Days before the Memphis City Council unanimously approved the transfer of the James Lee House to developer Jose Velazquez for his planned bed and breakfast, a group of 30 or so people gathered at 690 Adams St. for a public meeting.
It seemed somewhat ironic that nearly all attendees were sporting rosy cheeks and fanning themselves down from the stagnant heat and lack of circulation while Scott Blake and others from Victorian Village Inc. briefly recapped the history of the 171-year-old mansion.
That’s because in its glory days, the 8,100-square-foot house was one of the first to have central air conditioning in the city. But for a house that’s been vacant for more than 50 years and isn’t normally accessible, somehow I don’t think the crowd minded sweating it out a little as they got the rare chance to tour the iconic space.
“This is a real treat for people because we keep this place locked up tight, trying to keep an eye on it,” Blake said. “I’d like to show you the worst parts because they are the parts that will grab you the most by the heartstrings. But I can’t take you to the very far back of this house because it’s unsafe the farther back you go. The floors, you could fall through.”
Adding to nostalgic yet eery vibe, on the subject of ghosts, Blake said with a smile, “I’ve seen things out of the corner of my eye, but don’t trust me. It could have been a cat.”
Here are some pictures I snapped while on the tour:
Velazquez said his team will be “searching far and wide” for craftsmen who can replicate the building’s original charm, such as its molding.
“Surprisingly, there are people close by that have kept these gifts alive,” he said. “One of the many things that we will benefitting from the hard work of those volunteers next door at Association for the Preservation for Tennessee Antiquities is that every time something fell down, they very meticulously took care of it and saved it.
We actually have found some original molds to be able to create some of this stuff back. We’ve been very, very lucky to have that preserved and not lost somewhere else.”