Drugstores take over historic corners and neighborhoods have had enough

By Robert Tom

[singlepic id=247 w=320 h=240 float=right]The vacant Union Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places, sits under a sales contract with CVS Caremark drugstores. CVS Caremark Corp. runs a chain of over 7,000 CVS drugstores throughout the country. Walgreens recently purchased the Ike’s Pharmacy across the street setting up a competitive confrontation. The dilemma arises with the possible demolition of a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places. Nevertheless, many people do not realize that being on the National Register does not prevent destruction, but advocacy and public outrage does. June West, Director of Memphis Heritage says, “Being listed on the register doesn’t guarantee survival. So, many buildings in the Vance-Pontotoc Historic District either burned or were demolished and eventually were taken off the list.” What will be the fate of the Union Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church?

As for the church’s historic significance, architect John Gaisford designed the Union Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church and started building the church in 1916. He died before it was completed. Gaisford wasan English immigrantthat settled in Memphis in 1896. In 1912, Gaisford wrote “How to Build a Church.” The Board of Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal Church commissioned the book, which included designs for the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Batesville, South in Conway, and 1912 Church in Clarendon. The Union Ave Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the finest existing examples of the Classical Revival style, was one of Gaisford’s last designs. He died on August 31, 1916, and the church architectural design, while minimally ornate, reflected Gaisford’s Classical fondness. The First United Methodist Church was added to the National Register on May 19, 1987. His other Classical Revival buildings included the 1914 Falls Building and the 1912 Mississippi County Courthouse in Osceola, AR. In December 1913, the Memphis Architects’ League held at exhibition at the Nineteen Century Club representing the best architectural buildings in Memphis by its premier architects. Walk C. Jones was the President, John Gaisford became the First Vice President, and George Mahan Jr. became the Second Vice President. Gaisford’s work is displayed in this exhibition. These designs demonstrate Gaisford as a significant Memphis architect of the early twentieth century in the Classical Revival style.

Historic buildings commonly occupy chosen corner sites, like the Union Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of Union Avenue and Cooper. Chain drugstores, unfortunately, demolish these historic buildings, replacing them with large, freestanding stores with a vast wasteland of parking, drive-through windows, blank-brick exteriors, bold signage, and one story elevations that directly ignore the existing traditional pedestrian-oriented design. This rubber stamp, generic store design ignores the street scale, which not only results in the destruction of historic buildings, but also destroys a neighborhood’s distinctive sense of place.

Chain drugstores are rapidly adding new stores in traditional downtown and urban neighborhoods throughout the country. Research by the National Trust Mainstreet Center shows that drugstore chains can collaborate in revitalizing older urban neighborhoods. The National Trust for Historic Preservation sees these investments made by chain drugstores where they improve the neighborhood’s character and preserve its historic integrity.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation helps communities to protect historic buildings from this chain drugstore threat. They published Better Models for Chain Drugstores and met with the leaders of the largest drugstore chains, obtaining written commitments from CVS Pharmacy, the former Eckerd company, Rite Aid, and Walgreens prohibiting them from demolishing sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. By holding these meetings early in the development process, neighborhoods can prevent a major fight exploding at the local level, and it allows the National Trust for Historic Preservation to work with the chain and the community to help find alternatives to the proposed demolition. With the recent adaptive, historic reuse, an opportunity to create a similar occurrence here in Midtown Memphis may simply begin with a dialogue. Memphis Heritage held a neighborhood meeting to discuss the situation with Union Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church building on May 27th, 2010 at Howard Hall, 2282 Madison at Edgeworth. To get an update from the meeting go the Memphis Heritage website: memphisheritage.org.

To view the remodel of the CVS at the Golden Gate Theatre on the National Register visit: http://www.ourla.org/east-la/1549-the-golden-gate-theatres-second-act-becoming-a-cvs-drugstore-updated.

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