Life Insurance Memphis – The Universal Life Insurance Building (ULIB) has always been the commercial, civic and cultural center of the African-American community in Memphis. ULIB was home to the nation’s fourth largest black-owned insurance company with operations in 10 states and Washington, DC. It employs more than 850 employees.
The building was originally designed in the Egyptian Revival style in 1947 by renowned architects McKissack & McKissack. The building opened in 1949 and served the Universal Life Insurance Company until its unfortunate closure in 2001.
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Reopening in 2018, the main focus of this adaptive reuse project is sustainability. The investors want to renovate this building into a healthy, responsible and environmentally sensitive development. These include energy efficient systems, recycled products and waste reduction practices. Finally, the building will have a 50 kilowatt solar parking lot.
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In the context of a successful neighborhood, attention to public space and surrounding streets was also a priority. As part of the Memphis Heritage Trail, the Universal Life Insurance Building also features a public historic gallery space that highlights the building’s rich history and the impact its founders have had locally and nationally.
The design, construction and operation of the building are guided by green design principles that enhance the experience for all who use it. Through these green building methods, Self + Tucker Architects were able to create a successful historic preservation and revitalization project that helps sustain our planet. Join your Green Building colleagues to experience the Universal Life Insurance Building in Memphis followed by a social hour.
Participants will tour a LEED Gold-certified project that combines historic preservation with high-performance building design. Not only will you see LEED in action, but you’ll learn about the processes and experiences of project team members. We will discuss aspects, strategies and guidelines that contribute to carbon reduction and LEED certification goals.
After the tour, stay and connect with design and sustainability experts from around the region at our networking and cocktail party.
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Enjoy delicious, free food prepared by the Paper Pl8 pavilion, along with a selection of local beers and drinks for everyone. Vegetarian/non-alcoholic options are also available.
The Universal Life Insurance building, designed in 1949 by renowned architectural firm McKissack & McKissack, is slated to be developed and reused as office space. The limestone exterior meets an Egyptian architectural motif of essential historic qualities, proudly placing the building on the National Register of Historic Places. The building envelope and main corridors were designed to meet historic tax credit requirements to support its historic preservation goals. Self Tucker Properties aims to restore its use through a healthy, responsible and environmentally sensitive process that incorporates energy efficient systems, recycled products and waste reduction practices. The new Universal Life building will have a green roof and solar energy, which will qualify the project for LEED certification.
USGBC Tennessee transforms buildings and places to create healthy, thriving and sustainable communities through education, advocacy and action. A beacon of black business in the civil rights era, the iconic Universal Life Insurance building in Memphis is poised to shine again.
Owners and architects Juan Self and Jimmy Tucker are nearing completion of a $6.2 million renovation that aims to showcase history and sustainability and create a collection of resources aimed at growing disadvantaged businesses.
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The project’s completion comes nearly 95 years after Universal Life was founded, 17 years after the building was abandoned and a dozen years after black architects Self & Tucker bought the landmark.
Self+Tucker Architects and the City of Memphis Business Development Center, a comprehensive center for small businesses and entrepreneurs, at 480 Dr. A move to Martin Luther King Blvd is expected. This spring.
“We’re very pleased with how it all came together, especially since it’s a public-private partnership with the city of Memphis,” Tucker said.
Visitors to the building will have the opportunity to experience the past, see historic elements incorporated into the design and history developed by Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation.
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Dr. Joseph E. Walker, along with other black business leaders, founded Universal Life on Beale Street in 1923 as a company “dedicated to improving the economic condition of the colored people,” according to the account.
The company, led by Walker and later his son A. Maceo Walker, helped launch the Tri-State Bank and other initiatives to advance African Americans in business, housing and education.
The Walkers turned to Nashville-based McKissack & McKissack, one of the first African-American-owned architectural firms, to design the building at what was then Lyndon and Wellington. It was opened in 1949.
The Egyptian Revival-style design, which features fluted columns, a winged sun disk/globe motif and a closed lotus flower capital, “represents the strength and independence of black business,” the story said.
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“The use of Egyptian imagery linked modern success to the achievements of ancient African cultures in an era in which mainstream society reinforced negative stereotypes of African Americans,” the story continues.
“The building is amazing,” said June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage Inc., which brought more than 100 people.
The design retains the central corridor leading from the main entrance to the office. This preserves the Tennessee marble on the walls, terrazzo floors and moldings. The clear glass panels on the wooden office doors still show the employees working in the offices. The sign with the clock in front of the entrance has been restored.
“I like how they’re keeping the interior hallway of the building intact and reusing the glass and wood office doors,” West said. “The natural light will be great. Even the basement floor has windows near the top of the exterior walls, which gives the basement floor an open feel.
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“This building obviously has an African-American heritage, but this event really highlighted that people across the city were interested in this project, and it was very gratifying for us because that building and the company were very important to the development of Memphis in that sense since 1923. . until the late 1970s,” Tucker said.
The building will stop on the historic Commerce Loop portion of the planned Memphis Heritage Trail. The trail is being developed to take visitors to important sites of the civil rights movement, such as the Claiborne Temple and the National Civil Rights Museum, as well as historically significant commercial, recreational and residential properties.
The Universal Life project includes environmentally friendly features that are expected to earn Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) gold certification, Self said.
An array of solar panels will be on top of the covered parking lots. A green roof will collect rainwater and direct it into a rain garden that retains runoff. Many of the building’s windows have been updated with insulating glass.
Universal Life Insurance Building
The business development center will move from 555 Beale to about 11,000 square feet at street and basement levels, likely in May, Tucker said.
Self+Tucker will move from Tennessee Lofts to a light-filled, 5,000-square-foot second-floor space that was once Universal Life’s office pool.
“They had a big office pool, so you had these tall windows that let in a lot of natural light,” Self said. “In many ways it was a sustainable design. We have worked a lot on the existing design to ensure that we can bring a lot of daylight into the building. They’ve already done that.”
Tucker said the owners are choosing to lease other available 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot spaces.
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“We’re trying to identify some tenants that we hope can add to the synergy of the building, some that can benefit from working with small businesses around entrepreneurship and business development,” Tucker said.
As an anchor, the Memphis Business Development Center will house city services and programs, such as Propel and Sub to Prime, and partner organizations including the Memphis Area Minority Contractors Association, the Black Business Association and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. Joan Massey, director of business diversity and compliance, said the contract compliance and certification functions will remain at City Hall.
“The City of Memphis is thrilled with the investment we have made in renovating this historic building,” Massey said. “The programs and services offered through this building are driven by Mayor Strickland’s commitment to equitable economic development practices for all residents. ‘We Mean Business’ supports small, minority- and women-owned businesses and promotes entrepreneurship to meet economic, business and our diverse workforce communities,” Massey said.
The building’s outreach to the community is expected to include classes and events, and a partnership with a restaurant to operate a cafe in the former basement cafeteria space.
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Tucker and Self envision a gathering place where people can learn about economic development through community revitalization and sustainability.
For example, the office of the Association of Minority Entrepreneurs is located down the hall from a conference room that holds about 75 people.
“From an economic development standpoint, construction is very important,” Tucker said. “So they (MAMCA) will have plans here for people to see. Someone can come across the hall and hold a pre-bid meeting. Again, there should be a lot more coordination around the construction industry.
Tucker and Self are working on another