Red Acres

Cultural Resources Survey of

Red Acres

Memphis, TN.

Census Tract 29

Conducted by Memphis Heritage, Inc. for the Memphis Landmarks Commission October, 2002

Written by David G. Royer 

I. Introduction

            Red Acres is a mid- to upper-income neighborhood of approximately 250 homes surrounding the recently renovated Galloway public golf course in East Memphis.  It is bordered by four major thoroughfares: Walnut Grove on the north, Poplar on the south, Highland on the west, and Goodlett on the east.  Inside the neighborhood, the golf course is encircled by a quiet parkway formed by North, South, East, and West Galloway Streets.  Lilly and Rose Roads connect to Highland and Walnut Grove, respectively.  Homes on the outer streets represent an economic mixture with middle-class Ranch and minimal traditional houses situated next to a few large estate homes.  On the interior streets, especially those facing the golf course, homes tend to be very large and exhibit an eclectic mixture of architectural styles.

The 136-acre subdivision was developed in 1923 by H.W. Brennan and Robert Jordan from an original 256-acre tract owned by the heirs of Pauline Dunn Lewis.  Brennan, a Nashville native and civil engineer, had developed many subdivisions in his career, beginning with the similarly exclusive Belvedere Boulevard in 1905.  He began in Nashville as a surveyor for railroads, then acquired several coal mines, and finally moved to Memphis after the death of his mother in 1904.  He quickly jumped into real estate in Memphis, most of his subdivisions targeting upper-income buyers, though his obituary also notes several lower-income “subdivisions for negroes”.  Brennan believed that “real estate was the basis of all wealth—all other values being founded on real estate.”  In addition to development, Brennan also organized the Civic Grand Opera, operated a swimming pool and ballroom at East End Park with his brother, and made the first suggestion of a Memphis-to-Nashville highway.  Red Acres was his last, and perhaps finest, subdivision (Magness; Sigafoos; P-S, 2/12/36).

When development of Red Acres began, the Memphis city limits were about a mile to the west, placing Red Acres at the outer fringe of suburbia.  Poplar Pike, a state highway, was a lightly traveled two-lane road.  To the south, the West Tennessee State Normal School (now the University of Memphis) had recently opened, and to the north, Jesse Norfleet had built a large estate he named Walnut Grove (the namesake of the street).  The land was then covered with trees, especially red oak trees, prompting Brennan’s wife to choose the name Red Acres for the new subdivision (Magness).

In a shrewd move, the developers immediately donated 120 acres in the center of the neighborhood to the City of Memphis, to be dedicated as a public golf course.  In this way, the developers could claim higher prices for their lots, residents could be sure their neighborhood would remain exclusive, and the city would foot the bill for maintenance of the golf course.  The course and surrounding streets were named for the first chairman of the Memphis Park Commission, Robert Galloway, under whose direction Overton Park, Riverside Park, and the Parkway street system were established at the turn of the century.  Galloway was also a businessman, developer, and former commissioner of the Memphis Taxing District during the period when Memphis lost its city charter due to a yellow fever epidemic (Meeks; Sigafoos).  Galloway Golf Course was opened to the public on May 29, 1926.  It included a $25,000 Classical Revival clubhouse, which was demolished and replaced in 1965, and again in 2001 when the course received a multi-million dollar makeover.  The course was not considered in this survey, though it is integral to the history and development of the neighborhood.

Despite the appeal of Red Acres, its isolation so far from the city made growth slow at first.  The streetcar, then still a major source of transportation to the suburbs, stopped at Highland, just short of the neighborhood.  Telephones weren’t run in the neighborhood until later, and Brennan had to install his own water and sewer lines, and a cistern for fire protection.  Edward Falls built the first house in Red Acres in 1924, but it would be 2 years before another house stood in the neighborhood (Magness).  The Falls House no longer stands—it burned to the ground in 1965.  Annexation by the city in 1929 further slowed lot sales due to the expense of city property taxes on the large lots.  A check of the 1929 city directory revealed only 8 addresses listed within the neighborhoods’ boundaries.  Still, those who moved into the neighborhood included some of the city’s wealthiest like John Gerber, owner of the local Gerber’s Department Store (the Gerber House also unfortunately burned down in 1938).  By 1931, 83% of the subdivision’s lots had been sold, but the Depression stalled further sales.  Jordan eventually lost his half of the initial investment: $100,000.  Then, following World War II, the area surrounding the corner of Poplar and Highland became the city’s most active development hotspot, with the area’s population swelling from 938 in 1940 to 6,056 in 1950 (these figures also include other neighborhoods within the same census tract).  Red Acres finally filled out during those postwar years, and has seen sporadic development ever since as owners of larger lots continue to subdivide them.  Brennan said in 1931, “Red Acres is directly on the equator of the best class of the city’s growth.  Within 10 years the city will be solidly built to the far side of Red Acres”(CA, 11/1/31).  His projection was correct.

Impressive architecture and higher home values have always been a source of neighborhood pride.  When plans for the subdivision were originally registered with the city, they contained restrictive provisions stipulating minimum home values in the neighborhood.  Those on Poplar and Highland were to cost at least $8,000, smaller side streets $6,000, and those facing the golf course, $10,000 (1923 terms).  This not only encouraged, but mandated Red Acres to develop as an enclave of Memphis’ wealthier citizens.  This air of exclusivity came to a head in 1937 when neighborhood residents sued two other property owners, demanding that their recently-constructed houses be torn down because they did not meet the minimum $10,000 requirement and were a detriment to the character of the neighborhood.  Both still stand today.  Ironically, one of the houses at 3669 South Galloway was designed by Everett Woods, one of the most respected architects in Memphis history (Magness).  The other, at 4009 Walnut Grove, is currently for sale at nearly half a million dollars.                                                 

II. Methodology

The Red Acres subdivision was chosen for study by the Memphis Landmarks Commission as a potential Landmarks District.  Boundaries for the survey area follow the boundaries of the subdivision, excluding two areas of infill P.U.D. development at the southwest and southeast corners.  Surveyors excluded houses obviously built after 1952.  They also excluded a number of houses in which new construction had completely encapsulated an older home, when this new construction erased any trace of the historic structure underneath.  Excluded structures were noted on maps as non-contributing structures but were not comprehensively surveyed.  Black and white prints, color slides, and a digital photo were taken of each surveyed house.

Original plat maps for the subdivision were obtained from the Shelby County Register’s Office.  Surveyor’s maps were obtained through the Shelby County Assessor of Property.  Newspaper accounts stored at the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library and the University of Memphis Special Collections aided in historical research.

Dates of construction for houses in Red Acres were obtained from the Shelby County Assessor of Property.  Though this is generally the most complete and reliable source available, it should be noted that the construction dates listed for a small number of homes conflicts with primary historical records.  In such cases, the construction date provided should serve as a close approximation.

For a property to be considered as a contributing structure in a potential district, the survey team used their knowledge of historic architecture to determine how closely each house resembled its original form.  Rear additions were usually permissible, but major front alterations were not.  In some cases in Red Acres, entire exteriors were remodeled and covered over.

III. Patterns made evident by survey

Red Acres is a residential neighborhood with no commercial infringement.  With the exception of six duplexes on Highland, Poplar, Walnut Grove, and South Galloway, all are single-family, owner-occupied structures.  Lot sizes are exceptionally large for their urban location.  Most average around half an acre, though many houses occupy lots of over an acre with 100 to 200 feet of frontage.  Homes are set back deeply from the tree-lined streets.  Some of the neighborhood’s trees probably predate development.  The four outer streets are lined by sidewalks, separated from the street by neutral strips, but there are no sidewalks inside the neighborhood, aside from a small section of South Galloway.  These factors all contribute to the neighborhood’s serene, park-like atmosphere, despite the noise of traffic on the busy thoroughfares outside.  Homes and yards in Red Acres are, without exception, meticulously maintained.

Since nearly all the homes were built for specific clients rather than on speculation by builders, houses in Red Acres exhibit a large range of stylistic diversity without the monotony of recurring stock plans that appear in lower-priced neighborhoods.  Tudor Revival models, with unique features like half-timbered walls, crenolated parapets, diamond window muntins, and tile roofs, are especially prevalent, especially in the neighborhood’s earlier homes.  68 East Galloway is a good example.  Almost as popular is the stately Classical Revival, as seen at 3669 South Galloway.  A few are even more grand and excessive.  The castle at 3900 North Galloway was designed by noted Memphis architect J. Frazer Smith, according to its owner.  Smith, best known for his influential book on Southern plantation architecture, White Pillars, patterned the house after a chateau he sketched while on a trip to France early in his career.  Mediterranean influence is seen at 3958 Poplar.  After World War II, the Minimal Traditional and the Ranch both made their appearance in Red Acres.  Minimal traditionals are mainly confined to Poplar and Highland, while the eastern sections of South Galloway and Rose contain several Ranch houses.  Many houses are designed to suit such individual taste that they defy stylistic description.

Change is another pattern seen throughout Red Acres.  Houses seem to be in a constant state of renewal.  For example, simple Ranch houses are transformed into two-story eclectic, contemporary designs, and some houses have been remodeled more than once.  The survey team excluded houses in which no trace of the original structure could be discerned.  Occasionally, new houses are still built in the area.  University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari built a $1.2 million home on East Galloway in 1998.  Owners of larger lots sometimes divide their property for this new construction, and there are still a few vacant lots available on Rose Road.  Other lots have been transformed into Planned Urban Developments of either condominiums or zero-lot-line homes.

Red Acres does not fall into any broad historical pattern of settlement or development.  Though it could fall under the category of the early 20th century automobile suburb, its sporadic development continues right up to the present.  It is not an example of the prevailing tastes and trends of the mainstream public, since its homes were built to suit individual owners.  It cannot fit into any historical period and does not conform to any set architectural style.

IV. Recommendation

For the reasons listed above, Memphis Heritage does not recommend that Red Acres be added to the National Register of Historic Places, as it does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for inclusion.  The percentage of structures deemed “contributing” by the survey team is 81 %, which does not meet the standard of 80% used as a baseline for NRHP consideration.  However, there are other mitigating factors.  Red Acres does not fit into any broad pattern of American culture and does not exhibit any dominant architectural theme.  Furthermore, continued re-subdivision, P.U.D. infills, and abusive alterations chip away at the integrity of the neighborhood even as this is being written.

The following is a list of addresses noted as “contributing structures” by the survey team:

 

East Galloway   68

78

90

130

144

156

188

190

211

North Galloway            3880

3890

3900

3910

3936

3958

3970

3980

3991

4008

4015

4023

4024

South Galloway 3542

3571

3585

3615

3629/3631

3639

3669

3759

3779

3791

3833

3859

3873

3891

3923

 

Walnut Grove 3971

3999

4009

4075

West Galloway  33

65

79

Highland        14

22/24

32/34

68

Lily                    3510

3520

3528

3549

3554

3559

3564

Poplar                3558/3560

3570/3572

3576

3582

3588

3606

3614

3622

3634

3644

3652

3668

3682

3690

3706

3712

3718

3728

3742

3756

3770

3788

3806

 

Poplar             3850

3858

3866

3880

3886

3922

3958

Rose               17

24

40

54

74

108

128

135

142

147

155

158

163

176

181

194

Walnut Grove 3509/3511

3537

3545

3553

3565

3575

3853

3877

3889

3895

3903

3927

3941

3959

 

 

Over the next few months, Memphis Heritage will be integrating new technology into the survey procedure.  Eventually, surveying will be done on hand-held computers rather than paper forms, with information systems that can be downloaded directly into databases, and pictures can be linked to survey forms.  The appearance of digital photography in this survey is the first step towards that integration.

 

V. Bibliography

 

Cole’s City Directory.  Memphis, 1929.

 

Johnson, Eugene and Robert D. Russell, Jr.  Memphis: An Architectural Guide.  The University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

 

Magness, Perre.  “1920’s saw growth of Red Acres.”  The Commercial Appeal. 12/4/97, p.CC2.

 

Meeks, Ann.  “Streetscapes-Galloway.”  The Commercial Appeal.  11/16/89, p.CE2.

 

Sigafoos, Robert.  Cotton Row to Beale Street.  University of Memphis Press, 1979.

 

U.S. Census Bureau.  1950 data for census tract 29.

 

(author unknown for following)

 

“Sale in Red Acres is set for Nov. 10.” The Commercial Appeal.  11/1/31, p.7.

 

“H.W. Brennan dies at age 66.” The Press-Scimitar.  2/12/36.

 

“H.W. Brennan dies; was civic leader.”  The Commercial Appeal.  2/13/26.

DON NEWMAN