High Point Terrace – An early History
Development of High Point Terrace (HPT) began in 1919, when the Highland Boulevard subdivision was established. Bungalows sprang up along Autumn Ave, Galloway, and Forrest streets in the northwest corner of the region, but development was slow and sparse. In 1922, a Mr. Sol Meyers coined the neighborhoods name when he platted the High Point Terrace subdivision on a tiny dirt road that ran south off Summer Ave. 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 1970’s for the proposed I40 section thru Midtown and Overton Park.
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 now located on Autumn Ave and the 1910 Morrow house.
The bulk of High Point Terrace development, however, took place post between 1941 and 1951. Nearly 90 percent of the homes in the area were built during this period. 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.
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 1970’s isolated the northernmost blocks of Forrest, Meadowbrook, Isabelle, Sevier, and Lynncrest from the rest of the area. Since the 1940’s Highland and Walnut Grove have become major arteries and were expanded from two lanes to five. The Shelby Farms Greenline which was previously 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.
Autumn Avenue and a short section of Galloway Avenue, contains some of the earliest structures. Several 1920’s bungalows, two 1919 Craftsman cottages, and some Greek and Tudor Revival homes dating from the 1920’s and 1930’s are found interspersed with postwar Minimal Traditionals and a few later infill structures ranging from 1960 to 1983.
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 1940’s and 1950’s. Barwood, the street is more modest than Chandler and Goodwin’s developments, displaying only four different house plans, two of them duplexes.
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 1920’s 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 deli now occupy the thriving center, which serves as a focal point uniting the area as a cohesive neighborhood.
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 Homebuilder’s 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.
The architect behind the houses in Greenlawn, i.e. Philwood, Shirlwood, and Kenwood from Highland to Sevier were 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 one of the noted leaders of the movement towards modernism in Memphis, was J. Frazer Smith. Smith was a student of “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 1930’s (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. Joseph Koch bought 30 or 32 acres of land for a dairy farm on Highland Avenue in East Memphis, Tennessee. Joseph become a very prosperous dairy farmer, and built a beautifulhome at 460 North Highland Avenue, in East Memphis,It was a large two-story with two stairways, and indoor plumbing(which was unusual in that day).Joseph was continuously buying and selling land in and around the Highland area subdividing the Koch’s dairy farm for development. After Joseph and Otilia died, their home was later moved to 3515 Autumn Street, Chandler had the old house pulled on skids by a mule team to its present location on Autumn Street in the late 1940’s. 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.
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. It’s 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 Lowenstein’s 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 Lowenstein’s spreading into a vast commercial mecca. Now suburban residents could commute to the city for jobs, but live entirely on its outskirts. Lowenstein’s 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 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.