East Lake Courts – Chattanooga TN

The East Lake Courts public housing complex was undertaken during the Great Depression in Chattanooga, Tennessee with the assistance of funds provided by the United States Housing Authority (USHA). East Lake Courts was constructed in a “restrained Colonial Revival Style” (Van West, p. 138) containing 437 units on 35 acres. The total cost for East Lake (White only) and nearby College Hill Courts (Black only) was $3.8 million. The facility was renovated during the 1990s and remained in use as of September 2014, when plans to demolish or sell were announced.

College Hill Courts – Chattanooga TN

The College Hill Courts public housing complex was undertaken during the Great Depression in Chattanooga, Tennessee with the assistance of funds provided by the United States Housing Authority (USHA). College Hill Courts (black only), 497 units on 20 acres, was constructed in the “restrained Colonial Revival style” (Van West, p. 138) at the same time as nearby East Lake Courts (white only). Combined cost for both projects was $3.8 million. College Hill Courts remained in use until at least September 2014 when the housing authority announced plans to demolish or close the project.

Andrew Jackson Courts – Nashville TN

The Andrew Jackson Courts public housing complex was undertaken in Nashville, Tennessee  following the passage of the Housing Act of 1937 and establishment of the United States Housing Authority (USHA). The USHA worked in conjunction with the Public Works Administration (PWA) in providing funds for local housing development projects, two of which were the segregated communities of Cheatham Place and Andrew Jackson Courts.

The rowhouse appearance, clustered two-story houses were constructed for African American residents. The 398 unit buildings cost $1,890,000. They remain in use today.

Cheatham Place – Nashville TN

The Cheatham Place public housing complex was undertaken in Nashville, Tennessee  following the passage of the Housing Act of 1937 and establishment of the United States Housing Authority (USHA). The USHA worked in conjunction with the Public Works Administration (PWA) in providing funds for local housing development projects, two of which were the segregated communities of Cheatham Place and Andrew Jackson Court.

The Cheatham Place project was a Colonial Revival Style Community Building centered the 352 apartments of 2, 3, and 4 room units, located on 21 acres. The complex was constructed for white families, at a total cost of $2,000,000. Many features of the original complex remain and are in use.

Dixie Homes – Memphis TN

One of Memphis’ first two public housing ventures was Dixie Homes, built for African American residents, after the Memphis Housing Authority was established in 1935. “Memphis became the second city in the nation, following New York, to establish a local housing authority” following the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934.

Consisting of 633 units, the project cost $3,400,000 for both facilities–the first was constructed for whites in keeping with the South’s segregation policies. Dixie Homes was constructed following demolition of the Quimby Bayou swamp area slums, and was designed in the two-story, commons area block-style meant to encourage a sense of community. Dixie Homes was demolished in 2006.

Elvis Slept Here

Elvis PresleyThe federal government’s foray into urban redevelopment that began under the New Deal reshaped cities across America—with mixed success. The Public Works Administration (PWA) began clearing slums in many cities in 1934, but work was temporarily halted after a Supreme Court ruling in 1935 prevented the federal government from condemning private property for low-cost housing. That left the housing projects to local control.

Memphis, Tennessee was one of the first cities in the nation to pick up the banner of housing for its poor. It chose two rundown, crowded neighborhoods—uptown Memphis and Quimby Bayou—to site the first two of five public housing projects paid for with New Deal funds.

Public housing was subject to local segregation laws, and Lauderdale Courts, one of the first such housing projects in the nation, was for whites only. Constructed in 1938, Lauderdale Courts’ Colonial Revival-style apartment buildings were arranged around a common area and connected via bisecting walkways, a design feature meant to foster community relationships. But by mid-1990s Lauderdale Courts was deemed derelict. What ultimately saved it from the wrecking ball was unit #328—home to a teenaged Elvis Presley and his parents from 1949 until 1953.

Elvis Presley Apartment, Lauderdale CourtElvis fans forged partnerships with local preservationists, historians, and developers to save Lauderdale Courts and transform it into mixed-income housing.  After a $36 million rehab it reopened in July 2004 as Uptown Square, with 347 apartment homes. It is one of the few New Deal housing developments still in existence and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The office still bears the PWA plaque. Dixie Homes opened in 1938 for black families. It featured two-story apartment-style homes with balconies and a commons, meant to encourage community building. Dixie Homes was demolished in 2006. LeMoyne Gardens, constructed in 1941 for black families, was demolished in the 1990s despite having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The fate of Memphis’s two other New Deal housing projects is still in play. Lamar Terrace, built in 1940 for whites, is undergoing redevelopment as University Place, mixed-income housing. The fate of William H. Foote Homes, constructed for blacks in 1940, is in Limbo. The City had planned to raze it and redevelop the area for mixed-income housing. But a grassroots organization in the Vance neighborhood, opposed the plan, which it said would disperse longtime residents.

Recently, the group convinced the City to put the demolition on hold in order to consider the community’s own proposal, which calls for renovation, not removal, of these homes. The group is holding fast to the original New Deal vision of fostering relationships within a community.