Address: 843 Dallas Street, Memphis
Architectural Style: Art Moderne / Mid-Twentieth Century Modern
Original Function/Purpose: Education
History: This third in the succession of Melrose Schools was built in 1938 with the help of the Public Works Administration – a three-story, 40,000-square-foot, brick and reinforced concrete, up-to-date marvel in the very best PWA Art Moderne style, the only such building in the city then and now. It replaced the second Melrose School built nearby with the help of the Rosenwald Fund probably about 1914, which had itself replaced the first Melrose School of about 1890 on Spottswood Avenue that borrowed its name from the surrounding Melrose subdivision. (The Melrose High School of today was opened on Deadrick Avenue in 1972.) Additions were made to the 1938 building and campus over time, most of them in the early 1950s, although they retained continuity of design. This flurry of additions was due not only to the post-World War II baby boom but also to an attempt to justify the pre-integration “separate but equal” concept. Melrose eventually came to serve students from grades 1 through 12. However, when the newer Melrose High School took away grades 10 through 12 in 1972, and elementary grades were likewise transferred, the diminished number of students resulted in the school’s closure in 1981. The 1938 Melrose School had served the Orange Mound community with academic and athletic distinction, and its graduates have shown great respect and affection for it. Community engagement has helped the building survive several threats, notably one from the Memphis Park Commission in 1999-2000, when the commission wanted to replace it with a community center and park. Fortunately a compromise resulted in its preservation alongside the new community facilities. Melrose’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 has undoubtedly also helped preserve it. In October 2018, after remediation of part of the building, the City of Memphis opened it for a weekend to local residents and developers interested in its revitalization along the same lines as the Tennessee Brewery, Clayborn Temple and Crosstown Concourse, the former Sears building. In 2021 the City of Memphis announced that $10 million had been earmarked for revitalizing the former school. The plan is to establish a library, an African American-focused genealogy center and a café on the first floor, while the upper two floors will be converted into senior apartments. The project should begin early in 2022.
Outline of the property as it appeared in 1999, used in its National Register nomination.
City Council District: 4
Super District: 8
County Commission District: 10