Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Property for Sale: Goyer-Lee Mansion

The Goyer-Lee House in Memphis.
While there are many wonderful blogs that showcase exciting homes for sale (such as The Real Estalker and My Little Housing Blog among many others), there is one historic property in particular that has not garnered much attention and will probably sell this summer for a pittance.  There is an ad in the magazine of The National Trust for Historic Preservation (http://historicrealestate.preservationnation.org/viewlisting.php?id=517) for the James Lee House, also known as the Goyer-Lee House on Adams Avenue at Orleans Street in Memphis, Tennessee, in the Victorian Village National Historic Landmark district.
The entrance of the Goyer-Lee House at the base of the sandstone-clad tower.
There are tax credits and development incentives available to the new owner and a wide range of uses are possible.  Although it could be a private home, other possible uses range from a bed & breakfast to corporate offices.  For interior photos and measured drawings from the Historic American Building Survey, see http://www.victorianvillageinc.org/.

Temporary plexiglass panels are set in the doors to the Goyer-Lee House.
The house has not been occupied since 1959, when the College of Art moved to new quarters.  The last resident, Rosa Lee, had given this house and the equally magnificent one next door to the school in 1927 for use as classrooms and studios.  The last caretaker was the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA) who had a one dollar a year lease for fifty years.  The APTA operates a house museum next door, but was never able to develop the Goyer-Lee mansion despite good intentions.

The west side of the Goyer-Lee House clearly shows the three phases of construction, 1848, 1852, and 1871.
The original house was built in 1848 by lumberman William Harsson.  His eldest daughter Laura married Charles Wesley Goyer, a grocer who later became a banker, and Goyer bought the house in 1852.  Memphis was plagued by several yellow fever epidemics and Laura as well as her father died in the early 1860s.  Goyer married Laura's younger sister Charlotte and added the impressive front Italianate portion with a four story, Mansard roof tower in 1871, designed by Memphis architects Jones & Baldwin.  In 1890, the house was purchased by Princeton-educated riverboat captain James Lee.
The Woodruff-Fontaine House was originally faced with stucco scored to resemble ashlar blocks of stone.
The neighborhood also has other historic homes, such as the Woodruff-Fontaine House which is open to the public as a museum operated by the APTA.  They will keep the side garden that formerly belonged to the Goyer-Lee House as well as the carriage house that has been connected to their own original outbuilding.

The original carriage houses of the Woodruff-Fontaine House, left, and Goyer-Lee House, right, have been joined for use as a venue for parties and receptions.
The Goyer-Lee House does have off-street parking, however, on the reconfigured lot behind the approximately 8,800 square feet house.  The deadline for proposals is July 21, 2011.

The Handwerker playhouse, built 1900 and enlarged in 1907 & 1927, was moved to the garden of the Woodruff-Fontaine House and restored in 2006.
UPDATE:  The house sold for just one dollar to a group of investors with secured loans of $1.7 million for renovation.  The James Lee House opened as a Bed & Breakfast on April 17, 2014.  For more information see their website at www.jamesleehouse.com/.


  1. I will edit the text, but until then, please note that the correct address for the non-profit Victorian Village is http://www.victorianvillageinc.org/

  2. Wow, "a wide range of uses are possible" offers a bit of hope. I hope that such places don't have to be money losing labors of love.

  3. This is how I get in trouble John, thankfully, Ric has me on a short leash!
    they are beautiful.

  4. Terry and Louis, I have no connection to the organizations behind the sale of this house, but I get the feeling it will be transferred to a lucky new owner at just a token amount if the conditions for restoration can be met and the cash necessary secured. In other words, it will take deep pockets and not just dreams to make it happen. Still, it will be a great deal all around if the right buyer can be found.

  5. Where IS Brad Pitt when you need him? Hope this house finds a good knight.

  6. Hopefully a knight in shining armour will appear to buy the house and restore it to the condition that it deserves to be in!

  7. Oh I hope someone worthy sees this gem and swoops in to restore it to its proper grandeur!

  8. It sadly seems-one way in countless grand ladies of the South and East, and their locations in the cities and towns don't help with the draw.It seems this one would be a good spot based on the next door-it is a shame the APTA held onto it so long- 50 years vacant didn't do it any favors.the west side with its visible changes is the most intriguing to me. A great glimpse at this one. pgt

  9. In order to keep peaceful surroundings for all the tenants, they must respect their neighbors. This can be accomplished with specific rules that relate to the way neighboring tenants are to be treated.

  10. What a beautiful house! Great story dahhling.

  11. I just take a peek and I discovered your post. It was an awesome property to have and I am impressed with the design. Hope to have this kind of property someday.

    Charles A

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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