Back To Front 

A loft in the historic Hays Hardware building.

The Hays Hardware Company building on Front Street was an important element in the re-emergence of downtown as a residential community. The two-story brick structure completed around 1928 was renovated about 10 years ago to create space for two businesses and two condominium residences -- a bold development decision at a time when only a couple thousand people lived downtown.

The Hays building is in the South Bluffs Warehouse Historic District, an area that has been through several significant development phases in the past 150 years. After the Civil War, it became a fashionable residential district extending along Front Street from Beale to Calhoun. When the Frisco Railroad Bridge was completed in 1892, the South Bluffs became a bustling retail, wholesale, and warehouse center. By the 1920s, most of the area between South Front and the river was used for warehouses and distribution centers and had one of the United States' largest wholesale grocery markets. The brothers Dennis, Walker, and George Hays established the Hays Supply Company in 1923, specializing in "heavy hardware" -- woodworking machinery; plows, motors, and mowing machines; supplies for blacksmith shops and wagon works -- and providing "practically everything that the industry and agriculture of nine states need," as Dennis Hays stated in a 1935 interview for The Commercial Appeal. The company was noted for shipping mail orders, as well as telegraph and long-distance telephone orders, on the same day they were received.

The Hays building has both land and river fronts; the condominiums share an entrance-stair hall from the Front Street side and another entrance from the west side parking area where the condos have reserved parking. A deck provides a nice perch for watching the river roll by.

The north unit of the Hays building is a 2,000-square-foot loft with 13-foot ceilings, brick walls, exposed wooden ceiling joists, and long overhead runs of tubular duct work. With minimal internal divisions, the space has an open, airy quality and offers great functional flexibility. A wide entrance hall delineates the east and west "wings" of the residence. The west wing faces the river and includes the kitchen and seating and dining areas. The polygonal kitchen island is a combination work surface and breakfast bar. Ample expanses of pine kitchen cabinets with open shelving for top cupboards contribute to the "low-tech" ambience. A large utility room off the hall contains the unit's mechanical and laundry equipment with lots of room left for storage.

The east wing, with a window-wall overlooking Front Street, has a bedroom area and an adjoining space that could be either a sitting room or office. A sweeping curve of wall encloses the bath and dressing area. The bath design clearly proclaims, "Bathing should be fun." A broad ledge wraps around three sides of the extra-large whirlpool tub. The shower, an odd-shaped space tucked into the intersection of the hall wall and the curved wall, has neither door nor curtain but is so big that splashing water isn't a problem. The ceramic floor tiles extend into the shower, covering the floor in an unbroken swath of color. The vanity counter is covered with a whimsical mix of colorful, rustic, hand-painted ceramic tiles, and the lavatory bowl is a deep, cobalt blue. The huge closet area is open to the bedroom, but it could easily be screened or enclosed.

The Hays building condominium conversion was instrumental in the effort to get people to move back to Front Street; the loft residence available now offers a unique and urbane environment in Memphis' once-again fashionable downtown.

Hays building loft

271 South Front Street

2,000 square feet

1 bedroom, 1 bath; $259,000

Realtor: Sowell & Company

Agent: Jane MacPherson, 278-4380

www.sowellandco.com

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