Elvis Presley’s Graceland is the most famous musical home in the Mid-South, but it’s far from alone. Presley’s first home in Tupelo has become a museum, as has a former W.C. Handy house relocated to Beale Street.
Presley’ s first adult home, in East Memphis, hosts events and blues pianist Memphis Slim’s Soulsville house has been converted into a kind of musical community center.
But now, another famed musical abode, once thought a candidate for similar preservation, could soon be demolished.
A Shelby County Environmental Court order on Thursday put the deteriorating birth home of soul queen Aretha Franklin into a city receivership with an order to “abate nuisance through demolition.”
“Nobody wants to tear it down, but also it can’t stay like it’s been, without being secured or maintained, forever,” said Steve Barlow, a staff attorney for the City of Memphis and a leader of the nonprofit Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.
The small home is on a tucked-away residential street in South Memphis, surrounded by other boarded-up properties. The front of the house at 406 Lucy Avenue is secured, but the left side is sagging and a fire a few years ago led to a collapsed roof on an added back portion, which remained open to entry as of Saturday.
Franklin, the most celebrated woman in the history of American soul music, was born in the front of the house on March 25, 1942, and lived there for two years before her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, moved the family first to Buffalo and later to Detroit.
The listed owner and defendant on the court order is Vera L. House, who said she raised 12 children there but hasn’t lived in the house for years.
“I turned it over to the courts to try to find someone who would keep it standing, but they waited so long until the house is about to fall,” said House. “The front, where (Aretha) was born, is still good. I think the front could be saved if they tear the back of it off.”
There has also been a complicating legal dispute between House and the property’s mortgage owner.
“The taxes and everything are still in my name. I didn’t know what to do about that. I can’t afford to pay it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m through with it,” said House, although she also noted that her son was currently living in it “to try to keep people from tearing it up worse.”
The house was first certified a public nuisance on Oct. 4, 2012, and has been subject to periodic checks since. More recently, a collection of local nonprofits had been working to save the property, with a group named South Memphis Renewal CDC appointed a receiver and LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation executive director Jeffrey Higgs submitting a plan to raise money and relocate the house.
At the time, preservation group Memphis Heritage had been pursuing a potential buyer, according to executive director June West, but backed off when the group found out the property was part of an active case in environmental court, and instead offered support to LeMoyne-Owen CCDC. The hope was to preserve the house and relocate it to the Soulsville neighborhood for an undetermined historical and /or public purpose.
Higgs could not be reached for comment as of press time, but told WREG-TV last May that the organization wanted to “make sure it’s in pretty good shape (and) maintain it” and that they were in the process of trying to contact Franklin for permission to use her or her family’s name.
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SOURCE: The Commercial Appeal – Chris Herrington