Just as certain as death and taxes, all the new construction going up in Memphis and Shelby County means old buildings are coming down. As buildings are razed, architectural elements, windows, doors, sinks, bathtubs, and anything else inside gets demolished too. Historical and period features can be lost to time in the blink of an eye.
Which is where Memphis Heritage's Preservation Posse steps in. The group makes it their mission to get into buildings and salvage what they can before demolition. The group works on tips from homeowners and building owners in advance of a demolition or gets donations as renovations are being made and items are removed.
The "sheriff" of the Preservation Posse is David Early. He has worked with Memphis Heritage for about three years, and he can rattle off war stories about warehouse timbers from Number One Beale, a stuffed wildebeest and giraffe from the Pink Palace Museum, the front half of a taxi cab (painted on the side was "Tijuana Taxi"), and following a dump truck taking away the remains of old Baptist Hospital to a landfill to see what he could salvage.
All of the items scavenged and saved are stored until Memphis Heritage's next Architecture Auction, a major fund-raiser for the group. Memphis Heritage is a nonprofit educational and charitable organization that spearheads the preservation movement to save historically significant Shelby County buildings, open spaces, and neighborhoods.
Early says they're always seeking volunteers for the Preservation Posse. Sturdy shoes and work clothes are recommended, and water and coffee and gloves and dust masks are provided. "Everybody likes to romp around," Early says. "It's fun to poke around basements or closets. We do pry apart things such as molding around doors." Curiosity and a willingness to get dirty are prized skills for posse members.
"Down the road, we want to have a retail presence," Early says. Memphis Heritage as a whole is hoping to build on successes, expanding the scope of the organization. "We want to be a grant-giving organization to help if someone has a project and needs some funding," Early says. "We want to be a catalyst for reuse of a building. We want to not just be an advocate but to bring some money to the table."
The site of this year's Architecture Auction, to be held in October, is the Marine Hospital near the National Ornamental Metal Museum. On Saturday, April 28th, volunteers will be sprucing up the space to make it suitable for the auction.
"There's this underlying need that people have to have a piece of something," Early says. "If they know the whole thing can't be saved, they just want a fragment to hang on to. So I was determined to spread some fragments around."
For more information on the Preservation Posse, other volunteer opportunities with Memphis Heritage, or to make a donation, call 272-2727 or go to MemphisHeritage.org. ■
The Butler Street Bazaar is torn down in anticipation of new townhomes by developer Berry Jones of Architectural CustomWorks. Demolition began on Wednesday, March 28th and continues today.