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Landmark and Legend
Memphis, TN
Here we note legends-in-their-own-time and landmarks as they transition into history

Union Avenue Methodist Church
 
Union Avenue Methodist Church building
1914-2011
 
Union Avenue Methodist Church, a true landmark at Union Ave. & Cooper St. faces demolition Union Avenue Methodist Church building at the corner of Union Avenue and Cooper Street is gone, demolished in the early spring of 2011 by the CVS pharmacy corporation to make way for a new drug store. The church building, a portion of which dated back 90+ years, was the spiritual home for 3 or 4 dozen members when they ended services there on Easter Sunday, 2010. They put the property up for sale saying it was difficult for so few members to finance the maintenance. The church once had about 1,800 members. The remaining congregation merged with another United Methodist church in Memphis.

The CVS pharmacy is expected to employ about 25 people.

The church building, an example of classical revival architecture, was quite distinctive. It featured projecting porticos, limestone columns in the Ionic style, arched windows above the doors, and red bricks with
Bedford stone trim. One of the features that made it stand out from other buildings was its dome and cupola. Because of its location and architecture, it was a legitimate landmark in Memphis. The church was designed by Hubert Thomas McGee, who was also the architect for another historic building in Memphis, the Pink Palace, which was to be the home of Clarence Saunders, inventor of the self-service grocery store concept. (The Pink Palace now serves as the home of the Memphis Museum.)


The Fight to Save the Historic Building

Citizens standing on the corners of the intersection with signs and hundreds of passing motorists honking their horns in support, petitions with names of people pledging not to shop at CVS, neighbors who did not want the additional commercial traffic,  hundreds at city council meetings, rejection of the proposed pharmacy site design by the Land Use Control Board, and court cases could not stop the destruction the church building, which was on the National Register of Historic Places.

In late September, 2010, Memphis Heritage, Inc. announced that volunteer researchers found a 1912 deed which mandates the property "shall be used, kept, maintained and disposed of as a place of divine worship..." Two descendants of the sellers, in cooperation with the preservation organization, brought a lawsuit in an effort to stop the change in the use of the property but after a two hour hearing in December, 2010 a Chancery Court in Shelby County refused to issue an injunction prohibiting the sale and demolition of the historic Union Avenue Methodist Church building. A second lawsuit was brought by different people, including former members of Union Avenue United Methodist Church, but a court said the issue had already been addressed and dismissed it.

At a Memphis City Council meeting August 24, 2010, a minister from another Memphis church told the panel his church wanted to buy the property and preserve the building.
Several speakers who were members of the Union Avenue Methodist Church when it merged with another congregation earlier in the year urged the Council to approve the CVS plans. Numerous people, including neighborhood residents, architects, and historic preservationists spoke against the CVS plans. The council chambers had hundreds of people attending with about equal numbers on both sides. The church into which the congregation of Union Avenue Methodist merged reportedly bused its members to the council meeting to counter balance the opponents of the plan. During the discussion, Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware said, "Developers don't have to come here and spend their money, we ought to be glad when they do."

Despite recommendations to deny the application for the CVS pharmacy from the Shelby County Land Use Control Board and the Memphis Office of Planning and Development, and a promise by CVS to the
National Trust for Historic Preservation it would not demolish buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and the fact the CVS plans do not meet a proposed zoning overlay plan for the midtown area of Memphis, the City Council voted to approve the drug store plans by a vote of 6 to 2.

The Union Avenue Baptist Church building, included on the National Register of Historic Places, is gone, demolished for a CVS pharmacy.
The site of the church building after demolition.
Photo taken April 9, 2011


The CVS Pharmacy that replaced Union Avenue Methodist Church at Union Avenue & Cooper Street.
And finally, here's what replaced the church building.
Photo taken June 27, 2012