Lofty Vision 

Paperworks condominiums on Front Street.

The Paperworks condominiums are an important element in the reemergence of downtown as a residential community. The former D. Canale warehouse and Tayloe Paper Company in the South Bluff Warehouse Historic District was adapted for use as apartments in the 1980s, a bold decision at a time when downtown had only a couple thousand residents. The apartments are now being converted to condominiums.

The site has been through several significant development phases in the past 150 years. It was part of the vast Fort Pickering complex developed by Union troops beginning in 1862. After the war, the area 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.

D. Canale & Company was one of several grocery and liquor businesses started by Italian immigrants in Memphis just after the Civil War. In business downtown for nearly 50 years, Canale moved to the South Bluffs when it became a solely wholesale operation. The Canale building on the corner of South Front Street and Huling Avenue was completed in 1913, the same year Central Station opened a couple of blocks away on South Main.

The new Canale warehouse was architecturally distinctive, even avant- garde. Although concrete post-and-beam framing with brick infill was fairly common for industrial and commercial buildings by 1900, the design of the Canale building made no attempt to wrap the building with an ornamental skin of some appropriated historical style. Instead, its structural system was expressed inside and out, with its only ornamentation the horizontal and vertical concrete elements, brick panels, and bands of windows. At a time when neoclassicism and remnants of Victorian excess were all the rage, most people probably considered the stark building to be purely utilitarian, not really architecture at all. But bare-bones, minimalist structures such as this were the genesis of the modern movement and the International Style, which characterized American and European high-style architecture in the first half of the 20th century.

The five-story Paperworks building now has offices on the ground floor and 65 residential units above. Complementing the building's original design, the present renovations are minimalist treatments that make no attempt at a "retro" or pseudo-historical look. In the lobby, the mail boxes are screened by a diaphanous curve of frosted glass, and a small, Zen-inspired garden has been installed at the base of the building's light well near the elevator.

The seven floor plans all have a kitchen-bath-storage core and a laundry room. In some units, the kitchen is near the entry; in others, it is near the center. All of the units have "open" floor plans, with spaces undifferentiated by walls, a concept offering almost endless space usage and furniture arrangements. The exposed-brick panels and glazed concrete floors make a surprisingly nesutral background for antiques as well as contemporary furniture and classic modern pieces.

These condominiums in the middle of the thriving South Main arts district aren't just urban lofts -- they're urbane environments.

408 South Front Street

65 loft units, 700-1,400 square feet

$83,500-$209,000

Henry Turley Realtors, Agents: Annette Sharp and Lori Sharp, 521-1593

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