A Towering Achievement

The reopened Mallory-Neely House brings new life to Victorian Village.



The rose-colored stucco mansion, renovated in the 1890s in the Italianate villa architectural style, is filled with period antique furnishings and decorative objects once owned by the Neely and Mallory families.

photography by Andrea Zucker

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There’s real cause for celebration in the heart of the city and pats on the back for all concerned: The Mallory-Neely House at last has been re-opened to the public.

This grand antebellum home at 652 Adams sits in the downtown neighborhood that was once the economic, social, and political center of Memphis. Today this “millionaire’s row” mansion, framed by towering Civil War-era magnolia trees, is a gem among gems in the Victorian Village Historic Preservation District.

The house was built by Isaac Kirtland in 1852 but is most often associated with the Neely and Mallory families who came later. In the 1890s James C. Neely and his wife, Frances, renovated the home extensively in the Italianate villa style, adding a third floor and a tower room, which brought the tally to 25 rooms, including nine bedrooms and two baths for a total of 15,903 square feet of living space. The first floor was the public part of the house and was very grand indeed. The second and third floors were the private quarters and, while large and comfortable by anyone’s standards, they were not intended to impress. Ceilings on the first floor are 14 feet, on the second floor, 12 feet, and 10-1/2 feet on the third. Back in the day, from the tower, owners had a clear view all the way to the Mississippi River.

The Neely daughters married into the Mallory and Grant families respectively. Frances Neely (Miss Daisy) married Barton Lee Mallory and lived in the house until she died in 1969 at the age of 98. For many years, her family shared the house with her sister, Jessica (called “Pearl”), who married Daniel Grant.

 

W.C. Handy performed in the house and sheet music of “The Memphis Blues” signed by him sits atop the piano in pride of place.

 

Originally given by the Mallory family to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the house has been owned by the city since 1987 and is now operated by the Pink Palace Family of Museums. When I spoke with Steve Pike, director of museums, he told me that the Mallory-Neely House had just been awarded a 2013 Certificate of Merit by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which acknowledged the recent work that had been done, including the new roof and the ADA compliance projects, and recognized the reopening of the house to the public. In addition to the various city divisions, others who played a role in the reopening were Clark Dixon Architects and Jessie Bryant Roofing. As Pike says, “Old friends are worth keeping,” and he’s determined to preserve the Mallory-Neely House, and to make the neighborhood a pleasant place for a stroll.

Jennifer Tucker, manager of historic properties for the Pink Palace Family of Museums, and Lauren Pate, part-time instructor, were on hand to greet us when we arrived for our photo shoot at the Mallory-Neely House. The tour began in the carriage house/visitors’ center, which has been newly renovated. We were shown a collection of ceramic shards unearthed on the grounds and were told that such treasures are found “all the time.” In fact, earlier this year a tourist poking around the rose garden discovered a tiny, headless figurine which surely had been buried for years. Tucker says hers is a dream job with its focus on historic preservation and heritage interpretation.

The first floor’s double parlor is the showstopper of the house with two fireplaces featuring elaborately carved overmantels, a four-panel Chinese silk and teak screen depicting the four seasons, and a marble replica of Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (the original sits in the Louvre). It is the most elaborately decorated room in the house.

 

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