Update - The newsletter for the University of Memphis
More December Features:

Food for Thought
Free Radicals
Law School Opening
Social Networking


Upcoming 2009 Events

Dec. 15: Holiday Open House. 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Administration Building Atrium.

Dec. 18: Women’s basketball: Tigers host Ole Miss. 7 p.m. Roane Fieldhouse.

Dec. 24-Jan 1: University closed for holidays.

Dec. 31: Men’s basketball: Tigers host Tennessee. 3 p.m. FedExForum.

Jan. 14: First day of Spring Semester.

Jan. 16: Grand opening of downtown location of School of Law. Call 678- 1562 for event details and reservations.

Jan. 18: Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

For More Information:
303 Administration Building
Memphis, TN 38152
Phone: 901/678-3811
Fax: 901/678-3607
e-mail: grussll@memphis.edu

Interactive Floorplans
Click a floorplan below to explore the interior of the new Law School.

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U of M Video
U of M Video The new downtown law school building opened with a flourish.
Opening of Law School to have 'grand' feel

By: Sara Hoover

Jutting out from behind a brick wall, in a storage area of the basement at 1 North Front Street, sits a 3-foot high piece of limestone footing. Pink in hue, it is the original exterior foundation of the U.S. Postal Service Customs House that is the new home to the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. As it was the base for the building all those years ago, the limestone now represents a new foothold the University has in its riverfront location, downtown neighborhood and legal community.

Erected in 1878 and opened in 1885, the facility served as the federal courthouse and was the site of every major federal case in Memphis until 1963.

The new facility is near the riverfront in downtown. (photo by Lindsey Lissau)
The new facility is near the riverfront in downtown. (photo by Lindsey Lissau)

Those historic courtrooms will now be used by the Moot Court team and for Mock Trial. The Federal Tennessee Court of Appeals sits at the current law school and it’s hoped that tradition will continue with the grand opening on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The land on which the Customs House sits was given to the city by the Overtons with the stipulation attached that it was only to be used for public purpose. The property housed the Customs House, a library and parking garages, until construction began. The Riverfront Development Corporation believes moving the law school to the Customs House is entirely within the public purpose requirements in addition to stimulating more development downtown.

Main Lobby
Main Lobby
“It’s great for downtown,” said Cecil C. Humphreys Jr. (JD ‘81), attorney with Glankler Brown. “Students have a better chance to interact with law firms and law clerking experiences are easier. Faculty will have more interaction with the legal community. Firms will have the law library and access to law clerks and faculty. Having all those people downtown will just be great.”

The stately 130-year-old building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The building was actually built in four sections: the first in 1878, the second portion in 1903 and two wings in the 1930s. The 1903 building was actually demolished during renovations and houses the only new construction.

While the additional sections covered three sides of the original exterior of the 1878 structure, parts of it have been re-exposed and can now be seen throughout on all the floors. Several of the original mahogany doors and hinges remain, including one at the entrance of the Rare Books Room on the first floor.

“We worked a lot with the historic preservation in Memphis,” said Veronica Tansey, Fleming/Associates/ Architects’ director of interiors, of the design approach. “Their general rule of thumb was if it’s historic, it’s going to stay and it needs to stay as it originally was. Everything that’s new needs to be new and you can tell that’s something we’ve added to the building.”

MFormer Teller Cage
Former Teller Cage
The last resident of the building was the U.S. Post Office until the University took over. The historic lobby remains untouched and surrounding areas harken to the days when postal inspectors treaded along the catwalk looking in peepholes. Other nods to the former resident include the original Pony Express emblems on the entrance doors, glass etchings where P.O. boxes once were and walk-up teller windows.

The old postal bank vaults will be put back into use. One will serve as a satellite office for visiting lawyers and the other as part of the law library’s circulation desk. The combination locks were recently deactivated so there’s no longer any danger of someone being locked in the vaults.

Situated along the Mississippi River, the law school is nestled between Confederate Park and the Cossitt Public Library.

View from the building
View from the building.

“I admire so much the ‘can do’ attitude of President Raines,” said Allie Prescott III (BA ’69, JD ’72), president of Allie Prescott & Partners and senior adviser at Waddell & Associates. “Some people said, ‘You don’t want to do it downtown. There’s no parking. It’s not safe.’We faced the same objections when we decided to build AutoZone Park downtown. I was one of the early advocates because I had seen how successful it could be downtown if done right, and this one is surely going to be done right.”

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Last Updated: 1/23/12