Monday, May 5, 2014

Reviving Old Landmarks - Tennessee Brewery and Schweinehaus

Thursday night my wife and I stopped by the old Tennessee Brewery for the six-week Untapped event. Like the Crosstown Sears building I recently toured, Memphians have been hoping for decades that someone could come up with a viable plan to bring the old brewery building back to life.

The Untapped pop-up event features a creative redecoration of the space using found materials along with vendors selling craft beers, food trucks and portable toilets for restrooms. After enjoying a few beers at the brewery building along with some tacos at one of the food trucks present we moved on to Overton Square, where I ran into my old friend, chef David Scott Walker, who is in the process of opening a pork and beer-centered German restaurant called Schweinehaus on the Square in the old Paulette's building.

My wife and I live a short bike ride away from the Square and have immensely enjoyed its ongoing revitalization. And like most people who spend time there, we have been very excited about the new restaurant. Walker gave me a tour of the space Thursday night, which will include a communal beer hall and an outdoor beer garden. It will be a great space, where I can't wait to kick back with a sausage and a nice lager.

But touring the Schweinehaus space also made it apparent how difficult it will be to redevelop the old brewery building. The grandiose old building is an incredible space with a lot of history, but it is also a huge space that has been empty since 1954. Schweinehaus is opening in the building that housed Paulette's until it relocated to Harbor Town in 2011 after 37 years on the Square. Because Paulette's had been grandfathered on so many code issues while it was open, Walker has had to completely gut the space; digging up all the plumbing and building a new kitchen and bathrooms from scratch to get everything up to code.

So as you look through the photos below, the pics from the brewery will make you hope it can be filled with permanent tenants. Meanwhile, the pics from Schweinehaus will give you an idea of just how much work it can take to get a relatively small building, which was still a fully operational restaurant three years ago, up to code and reopened. It really puts the amount of money it would take to bring the brewery building back to life into perspective.

Also, one final thought to go with this photo series. A recent post on the Strong Town's blog addressed some of the concerns I've had driving around the city over the years. The design of the old Tennessee Brewery and Paulette's buildings, and the design of the neighborhoods around them, makes us value them and want to see them preserved. Suburban sprawl has brought blight to a lot of older Memphis neighborhoods like North Memphis, South Memphis, Binghampton and Orange Mound. But the design of those neighborhoods has allowed them to maintain their functionality, character and sense of community despite their struggles with poverty and blight. And all those communities have seen some positive turnaround in recent years.

As blight spreads to more recently-developed neighborhoods like Fox Meadows and Hickory Hill along Winchester, things look much more bleak. They were developed around a model of cul de sac neighborhoods that require residents to drive to large commercial developments on main roads to do anything. As modern large commercial developments go empty, and as houses go vacant in coves that don't connect to anything, there is no underlying sense of utility or style that will make future generations want to roll up their sleeves and put in the work to bring them back to life. No one looks at the rectangle, cinder block shell of a former big box retailer sitting behind a sea of cracked asphalt and daydreams possible uses for it the way they do the old brewery building sitting on the edge of the street in a historic neighborhood.

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