Green Meadows / Poplar Glen

Cultural Resources Survey of

Green Meadows / Poplar Glen Census Tract 31
Memphis, Tennessee
August 2001

I. Description of Survey Area

The subdivisions of Green Meadows, Poplar Glen, and Alicea Park sit directly in the heart of Memphisís urban core, but remain secluded from the arteries that form their northern and southern boundaries, the heavily commercial Poplar Avenue on the north and Union Avenue on the south. Alicia Road (North Hollywood) forms the eastern boundary while the western boundary is the property line of Lindenwood Christian Church. Only 6 streets make up this small survey district, which follows the original subdivision boundaries encompassing an irregularly-shaped area of about 0.25 miles square. The district sits in the midst of a large concentration of existing National Register Historic Districts, most notably the expansive Central Gardens and Evergreen/Vollintine Districts, the East Parkway District, and the Poplar-Parkway District. The neighborhood is two blocks east of Overton Park, also on the National Register.

105 houses were surveyed in June, 2001. 96 of these (91%) retained architectural integrity. Frontage on Union was residential and was included in the survey. The adjacent Lindenwood Christian Church was not surveyed.

The neighborhood encompasses the three adjacent and roughly contemporaneous subdivisions of Green Meadows (Madison, Patricia, and Monroe), Poplar Glen (Ashlawn and Alicia), and Alicea Park (Union). Developed by two different companies, the subdivisions are virtually indistinguishable from one another and form one interconnected neighborhood, though homes in Green Meadows tend to be slightly more embellished than those in Poplar Glen or Alicea Park. Green Meadows/Poplar Glen is a prototypical post-war development in the Minimal Traditional style, built for a white-collar clientele. Most houses are vaguely reminiscent of their Colonial Revival models—a side gable plan with one or two front-facing gable extensions—reduced in scale and decoration for efficient, cost-effective construction. Ranch houses are also popular in the neighborhood. A fair amount of decorative detailing remains despite the severity popular in architecture at the time. Usually this is found in the form of Neoclassical door surrounds and pediments. A few homes contain individual touches like an embossed garland in the gable of a Colonial Revival on Monroe, or the Venetian spiral columns supporting a porch on Patricia. Decorative brickwork and stone inlays are also occasionally found. Windows are generally double-hung with 6 to 12 panes. Some of the neighborhoodís later houses exhibit slightly more sophisticated, forward-thinking architectural design. The shift that occurred at the end of the 1940ís as Memphis architects moved from the compact Colonial Revival blueprint to the more modern, sprawling Ranch house, is evident in many houses.

Union Avenue on the south is the largest and busiest traffic corridor in the inner city of Memphis, but generous setbacks and a thick barrier of trees in most yards helps to shield homes along the way from the constant din of traffic. Likewise, Alicia, another major thruway, retains its grassy center median giving the impression of a residential parkway rather than a high-speed commercial artery. In the interior of the neighborhood, streets wind leisurely through dappled sunlight, shrouded by a canopy of mature hardwoods. Yards are meticulously landscaped, and every house is excellently maintained. As a whole, the area has the feel of an oasis amid the bustling urban core. East Parkway, one block to the west, held for years as the traditional eastern boundary of development in Memphis, and still serves as an unofficial dividing line between the “city” and the “suburbs”. While the neighborhoods on the west side of the Parkway developed largely in the ëteens and twenties, the area now containing Green Meadows/Poplar Glen held out as pasture land until the 1940ís.

II. Statement of Significance

Green Meadows/Poplar Glen, in its Colonial and Ranch architecture and meandering street layout, reflects the ideals of suburban living in the late 1940ís and early 1950ís. Its modern styling and features were a must for the white-collar professional and his family, and the neighborhoodís prime location allowed residents to live just far enough away from the city to escape crime and crowds, but close enough to allow for a convenient drive down Union Avenue to the office. During this period, the automobile achieved unparallelled importance to the American family. Streets broke away from the urban grid layout of previous decades and became meandering boulevards. Garages, now large enough for two cars, gained a prominent place near the front of the house rather than remaining hidden in a shed in the back. Houses grew to accommodate larger families and the larger paychecks workers received in a glowing postwar economy. Colonial Revival and Ranch styles were the dominant forms in architecture 1945-1955, and the houses of Green Meadows/Poplar Glen exemplify the period. Additionally, Green Meadows is noteworthy in local architectural history for containing some of the first Ranch style homes built in Memphis. These attributes qualify the neighborhood for a National Register listing under Criterion C.

III. History

Prior to 1941, aerial photographs of Memphis show the quadrangle bounded by Poplar, East Parkway, Union, and Alicia as a vast swath of green fields amid existing residential neighborhoods. This was the last remnant of the Collier Farm which was sold off in pieces over the course of the 1940ís. The Collier family was a branch of the Trezevant family, an important family in Shelby County history and the namesakes of Trezevant Avenue (East Parkway). Census Tract 31, including the Collier farm, had seen some development beginning around 1910, but remained largely untouched by Memphisís eastward expansion until the 1940ís. By that time, suburbia had encircled the area and was already beginning several miles east. Union Avenue was extended into the neighborhood in 1940, curving north and connecting with Poplar. A grassy median was set in the center of the street from Poplar to East Parkway, and a traffic circle connected the street to the Parkway. Over time, however, Union was widened into the commercial drag it is today. The median became a turn lane and the traffic circle became an overpass as Union became the highway from the East Memphis suburbs to the Downtown business district.

1940 saw the first development in the neighborhood as the Collier family heirs subdivided their frontage along the extended Union Avenue. Their development was named Alicea Park. Given the unique spelling of the name (written on plat maps as ëAliceía Park), it seems likely that the subdivision was perhaps named after one of the Collier heirs, Alice Collier Neely. Confusingly, a right-of-way was drawn on the original maps for an Alicea Street running north from Union. This street later became Patricia, while the name Alicia (spelled with an “i”) was used to rename the section of Hollywood Street that cut through the neighborhood after the war. Some homes were built on the west end of Alicea Park in 1940 and 41, while the rest waited until after the war.
Most of the rest of the Collier farm was sold to Chandler and Chandler, the ever-present development company of the 1940ís, who drew up plans for their Green Meadows subdivision in 1941. Aetna K. Chandler, matriarch of the development dynasty, is listed as the principal developer. While not much information is available on Mrs. Chandler, her family has been well known throughout the Memphis development community for almost a century. Her husband, William C. Chandler, founded Chandler and Chandler in 1906, and went on to popularize the bungalow in Memphis in the 1920ís. Her son, Charles Chandler, would become one of the important developers of the 1940ís and ë50ís.

Just prior to the Second World War, construction was reaching a frenzied pace following the lull of the Depression. From only 60 building permits issued in Memphis in 1934, 800 were issued by 1938. This number jumped into the thousands by the 1940ís. Green Meadows was one of several developments planned by the Chandlers in the same year, 1941, at the height of this building boom. However, while building commenced in some other Chandler neighborhoods like High Point Terrace and Leawood, in the case of Green Meadows, the subdivision would lay dormant until after the war. Alicea Park also remained mostly quiet for its first five years.

The end of World War Two became the catalyst for a building boom begin in the neighborhood. In May 1945, immediately following the Alliesí declaration of victory in Europe, John B. Goodwin laid out plans for his own subdivision, Poplar Glen, joining it to the existing streets of Green Meadows. Goodwin was a highly ambitious developer who would eventually build over 4,000 houses until his death in 1979, along with several suburban shopping centers including Poplar Plaza. In Poplar Glen, he finished construction on many of his houses in a matter of months before the end of 1945, and Poplar Glen was complete by about 1947. Goodwinís development in turn spurred building in the unfinished Alicea Park and Green Meadows, which filled out by the early 1950ís. That was the end of the Collier farm, one of the last substantial open spaces in the city limits.

Records for Census Tract 31 are somewhat skewed, as they encompass several surrounding neighborhoods. As a whole, though, they show the area experiencing a 63% jump in population from 1940 to 1950. The new residents were comfortably middle-class, with a median income of $3,494 in 1950, very close to the city average at the time. They were also increasingly white. In 1950, black residents made up a minute segment of the population, only 0.01%. As was most often the case in middle-class developments of the period, restrictive covenants excluded non-whites from home ownership in the subdivision.

In the few short years separating Green Meadows/Poplar Glen in the late 1940ís from prewar subdivisions like High Point Terrace, the economic climate in America changed noticeably. The country was no longer struggling to free itself from the stagnancy of the Depression, but had by this time raised its collective wealth and standard of living to a level unrivaled in the world. Consumers responded by buying houses which were larger, more modern, and isolated from unattractive commercial development. During the 1940ís, zoning restrictions were established in Memphis, keeping commercial activity out of neighborhoods and creating residential enclaves like Green Meadows/Poplar Glen. America in the 1950ís was in love with the automobile and with more residents owning cars instead of depending on streetcars or sidewalks, houses spread outward and garages moved to the front of the house. There was also a break with many of the traditional styles popular before the war in favor of more eclectic modern designs. One of the few older styles to survive into the postwar period was Colonial Revival, which by this time had been tempered and reduced into the Minimal Traditional form. Colonial Revival, a style popular since its introduction into the American vernacular around the 1870ís, continued its reign of popularity for another decade, especially in the South. Meanwhile, a new form, the Ranch, began to filter in from the west coast, dominating the suburban market in the 1950ís and ë60ís. Ranch style was a product of California architects in the 1930ís and showed influence from both Spanish Colonial predecessors and Frank Lloyd Wrightís Prarie style. Their lavish use of land originally confined them mainly to the west where land was cheap and plentiful. However, the Ranch gained enormous popularity with the outward spread of suburbia that occurred after the war.

Today Green Meadows/Poplar Glen is a tightly knit, well maintained neighborhood. While much of its population is now aging, the area is hardly in decline. In fact, it seems to be in a period of renaissance. Recent sales data indicate home prices are near the top of the pack in Midtown, rising by as much as 15% a year. Many younger buyers in their 30ís and 40ís are looking to the neighborhood because of its convenient location between Midtown and East Memphis. Many older residents have  permanent roots in the neighborhood, and seem to be highly interested in their inclusion on the National Register.

DON NEWMAN