by Michael R. Allen
As part of the Garden District Commission’s Botanical Heights project, the six eastern blocks of the McRee Town neighborhood bounded by 39th, DeTonty, Thurman and Folsom streets was nearly completely demolished. The project required a Memorandum of Agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office due to the extensive demolition. Part of the agreement entailed removing McRee Town’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the Tiffany-Dundee Place Historic District, and then re-listing the Tiffany neighborhood east of 39th Street and McRee Town west of Thurman.
In 2007, the Garden District Commission hired Lynn Josse, the city’s leading expert on creating urban historic districts, to undertake the difficult task of trying to re-list the severed section of McRee Town. However, the resulting Liggett and Myers Historic District not only included all remaining previously-listed buildings west of Thurman but ended up including several buildings never before listed. The district listing certainly is encouraging to efforts to create historic districts in similarly-compromised sections of the city.
Josse’s district nomination establishes the significance of the former Liggett and Myers Tobacco plant (designed by Isaac Taylor and constructed starting in 1896) at the north end of the neighborhood, and ties many residents of the historic dwellings to the south to employment at Liggett and Myers.
The district includes a wide range of building types, with most buildings being residential buildings built between 1890 and 1930. There are a few storefront commercial buildings, a former synagogue and a booster station included as well. Some modern infill housing is also included, as well as a number of vacant lots. No form or style dominates. In short, this collection of buildings was not an easy one to list as a single, unitary historic district — but not an impossible one.
The new historic district demonstrates a commitment by the Garden District to a careful strategy of rehabilitation for the remaining section of McRee Town. This approach would have worked east of Thurman, in my opinion, but that chance was lost. Thankfully, the rest of the historic neighborhood has regained its historic district status and, with it, a powerful boost to its future endurance.