Alley Naming & Walking Tour Honors Jack Tucker

On Saturday, April 3 at 1 pm, the sign will go up naming the cobblestone alley just south of Union, between Front and Wagner, Jack Tucker Alley. Afterwards Jimmy Ogle will lead a walking tour of some of the master architect's most significant downtown projects.

You might wonder, why name an alley for Jack? But for someone who understood urban spaces, the importance of the details that create them, and spent much of their architectural career giving Memphis's historic spaces new life, it is the perfect memorial. And it adds Tucker to a colorful and fascinating list of Memphians for whom downtown's alleys are named, a list that includes Rendezvous barbecue king Charlie Vergos, another long-time downtown advocate who died this past week.

Jack Tucker, recognized as the "father of downtown living," was an architect, downtown residential pioneer, and advocate for preservation. He served on the Landmarks Commission and boards of AIA, Memphis Heritage, Chickasaw Bluff Conservancy, and Friends for Our Riverfront.

Wayne Risher in an article for the "Commercial Appeal" gives an account of Tucker's battle to protect Cotton Row Historic District and prevent the real cobblestones in this alley from being replaced by a patterned concrete called Bomanite. It also sheds some light on alley naming in Memphis and recognizes Bill Morrison, Carol Coletta, and Tom Jones for spearheading the naming Jack Tucker Alley.

The walking tour that follows the dedication ceremony will look at Timpani Apartments, Convention & Visitors's Building, Union Ave. streetscapes, Bluffwalk Bridge at Beale Street, the National Biscuit Company on Huling, and Vergos Building on S. Main. Led by Jimmy Ogle, the walking tour concludes Memphis Heritage’s month-long preservation series, dedicated this year to honor of Jack. The tour is free and a great opportunity to see the work of this master architect.

Cobblestone alley will carry name of architect Jack Tucker
By Wayne Risher

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Downtown's alleys are the stuff of legends, which puts the late architect Jack R. Tucker Jr. in pretty good company.

The historic cobblestone alley that runs behind Tucker's residence in Cotton Row has been designated Jack Tucker Alley by the City Council.

If there was a historic marker, it might recount how on this spot in 1979, Tucker and a band of history-minded Memphians won the Battle for Cotton Row.

Tucker, a noted architect, historic preservation advocate and Downtown residential pioneer, died April 5 at 70.

The alley naming, introduced by City Councilman Bill Morrison, is one of various plans in the works to publicly acknowledge Tucker's impact on the historic fabric of Memphis. Another project is a tour of buildings Tucker helped preserve.

Tucker fought back in the late 1970s when the city came out with Cotton Row revitalization plans that included pulling up historic cobblestones from Front to Riverside between Union and Beale. Most were replaced with a patterned concrete paving called Bomanite, but Tucker Alley was left as it had been since the 1800s.

Carol Coletta, a long-time friend and neighbor, said skeptics might say "Hey, it's just an alley. But it was indicative of Jack's values. I thought that would be an appropriate way to honor him."

Coletta and Tom Jones, her associate at the Memphis office of Smart City Consulting, worked with Morrison on the alley naming.

"Jack considered everything important in designing a quality city," Jones said. "It's like Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley says. 'If you pay attention to the details, the big things will take care of themselves.'"

Tucker's widow, Cyndy Grivich Tucker, said, "That little alley is a great representation of his philosophy. It was never named, it's a forgotten piece of history, and it's something he cared so much about that he fought for so long to keep it. This isn't an honorary street naming. This is for real. It's something that will be in the map books."

Colorful lore surrounds Downtown alleys. Washburn's Escape Alley was reputed to have been a Union general's escape route during a Confederate raid. Schorr's Alley in the South Bluffs honors a brewing and horse-racing magnate. Barboro Alley, just south of Tucker Alley, is named for a 19th Century Italian immigrant who rose to prominence as a fruit and produce distributor.

Other alleys include Rendezvous Alley, Scimitar Alley, Stereo Alley, and a relatively recent addition, Maggie H. Isabel Alley, named for a civic leader and seamstress shop owner.

Andy Kitsinger, vice president of planning and development for the , said Jack Tucker Alley is one of a kind.

"It's a neat little alley. It's unusual for Memphis. It goes building to building and it's only about 10 feet wide, no curbs. It's basically a connector that goes from Front down to Wagner."

Jimmy Ogle, who conducts walking tours of Downtown, said the alley probably was built to separate buildings and provide back-door access.

Ogle thinks it would have been too narrow to accommodate the movement of cotton wagons from the cobblestone wharf to the cotton classing rooms of Cotton Row.

He once saw a utility truck wedged into the alley so tightly its driver was trapped inside; there wasn't enough room to open a door or climb out of a window.

The Timpani Building, a condominium conversion where the Tuckers and Coletta lived, is part of Howard's Row on Union, which includes the city's oldest surviving commercial building.

"Back in the early 1970s, there were a lot of vacant buildings Downtown," Kitsinger said. "Timpani was the first of the Downtown residential loft renovations."

The alley controversy was a skirmish in a larger battle that Tucker led when the city planned a series of sidewalk and alley improvements in Cotton Row. The city project wound up transforming the appearance of an area centering on Wagner Place, but Tucker prevailed in retaining a more historically appropriate design for the sidewalk in front of Howard's Row.

Ogle said alleys provide good material for his tours, and Tucker Alley will be no exception.

"I already talk about Jack Tucker on the Union Avenue tour. We always mention Jack and the Timpani Building. He was the father of Downtown living, and the building was named Timpani because it was banging the drum for Downtown."

-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874


Potential stops on a historical tour of architect Jack Tucker's most notable projects might include:

Timpani Building
The Rendezvous restaurant
Bluff Walk Bridge
Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau
Candy Factory Condominiums
Lenox School Condominiums
Pontotoc Building Condominiums
Scimitar Building
Rendezvous shipping building
Elmwood Cemetery cottage
Kappa Sigma House in Fayetteville
Dunn Mask Cotton Building