Cultural Resource Survey of
High Point Terrace
Census Tract 29
I. Description of Survey Area
High Point Terrace comprises roughly 1.5 square miles bounded by Highland Avenue on the west, Eastland and Swan Ridge Circle on the east, Walnut Grove on the south, and Sam Cooper Boulevard (Interstate 40) on the north. Originally extending north to Summer Avenue, the construction of Sam Cooper Boulevard in the 1970ís isolated the northernmost blocks of Forrest, Meadowbrook, Isabelle, Sevier, and Lynncrest from the rest of the area. These blocks were not considered in the survey. Since the 1940ís, Highland and Walnut Grove have become major arteries and were expanded from two lanes to five. The L and N Railroad runs northeast, dividing the neighborhood in half. The Poplar Plaza Shopping center lays one block to the south and the University of Memphis two blocks south. Once on the outskirts of Memphis, High Point Terrace was annexed into the city in 1929, 12 years before its major period of growth, and is now closer to the center of the city.
Memphis Heritage undertook a large-scale survey of the area to determine potential National Register eligibility between October 2000 and May 2001. A total of 1,377 structures were surveyed, mostly single-family residences with a few duplexes, and one shopping center. 1,262 (92%) retained architectural integrity.
The northernmost section of the survey area, Autumn Avenue and a short section of Galloway Avenue, contains some of the earliest structures. Several 1920ís bungalows, two 1919 Craftsman cottages, and some Greek and Tudor Revival homes dating from the 1920ís and ë30ís are found interspersed with postwar Minimal Traditionals and a few anomolous infill structures ranging from 1960 to 1983.
South of this area, from Philwood to Walnut Grove, are the developments of Chandler, Goodwin, Dlugach, Marx and Bensdorf, and others dating 1940-52. With the exception of a few ranch-style homes, one bungalow, and one Craftsman, the architecture of the area is almost thoroughly homogeneous, built in the Minimal Traditional style. As is typical with their postwar style, their builders used traditional forms derived from Tudor and Colonial models and adapted them for the efficient, low-cost building techniques developed during the Depression era. The Minimal Traditional style was further simplified in the 1940ís and 1950ís until reduced to simple geometric forms retaining only the basic outline of their architectural antecedents. Most houses feature the prominent front gable of the Tudor style, or the gabled portico reminiscent of Greek Revival, but significantly reduced in scale and lacking most ornamental elements. The front porch, a prominent detail in the earlier bungalows, is largely abandoned and replaced by a partial porch cut from the corner of a gable, a small covered bay, or a simple stoop. Decorative detail usually exists in the form of a neoclassical door surround and a triangular pediment found on a large number of Chandlerís homes. Fan lights may also be found in front-facing gables, and a few houses feature an arched pediment over the front entry with an incised floral or fan motif. Windows are commonly six pane double hung, with eight pane windows and stationary lights used in highly visible locations. Originally, most porch supports were wrought iron cast in the popular oak-leaf pattern. Though some recent homeowners have replaced the wrought iron with wooden posts and railing, much of it remains intact.
Corner houses are often duplexes but most units, with the exception of Barwood, are single family. The houses are one to one-and-a-half stories, usually clad in brick with weatherboard gables. Occasionally a permastone veneer was used, a material unique to homes of the 1940ís and 1950ís. One small development, Dlugachís 1947 Barbara Lee Terrace, completes the section of High Point Terrace north of the railroad. Now known as
Barwood, the street is more modest than Chandler and Goodwinís developments, displaying only four different house plans, two of them duplexes.
The southern half of High Point Terrace, south of the railroad tracks, retains the same Minimal Traditional feel. Often the homes closer to Walnut Grove and Highland were built in the first half of the 1940ís rather than the latter half, and display a greater and more easily recognizable range of architectural influences. Most are one-and-a-half stories and covered in brick veneer or weatherboard, with other materials like stucco or board and batten occasionally found. Few of the homes south of the railroad tracks are duplexes. Many have been enlarged and updated over the years, while still retaining a high level of architectural integrity.
The pattern of development in the area can be traced by looking at the street layout patterns. Earlier streets like Philwood, Kenwood, and Shirlwood are laid out on a vague grid pattern, indicative of the urban grid scheme used by city planners before World War Two. From High Point Terrace east, streets gently curve following irregular patterns, a characteristically postwar development pattern. East-west streets, along with the north-south streets of Sevier and Eastland, are around 50-60 feet across. These feed into the wide north-south arteries of Highland and High Point Terrace.
Chandler noted in an early interview that he was greatly impressed and influenced by the Radburn Plan, a plan originally used in Radburn, N.J. in the 1920ís featuring irregularly curving streets and large setbacks. Chandler in particular seemed to like the fact that the Radburn Plan “put the automobile in its place”. He must have had that in mind when he built the small detached garages that stand behind nearly all of his houses, keeping the family car, an integral part of the suburban lifestyle, neatly out of sight. The influence of the Radburn plan is also felt throughout the neighborhood in the generous setbacks and expansive backyards given each of the houses. 50-year-old hardwood trees are planted intermittently in front and backyards, interspersed with more recently planted ornamentals and shrubbery. Moving to the south and east, the tree canopy becomes gradually more dense. Woodland Street, in particular, retains some virgin trees that predate development. Mature trees, winding streets, and gently sloping terrain create a park-like atmosphere, breaking up the monotony of rows of treeless tract houses that critics so often targeted in postwar developments like Levittown.
The cornerstone of the neighborhood is the High Point Shopping Center, which faces High Point Terrace between Philwood and Shirlwood. This one-story fieldstone structure was built in 1947-48 by developer Charles K.Chandler and holds a unique place in Memphis architecture as one of the last small-scale neighborhood shopping centers. A grocery, a barber, a dentist, a salon, a barbershop, a bar, a laundry, and a gift shop now occupy the thriving center, which serves as a focal point uniting the area as a cohesive neighborhood.
II. Statement of Significance
High Point Terrace is significant to American cultural history as a succinct material representation of the socio-economic changes that followed World War Two. Its spare architecture and lack of ornamentation were a product of the quicker, cheaper building methods developed during Depression-era shortages and perfected in the 1940ís and ë50ís to meet the urgent housing shortage and population boom that erupted as soldiers returned home after the war. A limited number of floor plans and decorative elements were mixed and matched by the builders, achieving a minimal amount of variety within a context of uniform homogeneity. On the other hand, its sprawling scale reflects the economic prosperity of the era, as Americaís transition into a post-industrial economy meant higher wages for workers and greater accessibility to detached housing, previously considered a luxury. The idea of “newness” was also an attraction to the postwar homebuyer. A 1945 Saturday Evening Post poll reported that only 14 percent of respondents said they were willing to live in an apartment or a “used” house, instead preferring a modern house with all the modern appliances and up-to-date one story floor plans.
The uniformity of the structures belie a character and charm peculiar to postwar suburbs. America was both optimistic about the future and yet yearning to return to normalcy after five years of war. This feeling is reflected in the architecture, which retains vestiges of familiar forms, but greatly modernized for efficiency. It was and still is oriented toward the family. The 1950 census shows that roughly 15 percent of the population was made up of children born between 1946 and 1949. Most of the rest were young couples ages 20-45. The postwar suburb was more than just affordable housing when viewed in a historical context; it was a safe place to raise a family, the house of the future, the product of the workaday middle class, and a symbol of the dominance of the American bourgeois. High Point Terrace today remains nearly intact as it stood in the 1940ís and ë50ís, a complete and significant representation of the era in which it was built. Its nearly homogeneous Minimal Traditional construction potentially qualifies it for National Register listing under Criterion C as an example of a specific stylistic period in architecture, and its association with the postwar era of expansion (1946-1950) potentially qualifies it under Criterion A for its contribution to a significant period in American history. It is notable that a Lustron House in Chesterton, Indiana similar to the one in High Point Terrace is currently listed on the National Register. Additionally, Radburn, New Jersey, the suburb that guided the development plan for High Point Terrace, has been listed on the National Register since 1974. Residents are proud of their neighborhood, and often express their excitement at the prospect of being able to preserve its unique charm through a Historic Register nomination.
“6/25/1940—Fields. 1/17/1951—New Suburb.” This was the fitting title of Press-Scimitar writer Alfred C. Andersonís 1951 article outlining the explosive growth of the High Point Terrace area during the 1940ís and early 1950ís. In just a little over a decade, the area east of Highland Avenue between Walnut Grove and Summer Avenue suddenly transformed from multiacre estates, truck farms, fields and forests, to neat rows of suburban tract housing for young white- and blue-collar Memphis families eager to grab a piece of the American Dream.
In 1919, High Point Terrace stood virtually undeveloped about a mile and a half east of the Memphis city limits. Highland Avenue, Summer Avenue, Walnut Grove, and Graham Street on the east had already been cut and paved, loosely forming the borders for the neighborhood and signaling the beginnings of suburban development. Small farms of 10 to 50 acres occupied most of the land, which boasted less than 20 homes in the entire census tract.
Development began in 1919, when the Highland Boulevard subdivision was established. Bungalows sprang up along Autumn, Galloway, and Forrest streets in the northwest corner of the region, but development was slow and sparse. In 1922, Sol Meyers coined the neighborhoodís name when he platted the High Point Terrace subdivision on a tiny dirt road that ran south off Summer. High Point Terrace at that time dead-ended at about the point where it meets Sam Cooper Boulevard today. Only 185 homes were built in this early phase of development, many now lost under Interstate 40 which buried the north section of the neighborhood in the 1970ís.
Prior to the Highland Boulevard Subdivision, the area was mainly characterized by small family farms and estate lots for professionals and laborers who worked in Memphis, then two miles to the west. Only two structures survive from this pre-development period, the 1906 Koch house and the 1910 Morrow house.
The bulk of High Point Terrace development, however, took place between 1941 and 1951. Nearly 90 percent of the homes in the area were built during this period, and farmers who bought their land for $50 per acre at the turn of the century were suddenly receiving $2,500 or more from land-hungry developers. Between 1940 and 1950, population in the area increased almost 700 percent, from 938 residents to 6,056. This growth along the outer edge of the city followed the trend of rapid urbanization that characterized America in the 20th century, as rural countryside was quickly subsumed by a suburban landscape. The increased mobility of Americans, thanks to the automobile, meant that cities were no longer forced out of necessity to develop around core urban areas or static streetcar lines. The trend was bolstered after World War II as veterans returned home to settle down and start families, thanks in part to loans provided through the Federal Housing Authority and the GI Bill. High Point Terrace provided affordable housing for these families, close enough to the city for access to jobs and shopping, but far enough away to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.
The development company Chandler and Chandler began the High Point Terrace building boom in 1940 when they opened up their Greenlawn subdivision. Chandler and Chandler was founded in 1906 by William C. Chandler, the influential Memphis developer who helped popularize the bungalow in Memphis in the 1920ís. High Point Terrace, however, seems to have mainly been the work of his son and business partner, Charles K. Chandler, who made a name for himself as a developer after World War Two just as his father had done after World War One. The beginnings of an unparallelled building boom were underway in the late 1940ís as developments like the highly influential Levittown, N.Y. spread out far from their parent cities. Chandler, however, built his subdivision for a slightly more upscale homebuyer than the blue-collar developments in Levittown. His use of the Radburn plan as a template differentiated High Point Terrace from the typical rows of “ticky-tack houses”. Building materials were sometimes scarce in the years following the war. Chandler in an interview recalled scouring Memphis alleys for scrap iron to be reworked into drainage pipes for one of his developments.
Chandlerís original Greenlawn subdivision (Philwood, Shirlwood, and Kenwood from Highland to Sevier) was built 1940-41 on 10 acres of the Koch dairy farm, 25 acres of the Miller estate, and 25 acres of Blattís farm. Development was then put on hold during the war, but resumed when a 1945 addition added Charleswood and Johnwood (then Johnson Avenue). The last Greenlawn addition in 1946 opened up Shirlwood, Kenwood, Charleswood, and Johnwood from Sevier to High Point Terrace as well as Swan Ridge Circle east of High Point Terrace. Finally, John B. Goodwin extended Philwood and Autumn from Sevier to High Point Terrace in 1948-49. Much of High Point Terrace was originally listed as Dilworth Street, an existing street that ran north from Walnut Grove, but the name was changed to match the existing High Point Terrace that ran south from Summer. Through continuous extensions in the 1940ís, the two streets eventually met at the intersection of Swan Ridge Circle North. Until the opening of the 1950ís, most of the streets were still unimproved dirt roads, aside from Highland, Walnut Grove, and Summer, which were paved with concrete.
Further developments filled out the neighborhood. Chandler and Chandler added three more subdivisions after Greenlawn: East Aurora on Mimosa and Aurora Circle, Twin Willows east of High Point Terrace, and Dunrovin down the southern half of Sevier east to High Point Terrace. Marx and Bensdorf, Inc. resubdivided the old Highland Avenue Park subdivision, filling out much of Waynoka, Oakley, Highland Park, and Northwood. Wilkinson developed Wilkinson Place, and Dobson-Smith developed Southwood, Normandy, and frontage on Walnut Grove. A 1953 Commercial Appeal article calls the corner of Highland and Poplar, one block south, as “one of the hottest corners” in Memphis. Frank Steudlin, then President of the Memphis Homebuilderís Association, estimated in the same article that 12,000 new houses had been built in the surrounding blocks, which included High Point Terrace, since the war. By the time this article was written, High Point Terrace was a complete neighborhood.
The architect behind the houses in Greenlawn, and one of the noted leaders of the movement towards modernism in Memphis, was J. Frazer Smith. Smith was a student of “white southern” architecture, namely the Classically-influenced architecture of the plantation, and conducted a survey of plantation houses throughout the South published in his 1941 book White Pillars. After serving as the regional director of the Historic American Building Survey in the ë30ís (and later overseeing the demolition of those very buildings), Smith went on to design homes for Chandler and Chandler and other developers, transplanting his knowledge of traditional southern architecture into the forward-thinking framework of efficient minimal traditional design.
Charles K. Chandler lived with his family in the neighborhood he built, in the old Koch farmhouse. After subdividing the Kochís dairy farm for development, Chandler had the old house pulled on skids by a mule team to its present location on Autumn Street in the late 1940ís. There he lived with his wife and his children, Shirley, Kenneth, and Charles. The names of his children are immortalized in the names of the streets: Shirlwood, Kenwood, and Charleswood.
Though not an affluent neighborhood, High Point Terrace was comfortably upper-middle-class. 1949ís median income for the neighborhood was a little over $5,300 a year, roughly $2,000 above the cityís average for the same year. The neighborhoodís median home value of $13,500 put it within range of the average professional or trade worker, but expensive enough to keep out less desirable service and labor workers. In addition to being segregated by income, most of the neighborhood was officially segregated by race. Several original plat maps contain restrictive covenants barring the new homes from being sold to “negroes”. This was commonly accepted practice in the 1940ís, following the Federal Housing Authorityís advision to developers to concentrate on a particular market based on age, income, and race, and their policy of refusing to underwrite neighborhoods in which there was a danger of “Negro invasion”. Only 43 of the neighborhoodís 6,056 residents were classified as nonwhite in the 1950 census.
As the middle class began its move out of core urban areas during this period, new zoning restrictions meant that residential districts were now segregated geographic units, separate from commercial and industrial districts. Chandler and Chandler believed that their neighborhood should be served by its own shopping center. So in 1948 they built the High Point Terrace Shopping Center containing a drug store, grocery, bakery, shoe shop, beauty shop, gift shop, short-order restaurant, barbershop, dress shop, laundry, and hardware store. This tiny shopping plaza, still thriving today in the center of the neighborhood, further separated the small bedroom community from its parent city and began the reinvention of the suburb as a self-sufficient community unto itself. Itís importance to the community was summed up by another local developer, Henry Turley, who used the High Point Shopping Center as a model for some of his own developments. As he said in a 1998 interview, “It makes neighborhoods more than just geographic proximity. It makes a neighborhood a real, live, meaningful part of our lives.” A year after its construction, the economic decentralization of Memphis was deepened when Lowensteinís Department Store opened their first location outside the urban core at the nearby corner of Highland and Poplar. The Poplar Plaza Shopping Center quickly sprang up, anchored by the new Lowensteinís, spreading into a vast commercial mecca. Now suburban residents could commute to the city for jobs, but live entirely on its outskirts. With the population center rapidly moving eastward and retail centers rushing to catch up with them, the central city, especially the downtown commercial district, began a long, slow period of decline from which it never fully recovered. Lowensteinís and other retailers gradually closed the doors on their downtown locations and operated solely in the eastern suburbs like High Point Terrace. Across America, the suburb now reigned as the dominant form of housing and retail.
Today, the neighborhood that began two miles outside the city is now several miles inside it. Once a low-density suburb, it now has a more urban feel thanks to its centralized location bordered by several major thoroughfares and its access to retail centers and the nearby University of Memphis. It is still a relatively upscale neighborhood, and is undergoing a continuous period of gentrification. The same homes that sold for around $12,000 in 1946 can sometimes go for as much as $200,000. Most, though, are in the $80,000 to $100,000 range. Still extremely well-maintained, the neighborhood attracts many first-time home buyers and young families who often live next door to original homeowners two generations their senior.