In with the Old 

The new downtown University of Memphis law school opens to students next week.

The original brass mailboxes in the old Front Street post office are long gone, but their memory lives on in a "ghost wall" at the new downtown University of Memphis Cecil B. Humphreys Law School.

As a nod to the school's former use, images of the mailboxes were sandblasted into the glass partition separating the school's historic lobby from the spacious student lounge. When classes begin January 11th, students also will notice other remnants of the post office that architecture firms Askew Nixon Ferguson and Fleming Associates were able to save in the renovation. One arched window, overlooking the lobby from the new 300-seat auditorium, still bears the U.S. Postal Service logo.

"The historic lobby actually looks very similar to the way it looked before renovation began," said Kevin Smith, dean of the law school.

In the basement, areas of the original foundation were left exposed. On the first level, an ornate brass elevator door was left in place beside the new elevator shafts.

Other parts of the building, however, were completely gutted. Originally the Customs House, the building at One North Front Street was constructed in 1884 and additions were made in 1903 and 1929. The 1929 addition was actually built around the 1884 building, forming the façade on Front Street.

After years of being home to the downtown post office, the University of Memphis acquired the building in 2007, and a $42 million renovation began shortly thereafter. The space is about twice the size of the old law school building, located on the U of M campus.

"The interior of the 1903 addition was gutted. They took everything out and rebuilt it, spreading the floors apart to provide enough room for stadium-style classrooms," Smith said.

All four levels of the south wing now make up the Plough Law Library, which also houses two offices constructed from old vaults. On the fourth floor, students and faculty will be treated to sweeping views of the Mississippi River in the atrium-style law library reading room. Architect Bill Nixon said the room was actually raised to improve the view.

On the building's third floor is the moot courtroom, housed in the 1884 federal courtroom. When the designers originally viewed the area, the room had been converted into office space with grey and pink walls, but now the courtroom has been restored to how it might have looked in 1884.

The basement level houses the school's legal clinic, which provides services for indigent clients. Before, the legal clinic was located off-campus in the Memphis Area Legal Services offices.

Smith said the proximity to downtown law firms and the courts will be an asset for students.

"We'll have an opportunity to build relationships with the judges and have greater opportunity for judicial externships," Smith said. "It will also be easier for students to clerk with law firms, and that offers practical experience."

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