U.S. Marine Hospital (U.S. Marine Hospital Building, Nurses Quarters, and Steam Laundry; listed in 2019)

Status: Renovation is planned

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

Built: 1883-1884 (Nurses Quarters) and 1934-1939 (Hospital Building and Steam Laundry)

Architectural Style: Modernist Style

Original Function/Purpose: Governmental

The U.S. Marine Hospital Building, Nurses Quarters and Steam Laundry were placed on the National Register on May 13, 2019.

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. (See the separate entry for “U.S. Marine Hospital Executive Building and Laundry-Kitchen.”) 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.

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 and the Laundry-Kitchen (later known as the Nurses Quarters), and as mentioned above were together added to the NR in 1980.

The present-day Colonial Revival-style U.S. Marine Hospital Building was constructed on the site in 1934-1936, followed by its associated Steam Laundry in Modernist style in 1939. A couple of other smaller buildings were constructed as staff quarters at the same time just west of the hospital along California Avenue, now known as Metal Museum Drive. In order to make room for the large three-story, three-wing hospital building, both the Executive Building and the Laundry-Kitchen (Nurses Quarters), were shifted about 100 feet out of its way, to the northwest and northeast respectively. Both photos above are looking north. The one at the top shows the U.S. Marine Hospital with its west, rear, and east wings. On the left, half-obscured by trees, is the Executive Office building, and to the right is the red roof of the Laundry-Kitchen / Nurses Quarters. The lower photo shows (left to right) the end of the east wing of the U.S. Marine Hospital, the Laundry-Kitchen / Nurses Quarters in the distant background, and the Steam Laundry. The western end of the hospital grounds was sold to the City of Memphis shortly after the facility closed in 1960, and was later leased to the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The eastern portion of the complex containing the U.S. Marine Hospital Building, the Nurses Quarters and the Steam Laundry was sold by the federal government in 2003 to a private group headed by Lauren and Hilliard Crews. In 2018 these owners nominated the three buildings for listing on the National Register, and announced plans to restore and redevelop them into apartments.

Map:

Aerial photo of proposed boundary containing the three buildings referenced in the nomination, the U.S. Marine Hospital (1), Nurses Quarters (2) and Steam Laundry (3).

City Council District: 6

Super District: 8

County Commission District: 8

DON NEWMAN