U.S. Marine Hospital Executive Building and Laundry-Kitchen (listed in 1980)

Status: Executive Building, preserved; Laundry-Kitchen, renovation is planned.

Address: Metal Museum Drive (formerly 360 and 374 West California Avenue), Memphis

Built: 1883-1884

Architectural Style: Vernacular Italianate

Original Function/Purpose: Governmental

The U.S. Marine Hospital Executive Building and Laundry-Kitchen (later Nurses Quarters) were placed on the National Register on July 2, 1980.

History: Each of four surviving buildings once part of Memphis’ evolving U.S. Marine Hospital complex in the South Bluffs area has its own history, and each has been listed in its own fashion on the National Register. In 1980 two of these were listed together on the NR, namely the Executive Building and the Laundry-Kitchen (for a time also known as the Nurses Quarters), both buildings dating to 1884. Nearly four decades later in 2019, the 1930s U.S. Marine Hospital Building itself and its Steam Laundry were likewise added to the NR, together with the already-listed Laundry-Kitchen, now designated the Nurses Quarters in its renewed listing. (See the separate entry for “U.S. Marine Hospital (U.S. Marine Hospital Building, Nurses Quarters, and Steam Laundry)”).

A Congressional act of 1798 mandated that hospitals be constructed in regions where they were needed “for relief of sick and disabled seamen.” After a hospital in Arkansas built for this purpose was destroyed, a new one was constructed in Memphis. This U.S. Marine Hospital complex was established in 1883-1884 on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. This hospital was the city’s first federally-funded public health facility, and until after World War I was the only government hospital in the area. Two of those early buildings remain, the Executive Building (which originally housed a pharmacy, operating room, offices and stewards’ quarters) and the Laundry-Kitchen (the latter converted in due course into Nurses Quarters).

These were designed in the Italianate style and have undergone considerable interior alterations. In the 1930s, to make room for construction of a large new hospital building, both the Executive Building (above, top photo) and the Laundry-Kitchen (above, lower photo) were shifted about 100 feet out of the way of the new building, to the northwest and northeast respectively. The entire facility closed in the 1960s except for an outpatient clinic. The City of Memphis later purchased the western part of the site containing the Executive Building and two other buildings on California Avenue (now Metal Museum Drive) that resulted from the 1930s building campaign. In 1976 the city leased these structures to house the National Ornamental Metal Museum (now called simply the Metal Museum). The Metal Museum has placed its library and permanent collection in the NR-listed Executive Building of 1884, and has offices and other facilities in the two unlisted 1930s Colonial Revival buildings along Metal Museum Drive. The already-NR-listed Laundry-Kitchen has remained vacant and deteriorating.

Map:

Map of the U.S. Marine Hospital complex of buildings indicating the Executive Building (A) and Laundry-Kitchen (B).

City Council District: 6

Super District: 8

County Commission District: 8

DON NEWMAN