Status: Preserved

Address: 480 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue (formerly part of Linden Avenue) at Danny Thomas Boulevard, Memphis

Built: 1949

Architectural Style: Egyptian Revival

Original Function/Purpose: Commerce

The Universal Life Insurance Company was placed on the National Register on July 24, 2007.

History: Dr. Joseph E. Walker founded the Universal Life Insurance Company on Beale Street in 1923, a firm dedicated to “improving the economic condition of people of color.” Dr. Walker and his son A. Maceo Walker later also established the Tri-State Bank of Memphis, still in business. The Universal Life building was built in 1949 by the African-American architectural firm of McKissack & McKissack of Nashville. The quality of its design shows on both south and west facades of the building, as dictated by its location on the corner of two prominent streets. The company erected at the same time what has become a local landmark, a free-standing metal post-mounted neon sign and clock at the intersection. The new owner, the firm of Self + Tucker Architects,  are restoring the building “to its former glory,” occupying it but leaving much of the building available for leasable office space. Renovation designers Juan Self and Jimmie Tucker cut the ribbon at the re-opened building on April 3, 2018. The next day Tucker was notified that he was the 2018 recipient of the Francis Gassner Award, a local award honoring contributions to the profession and community. Also in 2018 the City of Memphis designated this property as a site on the Memphis Heritage Trail. In 2019, in a public-private partnership with the owners of the building, the City of Memphis established a new Entrepreneurs Network Center in the building, intended to develop and foster small, minority and women-owned businesses. It would provide access “to everything from computers to books, technical assistance, a blueprint room, free training classes and much more.” In June 2019 the City of Memphis renamed this center the Fred L. Davis Innovation Center in honor of the Memphis businessman, civic leader and community activist. In 2020 the building joined others in Boston and New York in winning Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards.

City Council District: 6

Super District: 8

County Commission District: 8