August 03, 2015
As Lovely A Street As Memphis Has To Offer
By Linda A Moore
– The Commercial Appeal –
During a special meeting of the Memphis Legislative Council in March 1906, developer Edward L. Boyle, his brother Charles Boyle and engineer H. W. Brennan gained approval to create a grand boulevard way out in East Memphis.
It was deemed by The Commercial Appeal to be "too visionary to ever be realized," but a year later the newspaper recanted and dubbed Belvedere Boulevard a success.
In celebration of Belvedere’s centennial, the 30th annual Central Gardens Home and Garden Tour on Sept. 10 will feature the street, which in Italian means "beautiful view."
Ten homes and two churches will be open for visitors from 12 to 6 p.m.
"Belvedere is consistently voted the prettiest street in Memphis," said Patti Marsh, tour chair. "Since this is its 100th year, we tried to get as many homes as we could to make it a festival type atmosphere instead of just a home tour."
When the Boyle brothers and Brennan proposed the development of Belvedere, the street was called Arcadia Avenue and was in the middle of nowhere, Marsh said.
A photograph of a home built in 1904 on Arcadia, now owned by Russ and Molly Fleming and open for the tour, looked like it was in the middle of the country, she said.
The plan was to build the medians (the rounds on Belvedere originally were fountains) and develop the street with large elegant homes.
"They wanted to make it the grandest street in the country," Marsh said. "So when they paved it and put in the medians, that’s when it became Belvedere." The first homes were occupied in 1907.
Among the homes open for the tour is 540 S. Belvedere, owned by Gay and Mike Williams. The Tudor Revival house was built by Dr. William Thomas Pride, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in 1927. The Williamses have lived there since 1982.
"We’ve redone every room in the house, although it had been redone by the guy we bought it from," Mike said.
The couple have converted the former basement into a wine cellar.
It features a floor-to-ceiling stained glass window inscribed with the names Craig and Coffman, a tribute to members of Mike’s family.
Structurally, they have left the home mainly intact. The moldings, hardwood floors and living room fireplace are the same as when the house was built.
The metal cabinets in the kitchen, now painted gray, are from a midcentury remodel.
Faux finishes, antiques and artwork stand out throughout the home.
In the living room, the soft salmon-colored walls are highlighted by creamy taupe moldings. The oversized antique Oriental rug was bought from the previous owner.
A Boehm porcelain flower, which sits on a stand in the living room, was a gift from Mike’s mother.
The couple turned an enclosed porch off the living room into what they call the library. They removed louvered shutters from the windows and added a distressed finish to the trim work.
"We coffered the ceiling to accommodate the chandelier," Mike said.
The room has been furnished with overstuffed club chairs, needlepoint pillows featuring West Highland terriers (they have two, Chelsea and Chatsworth) and a marble-topped baker’s table.
In the dining room, the walls mimic yellow marble. Antique silver collections are scattered about.
Many of their antiques are old family pieces — a Victrola in the entry, the piano and a small writing desk in the living room, and an armoire in the dining room.
The contemporary artwork throughout the house contrasts with the traditional finishes on the furnishings. Most of the pieces are from local artists, and some were commissioned by the Williamses.
"When you put contemporary artwork with more traditional pieces, it makes it a more interesting house," Gay said.
The garden and pool will also be on the tour.
"This is an appreciation of history and architecture on one of, if not the most, beautiful street in Memphis," tour chair Marsh said.