Association, Birch said she had not. When asked why the usual signage was not posted so that perhaps the two neighborhoods could have worked together to save both the tree and the "irreplaceable" house, Birch said no signs were required. The lot was originally intended for three homes, so, technically, the developer is not subdividing anything.
But how in the world was anyone supposed to know that a lot containing two houses was originally intended for three? The lot certainly appeared to be a two-house parcel.
"There was no way of knowing," says Rick Copeland of the city's Planning and Development Office. "Not unless you came downtown and looked at the plat on the map. We uphold the letter of the law."
Nancy Jane Baker of the Landmarks Commission agreed: The developer was not required to post a notice of planned development, as he had done on a nearby smaller lot that he recently subdivided.
Throughout the day, as the demolition crew prepared to fell the Boss Crump oak, phone calls to the developer went unreturned. Mary Baker of the Office of Planning and Development was confused. "I don't know why they [the Central Gardens Neighborhood Association] didn't notify anyone at the Idlewild Neighborhood Association. They should have contacted them. It was an oversight." She explained that an ordinance requiring builders to plant replacement trees would not apply in this case either, since the lot is smaller than the two-acre requirement for such action.
The Landmarks Commission did send out written notification to five addresses on Linden and Courtland streets. These addresses included several homes that were in the process of being sold. This reporter could find no one in the neighborhood who was notified.
Copeland says the city is currently rewriting codes and ordinances that may someday prevent such a thing from happening. "But it will take up to two years. Come to our future meetings and give us your input," he told me.
After the bulldozer pushed the giant oak to the ground, Scott Banbury, a local woodworker who salvages and mills fallen city trees, arrived at the scene. Banbury said the oak was very healthy, with no signs of rot, parasites, or fungus. "This would never have happened on the West Coast," he explained, citing protective tree ordinances there.
Demolition day in Central Gardens/Idlewild ended with the huge oak lying stretched across the scraped ground as the first drops of rain in more than a month sprinkled its dead body like so many futile tears.
Haute Couture & Health-care Annual fashion gala highlights designers, HIV/AIDS awareness.
The gala is a three-day event culminating with a fashion show at downtown's Central Station on December 12th. The weekend is sponsored by L.R. Clothier owner and Memphis Live! talent-show founder James Davis. This year, Davis has expanded the gala to include more designers. Previous galas only highlighted local African-American designers.
In addition, Davis has included HIV/AIDS awareness in the three-day event. "The entertainment aspect is great, but from the beginning my goal has always been to help the community," says Davis. "The fashion industry has always been one that has been typically associated with behaviors that are many times causes for the disease -- homosexuality, drugs, partying -- so this was just a natural subject for us to get involved in." A partnership with Friends for Life and the newly formed grassroots organization Black AIDS Memphis will provide onsite testing and educational materials. The event, which occurs 11 days after World AIDS Day on December 1st, also functions as a promotion for National Black HIV/AIDS Day on February 7th.
Since his first show in 2002, Davis' mission has been to expand the show into a fashion week, similar to those in Milan, New York City, and Paris. This year's event has progressed to include an industry forum with professionals discussing their trade and hints on breaking into the business.
As an independent designer and retail professional, Davis, along with other small designers, created the show to highlight their fashions and educate shoppers about alternative apparel. Attendance for the first two shows reached about 500 people, and more than 700 are expected this year.
What has kept the gala so successful has been its creativity and authenticity. Each aspect of the gala is styled after industry events. For example, models are taller and slimmer than the models typically seen in local shows. Instead of dividing the show into evening wear, casual, and business attire, models showcase fashions from individual designers. While traveling fashion shows like the Ebony Fashion Show include narration for an entertainment flare, the gala features prerecorded music, audio sound bites, and voiceovers for a more professional feel. Even makeup is different, with gala models wearing the dramatic styles seen in runway shows like those in America's Next Top Model.
"We are trying to move Memphis into a more mainstream-type modeling city," says Davis. "What we see here most of the time are fashion shows with church-type entertainment featuring 'Southern-size' female models. With this show, we hope to portray actual runway modeling."
Fashions will include Davis' luxury collection inspired by the ever-changing fashion icon Prince. In addition, models in a special HIV/AIDS segment will don Grim Reaper-style capes as they walk the runway to a somber musical accompaniment and hold placards of local and national disease statistics.
Since last year's event, Davis has received several requests for help from other groups interested in producing similar activities. As part of the effort for continued expansion and exposure, Davis is working with city officials to designate a fashion week in Memphis.
"We know that we are moving in the right direction with this show because the interest increases each year," says Davis. "We always measure the success of the gala according to feedback from the audience. What we are doing is making a mindset change, and we are getting there more and more each year." ¥
Fashion Gala events are open to the public, and spaces are still available for designers to participate in the runway show or as vendors. Events begin on Friday, December 10th, with the Designer, Model, and Martini Pre-Party and end with the fashion show on December 12th. For more information, call 864-7196.
by janel davis
by the Book
A plastic surgeon's do's and don'ts.
by Leonard Gill
It's 4 p.m. when I make the call. "Guess where I am right now?" asks 60-year-old Nathaniel Mayer when he picks up the phone. "Uh, at home?" I guess before the Motor City soul legend interrupts in his sandpaper voice. "Baby, I'm in the bed," he guffaws. "This is where I stay. I eat in the bed, drink in the bed, watch TV in the bed, and just rest until it's time for me to take care of business."
For Mayer -- or Nate Dog, as he prefers to be called -- business involves a sweaty stage show fronting his young punk-rock-meets-R&B group, the Shanks. "I like to give my audience their money's worth and a little bit more," Mayer says. "I wanna be top dog, not just Nate Dog!"
While Mayer is not the first Detroit soulster to revive his career via a more youthful music scene (Andre Williams and Sir Mack Rice have both benefited from similar exposure), he's certainly up to the challenge. "Put me back on the map," he demands playfully. "I didn't get to be 60 being a square -- I've had my share! It's my turn to burn! I'm coming to please -- not to tease!"
The first time around, Mayer cut a handful of hits for the Fortune label, including unforgettable sides such as "Village of Love" and "I Want Love and Affection (Not the House of Correction)," beginning in the early 1960s when he was still a teenager. For the last two decades, however, he has languished in near obscurity.
"Back in 2002, I saw Nate play a Motown revue at the Millennium Center here in Detroit," explains Shanks guitarist Jeff Meier, who co-produced Mayer's comeback album, I Just Want To Be Held, released this month on Fat Possum Records. "Everyone else was doing karaoke, and Nate stole the show." He landed Mayer a gig at the 2003 Ottawa Blues Festival with the Shanks as the backing band, and the rest is history.
"Nate's basically a teenager," Meier says. "It's his attitude. He's still living the life he led back then. When he performs, it's not like going to an oldies show. He's really current and accessible. It's just a frame of mind, but this guy's got it!
"The first time I went to pick him up, I pulled in front of his house and honked. He opened the car door, stuck his head in, and asked if I was a bad motherf*****," Meier remembers. "He grilled everyone with the same question when he got to the rehearsal. I knew we'd get along just fine."
After Fat Possum honcho Matthew Johnson heard Mayer and the Shanks play in Memphis, he signed them on the spot, Meier says. I Just Want To Be Held -- Mayer's first full-length album -- was recorded at the Money Shot, Fat Possum's Water Valley, Mississippi, studio last spring. Memphis musicians Adam Woodard and Jack Yarber (Meier's former Compulsive Gamblers bandmate) played on the sessions, alongside saxophonist extraordinaire Suzi Hendrix.
Two tracks -- "Leave Me Alone" and "From Now On" -- were culled from Mayer's Fortune output, while the up-tempo "I'm In Love" was a tune Mayer had originally penned for fellow soulster Nolan Strong. A cover of John Lennon's "I Found Out," stripped down to a raspy, menacing blues-based foundation, renders the Plastic Ono Band's version utterly useless, while Mayer's take on Yarber's "Satisfied Fool" could stand toe-to-toe with classics like "Village of Love." Granted, Mayer's hoarse pleadings are an acquired taste, but he stays on key throughout this inspired workout, allowing the triple threat of Meier, Yarber, and Dale Beavers to stretch out on their respective guitar parts as the rhythm section smolders underneath.
Live, Mayer is a force to be reckoned with. Dressed in his trademark tails, he spins, kicks, shimmies, and shakes his way across the stage, wiping perspiration from his silvery mustache every few minutes as the band behind him threatens to explode.
"The Shanks make me feel young," Mayer says. "They're one of the best groups I've ever had. They don't miss a note, and although they weren't even born when I first started singing, they're for real with the music."
With that remark, Mayer yawns, threatening to slip back under the covers. After all, he's got to save his energy for the Shanks' upcoming tour. Before he nods off, however, I squeeze in one more question: Where is the village of love?
"It's where you make it, wherever you're happy," Mayer explains. "It's about making love and finding someone who will treat you right. The village of love is life." He chuckles, then softly hangs up the phone. •
Nathaniel Mayer & the Shanks perform at the Hi-Tone Café Friday, October 1st.