The Memphis mayor’s office is pitching in to help figure out the future of the dilapidated house where soul singer Aretha Franklin was born, a lawyer said Thursday.
Alan Crone, special counsel to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, told a judge that a working group from the mayor’s office plans to assist other stakeholders concerned about the preservation and future use of the historic home.
Crone said the group would seek funding sources to preserve the house, which has become a symbol of Memphis’ massive blight problem. He said the city has been contacted by “serious people” who are interested in saving the house: It sits in a neighborhood dealing with abandoned houses, vacant lots and crime.
Crone said it’s time for the Memphis community to “step up.”
“If we can get one house right, no matter where it is, that’s a victory,” Crone told Shelby County Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter during a hearing. “But this is a historic property, and it’s part of our heritage as Memphians that all kinds of music was literally born here.”
Franklin, known as the “Queen of Soul,” was born in the house in 1942. Her family moved away from Memphis about two years later.
The house has been vacant for years, and there’s no historical marker indicating its significance.
Lawyers, community leaders and Potter have been trying to find ways to save the house, which sits empty with its windows boarded up. Potter had ordered the house demolished, but he put that order on hold last year after volunteers stabilized the crumbling structure.
The house has been placed in a receivership, headed by Jeffrey Higgs, president of the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation. Higgs told Potter last month that he has been in discussions with a producer at the DIY Network on a plan to repair and move the house to another location for one of its programs.
Higgs said Thursday those discussions were ongoing. He added that work to fix the roof could start by the end of March.
Some would like to see the house moved to a safer location, to make it more attractive for visitors, including out-of-town tourists. Potter said Thursday that he would prefer to see the house rescued by local entities, but if the DIY Network or other outside groups are willing to help, then that’s fine too.
“I’ll go out and help them,” Potter said. “I’m not going to be nailing up anything because it would be crooked if I nailed it up. I’m not a carpenter. But I’m serious about the fact that I want that building rehabbed.”