Hernando DeSoto stopped here in 1541, looking to cross the river. Don Manuel Gayoso, the Spanish military commander of West Florida, built a fort here in 1795. But it wasn't until after World War I that Memphis embraced all things romantically European, and the city was graced with houses in the Tudor, Italian, and Spanish Revival styles.
George Mahan Jr. was one of the major architects of these Romantic revivals built between 1914 and 1938. In 1922, Esther Cook Norfleet built this house on Goodwyn Street, using Mahan's plans. Goodwyn was a popular location for grand homes at that time, because the Memphis Country Club was established there in 1905 in the original home of Geraldus Buntyn, for whom the Buntyn Station was named.
Mahan incorporated quite a few Spanish architectural features in this residence. The exterior is a rambling form, clad in stucco with a low-pitched, red tile roof. The entry door is of heavy wood planks and, like most of the windows, topped by a glazed arch. Rather than a front porch, there is a roofless arcade with twisted columns supporting the arch openings and spanned by beams that allow lots of light into the rooms behind.
The interior knocks you over, both with elaborate details and a rich assemblage of rooms. The low-ceilinged entry has a crisp black-and-white floor, arched doorways, and a very wide staircase to the second floor on line with the entry. To one side is a 12-foot-tall living room with dark timber beams resting on carved corbels. The fireplace, with its gilded details, is equally overscale. The music room is up a few steps to the west and has splendid gilded cornices. A grand south-facing sunroom with French doors on three sides overlooks the two-and-a-half-acre grounds.
Across the entry from the living room are the dining and morning rooms. An intricate pair of Art Nouveau wrought-iron gates — originally from Chicago and worthy of inclusion in the Ornamental Metal Museum's collection — guard the entry. Walnut paneling to the ceiling cozies up the dining room, and more gilt detail around the ceiling moldings reflects every flicker of light.
Behind the dining room is a butler's pantry and recently redone kitchen with dark stained cabinets, granite tops and backsplash, and a white ceramic floor with black accents. The kitchen feels a little too enclosed, despite its ample dimensions, but eliminating a storage unit above the island would do wonders to open up the room.
There was originally a rear porch with similar columns to those on the front of the house. Now, a family room has been added, which includes the porch. It's commodious at 28-by-44 feet and has almost 13-foot ceilings. This multipurpose room, with its beadboard ceiling and tiled floor, also overlooks the backyard and pool.
Upstairs are four bedrooms and three baths. The master bedroom even has an east-facing balcony with a wrought-iron handrail. But the delightful surprise is a diminutive library on the main staircase landing. The Norfleets sold the house to Charles Barnes Stout and his wife, Warda Stevens. It was here on the landing that Mrs. Stout planned both her extensive garden, of which fountains, terraces, and pool remain, and researched her porcelain collection, which is now on permanent display at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens.
517 Goodwyn Street (Map); 4 bedrooms, 3 and a half baths, 6300 sq. ft., $1,595,000
Coleman-Etter Fontaine Realtors, 767-4100; Jeanne Coors Arthur, Debbie Rodda