The Memphis Sterick Building: What’s Next?

You’ve seen it.

I’ve seen it.

The smudgy thumbprint square in the middle of the Memphis skyline.

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Image: Memphis Travel

It’s like a sad urban development adaptation of Where’s Waldo.

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Image: Fine Art America

It is now so common place…it’s made its way into artist renditions of the city.

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Image: Fine Art America

Personally, the Sterick building’s place in the Memphis image does not bother me.

I’ll just go ahead and say it. I’m a fan of the Sterick building – particularly, the opportunities it presents the city.

Unlike some of the more gentrified areas of Tennessee (*cough *cough Nashville), Memphis has the depth and character of a city with a turbulent past. The skeletal structure that is the “Queen of Memphis” should be seen as nothing more than a battle scar. One we indeed have to live with, but one we can embrace.

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Image: Commercial Appeal

Erected at Third and Madison cerca 1930, the Sterick building was a sight to behold. Freshly polished Oxfords’ of Chrysler Motors, Winchester Arms and Union Railroad executives quickly shuffling up and down granite and limestone hallways.

On the ground floor barber shop, a man is getting a fresh shave. Further down the corridor, bank tellers are diligently counting deposit slips – the pharmacist, concocting some ointment that probably contains mercury.

There are Eight, count em, eight high speed elevators climbing and descending the 29 floor building, while nearly 2,000 employees scurry about – a microcosm of the booming Memphis economy.

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Image: Getty Image

But times were beginning to change. Poor management and market realities began to impact the profitability of the Sterick building. As time progressed, the building changed hands multiple times and slowly began to empty out.

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In 1978, the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places, and was officially vacant by the early 1980s. The once bustling hallways were left empty – office putting practice was put on hold.

We now have to accept some hard realities. 

All of the back and forth on ownership has left the building split. The 29 floor structure is owned by an Atlanta real-estate firm. The ground it sits on is owned by a prominent Memphis family.

The floor to ceiling space is too low to introduce HVAC equipment and the ever-looming reality of asbestos makes the building a potential black hole for developers.

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However…Memphis has overcome similar adversity with other buildings.

The new renovations of the Sears Crosstown Concourse and the recent purchase and development plans for the Hickman building present a unique opportunity for the weathered Queen of Memphis.

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Image: Memphisart.org

In 2027 (nine years from the writing of this post), the building’s duel-ownership lease is coming to a close. It is anyones guess what the future holds for this iconic eye-sore.

  • Will it be converted into loft apartments?
  • A 29 floor brewery perhaps?
  • Maybe an escape room with a heafty liability release form?

I’m open to suggestions. But one thing I cannot abide is the status-quo. The revitalization of downtown Memphis can never really happen as long as the Sterick building continues to loom in the forefront.


Here at the-barnburner, we are pioneering the burgeoning area of petition making. If you agree that something…anything needs to happen with the Sterick building – simply click here.


As always – if you found this article interesting, boring, or mediocre, pass it along. There’s a convenient little facebook/twitter icon you can click. Follow me @inquisitivesloth. I’ve got 13 tweets and counting. Get in on the ground floor.

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2 comments

  1. I would LOVE to see my second favorite building in Memphis utilized as a mixed use development.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. I have been fascinated for several years about the history, and possible re-use of this building. I am a downtown worker, and patron of the Fogelman Y, so I often walk by the building. I have been allowed in the building a time of two over the past 15 years when crews were doing basic maintenance, and like the pictures on your site, the interior appears frozen in time.

    I have been glad to see smaller downtown buildings, maybe 5 or 6 stories be turned into hip condos and apartments, and lastly the old Sears Crosstown made absolutely vibrant. I am hopeful something can be done with the Sterick, but man o man, would that take some deep pockets. Let me thank you and others for keeping the conversation going.

    I plan on adding other comments, but for now, the original agreement was the the tenant to keep the building maintained. AXA, which ended up with the building years ago after evicting the last tenant, appears to be holding the bag, so I can only imagine the lawsuit the Grossover (sp) family will spring on AXA if they plan on just tossing over the keys to the family. Maybe a lawyer or two has approached the land owners about enforcing the upkeep contract.

    But for now, the building is too expensive to re-hab and too expensive to demolish, so I am concerned three decade + status quo may be indeterminate.

    Opps, can’t help myself with the comments, although the painted panels are better that the plain beige plywood – I would like to see these boards taken off the building, real windows put back in, and the street level floor be re-furnished with the vintage businesses, especially the pharmacy and the bank.

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