A Towering Achievement
The reopened Mallory-Neely House brings new life to Victorian Village.
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The interior of the Mallory-Neely House is highly decorative with elaborate furnishings reflecting the opulent tastes and lifestyles of wealthy Memphis families of the Victorian period. Most of the furniture is original to the house — not always the case in many restored “stately homes.” Plaster ceilings; stained glass purchased at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair; oriental carpets; ornate, imported furniture; and antique bric-a-brac collections are testament to the conspicuous consumption of the upper classes of this turn-of-the-century era.
Scott Blake, executive director of the Victorian Village Community Development Corporation, and his colleague, administrator Nora Tucker, took time to pay us a visit as we toured the home. They explained their mission: to preserve, enhance, and grow this historically significant area to create a vibrant, diverse urban neighborhood that treasures its architectural heritage. So far, so good!
As the Memphis News noted recently, “our civic garden is blooming after much hard work on a lot of fronts.” It quite literally took a village to get the Mallory-Neely House reopened to the public last November after a seven-year hiatus. Mayor AC Wharton was a big booster every step of the way, and all involved agree plenty of creative energy surrounds the house. However, the key to continued success, as always, is broad community support.
B. Lee Mallory III, a fixture on the local business scene and a descendant of the family that once owned the home, is a very active board member of Victorian Village; he’s grateful to the city for its efforts to preserve and open the house, noting that “the city is our best partner.” He views the Mallory-Neely House as an integral part of downtown’s revitalization and as a major visitor attraction.
“You don’t save a house, you save a neighborhood,” he says forcefully, and hopes to see the area “come alive with activity and foot traffic.” He speaks of plans for the continuing redevelopment of the area and points to the increasing number of restaurants in close proximity: Mollie Fontaine Lounge for elegant cocktails, Evelyn & Olive with its fusion of Jamaican and Southern cuisines, Trolley Stop Market with locally grown vegetables, and a new French creperie coming soon.
Mallory recalled his own visits to the house and his once-a-month dinners with his grandmother, Miss Daisy, and has high praise for Eldridge Wright, a community activist who lived in the area and famously got the preservation ball rolling way back in the 1950s. Wright himself was a frequent visitor to the house, often enjoying a cocktail or two with Miss Daisy. To read more about Wright and how his crusade protected the area from the urban renewal wrecking ball, see two earlier stories in this magazine: “The Wright Idea” by James Cox (June 2008) and “This Sold House” by Tim Sampson (June 2010).
It is a fact that historic homes are top tourist attractions in just about every city, whether here or abroad. To illustrate that appeal, as if on cue, a handsome young couple from the Netherlands came to the door as we were leaving. They had picked up a brochure at Graceland that described the Mallory- Neely House and were enthusiastic about taking a tour. Hopefully this is the shape of things to come, as Jennifer Tucker is looking forward to a healthy number of visitors in the prime summer tourist season.
For now the home is open for 40-minute guided tours on Friday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Parking on Saturday is easy; on Friday, the visitors’ center can help with change for the meters out front. For more information on tour times, prices, etc. visit memphismuseums.org or call 901.523.1484.
Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts & lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.