About 30 years ago, the gigantic oak stood 75 feet away from the nearest road being built for the new Ridgeway Center.
So young Boyle Investment Co. developer Russell E. "Rusty" Bloodworth couldn’t believe what he was seeing: A bulldozer rumbling straight at the tree for no good reason.
Bloodworth had just stopped by to check on the road construction as Boyle converted the former Ridgeway Country Club golf course into an office and retail development.
Bloodworth tried yelling, but the bulldozer operator couldn’t hear.
Bloodworth estimated he had 30 seconds to reach the tree before the machine did.
He hopped out of his car and rushed down to the trunk.
"Of course, (the operator) stopped and saved the tree," he said recently.
His tree-saving story may illuminate a career of developing roads, buildings and houses in ways that blend as much as possible with the spirit of the land.
That’s the kind of passion that earned for Bloodworth the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from Lambda Alpha, the honorary society for the advancement of land economics.
Bloodworth received the honor during a society meeting last week at Dixon Gallery and Gardens.
Bloodworth is executive vice president of Boyle Investment Co., where he has worked since graduating with a degree in architecture from the University of Virginia in 1968.
His first project with Boyle was developing The Birches residential subdivision in Whitehaven.
Over the decades, his portfolio of upscale developments has included River Oaks, Green Shadows, Blue Heron, The Cloisters, The Neighborhood at Schilling Farms and Chartwell of River Oaks.
Bloodworth also helped develop office and commercial projects, such as the Ridgeway Center at the northeast corner of Poplar and Interstate 240 and Humphreys Center at Walnut Grove and Wolf River Boulevard.
In Franklin, he helped develop Meridian Cool Springs, a development of 700,000 square feet of office space and 70,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and hotels.
Bloodworth leads and helped found the Memphis-area chapter of the Urban Land Institute, which promotes the responsible use of land.
He also helped establish the Memphis Regional Design Center. He was inducted into the Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame by the Memphis Area Association of Realtors last year.
Of course, developers are known more for bringing down trees than saving them. But Bloodworth has long had a reputation as a tree-friendly developer.
Several decades ago, Southern Living Magazine featured him in an article titled "Tree Fanatic in Memphis."
Eventually, the oak he saved near the entrance to Ridgeway Center succumbed to disease.
But another behemoth stands in the parking lot in front of Boyle Development’s office at Ridgeway Center.
The architect at the time made no provision for saving the white oak. So Bloodworth blocked off a 300-square-foot rectangle around the tree to protect its roots. He estimates six parking spaces are sacrificed.
Ask developer Russell E. "Rusty" Bloodworth to describe how he styles a neighborhood, and he responds: "I’m looking for a sense of organic fit. It looks organic. Anything that’s there fits like it was made with the land. It was not imposed.
"There is a way of designing that is appealing to me when I have the right kind of site, that can be quite classical and formal and symmetrical. But working little neighborhoods on natural rolling terrain with existing vegetation.
"The art form is trying to lace that road system through there so it looks like it was meant to be there.
"… (First) figure out where are the great places to put the houses, and then where to put the road system. …
"Never come up with a solution until you’ve gone out in the evening on the piece of property and listen, and feel the breeze, and look at the vistas, and smell the smells, and then you go and think about it."