Living on the Edge: making a home in the district

When describing why they chose to call the Edge home, residents focus on traditional neighborhood charm mixed with a creative, urban flavor, with the added bonus of room to work and build.
What could be better than a Downtown location with a quiet neighborhood feel?

Residents of the Edge District get just that, which is one of many reasons why they choose the area.

“One of the things I really like about the neighborhood is that it does sort of shut down. Sometimes you just have the people who live here, and there aren’t that many. There will be no traffic and it gets really quiet,” Bart Mallard, a local actor, filmmaker and artist, said. “It’s like this little oasis of urban concrete life.”

Bordered by main thoroughfares and burgeoning neighborhoods, this quiet little pocket between Downtown and the Memphis Medical Center has beckoned to a handful of Memphians who were savvy enough to get the call.

“I like that it’s close enough to hear the music on Beale Street, and it’s walking distance to the Peabody but you’re not in the middle of it,” Tara Miller, a manufacturing rep in the electronics industry, said. “It’s nice to be in a quieter neighborhood.”
Miller, 37, came to the area after living Downtown on Main Street.

“It was such a great deal, I couldn’t pass it up. I bought two (condos),” Miller said of The Edge at Monroe condos. “You can be a part of Downtown without being right in it.”

Just in the three years Miller has lived in the Edge, she has seen a transformation. “It was the only residential building in the neighborhood. Since then a few more have opened. The building across the street was still on the market, and there were six homeless people living there. The buildings by Kudzu’s were empty,” Miller said. “Now you’ve got High Cotton Brewery, an aluminum sales business, the importer/exporter business. It’s changed a lot, and it’s safer.”

Mallard came to the Edge via New York and L.A. when he returned to Memphis three years ago and was hoping to replicate his metropolitan experience. He answered an ad in the paper and a series of serendipitous experiences landed him the perfect loft.

“I answered a little ad in the paper, and I went to meet the landlord and ran into Ekundayo (Bandele of Hattiloo Theatre) on my way in the door. I have an MFA in theater. I had no idea there was a theater here,” Mallard, 53, said. “There was an artist sharing a studio space here who was actually making work. I sat down on an old stained sofa that somebody had left behind and said, ‘I think I could live here.’ It was pretty much a done deal.”

Mallard appreciates the neighborhood’s industrial qualities, yet still finds that his demands for nature are met.

“I have a big roll-up door 10 feet off the ground, and I sit in it and look out at the neighborhood and the big blue sky. Memphis is odd in that it has lots of trees, and depending on where you are, you don’t have a vision of the sky. In the Edge you don’t have that issue. You have a great big blue sky with lots of clouds there to entertain you,” he said. “The other morning I sat out there as the sun came up, and it was so quiet. My neighbor Greely (Myatt) has put some gourds up, and the martins were flying around chirping and the clouds were glowing pink. I got my camera out and took photos."

There are even furry farm animals around on occasion. “You still have trees and bugs and nature. I saw a rabbit the other day,” he said.

Pam McFarland, who lives above mosaic studio Garden Path Studio, agrees.

“I have a great view of Downtown out of my living room window. I can see the sunsets,” McFarland, a graphic designer, said. She wanted to relocate to the area for a number of years when she first looked at live/work space six years ago and wasn’t in a position to move.

“I kept thinking about the neighborhood and talking to neighbors and looking. I just kept wishing I could find something else like that,” McFarland, 62, said.

Last November somebody who knew somebody hipped her to her present living space, and it’s been true love ever since.
“I’ve always wanted for ages and ages to live in a repurposed space turned into a residence,” she said. “I love the old buildings and the architecture.”

She especially loves her neighbors.

“I love being around people who love Memphis and want to bring it back to vibrancy. I have met a lot more of them because I live here. There are salons where people get together and talk about urban development issues, smart interesting people who are trying to do something in Memphis,” McFarland said.

Tad Pierson feels a similar kinship with his fellow Edge denizens.

Pierson, who owns and operates the tour business American Dream Safari, found a warehouse space big enough to fit his 1955 pink Cadillac where he could work on old cars, set up a large art studio and create a living space. Come to find out he was located in what was once known as “Gasoline Row” and there were several more of his kind down the street.

“Once I got in the neighborhood, I found there were maybe as many as a dozen other men living in the neighborhood in places that were not set up like condos but were shops with guys living in them,” Pierson, X, said. “It’s become a running theme. Mechanics, or guys who want a shop and there just so happens to be an apartment in the building he can use.”

That’s how Phil Godwin found his building on Monroe. Rather, that was his dream.

“Whenever my wife and I look to buy a house, I’m always looking for a garage, and she’s always looking for a home. Eventually I found my garage,” Godwin, who retired from the U.S. Dept. of State, said. “I was looking for an old beat up warehouse I could restore. I didn’t want to cross Danny Thomas (from Downtown), but my realtor told me about this place, and I peered through the broken glass windows and I fell in love,” Godwin, 53, said.

The native Memphian collects cars and Harleys, and was looking for a place he could store and work on them. “I hope to restore the upstairs into a huge open loft where I can bring a lot of my family in,” he said.


Read more articles by Lesley Young.

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