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J. Allen Smith Endangered Properties Fund
The J. Allen Smith Endangered Properties Fund provides effective alternatives to demolition or neglect of historic buildings by promoting their rehabilitation and enabling endangered historic properties to connect with buyers who will rehabilitate them. The Fund allows Knox Heritage to accept property donations, purchase endangered historic properties, or purchase options on those properties. In some cases it will allow Knox Heritage to stabilize and/or make improvements to purchased properties in order to increase their marketability. The properties will then be marketed to locate buyers who agree to preserve and maintain the structures.
History behind the J. Allen Smith Fund
The J. Allen Smith House, once located on Lyons View Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee, was built for the founder of White Lily Flour Company, J. Allen Smith. The 8,000-square foot Italian Renaissance Revival house (c. 1915) designed by architect Charles Barber was purchased in 1999 by neighboring Cherokee Country Club for the sole purpose of demolishing the house to build a parking lot and practice facility for its members. It was the defining moment for the future of historic preservation in Knoxville.
Mayor Victor Ashe, Knox Heritage, and prominent members of Cherokee Country Club launched a 5-year battle to save it. In January 2002, then Mayor Victor Ashe filed for historic zoning overlay to protect the house. Cherokee Country Club attempted to gut preservation laws statewide in order to win the battle. We beat them back through advocacy. The club’s application for a demolition permit was denied because of the pending historic overlay. In March 2002, the Club filed suit against the City, Mayor, and City Council to force issuance of the demolition permit. The suit made it to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in November 2004, the court unanimously ordered the city to grant the demolition permit, citing the “de facto historic district” was invalid.
Just two weeks after the ruling, the board of the Club set in motion the destruction of this once grand estate and on December 10, 2004, in less than two hours, more than 80 years of history was destroyed for a parking lot. To make matters worse, nothing from the house was allowed to be salvaged.
Knox Heritage members gathered that night to come up with a plan to turn these bitter lemons into lemonade. On January 4, 2005, we announced the creation of the fund. “I can think of no better way to pay tribute to J. Allen Smith and the house he built than to name a Fund dedicated to the preservation of important historic structures in Knox County in his honor,” said Dorothy Stair, then Knox Heritage board vice president and strong supporter of saving the Smith house. “His beautiful house will not have been destroyed in vain.”
We asked donors who had committed funds to save the J. Allen Smith House to shift their pledge to the new fund. Knox Heritage received a gift of property, and the Board designated the proceeds of the sale to the new Endangered Properties Fund. We organized a special luncheon for potential donors and asked Mark McDonald to speak. “This is an exciting new tool for preservation that will really move forward our goal of protecting and preserving Knox County’s significant historic properties—a goal that a majority of the community supports,” said Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage.
Contributions from the entire community have already been received, and we are asking anyone interested in protecting Knoxville’s important historic places to contribute whatever they can as a sign of support for preservation in our community. Whether it is $1 or $100,000, every contribution will make a difference for the future of our past. Knox Heritage members can make tax-deductible contributions to the J. Allen Smith Endangered Properties Fund through our secure, online donation form.
“I invite people from all over Knoxville and Knox County to contribute to the J. Allen Smith Endangered Properties Fund and thereby insure that in the future we can hold on to the beautiful buildings that make up the background of our daily lives,” said Stair. Knoxville is the home of wonderful historic buildings and neighborhoods, but many historic properties are rapidly disappearing. As they vanish, we're losing an important part of our heritage and the economic benefits these properties could bring. Knox Heritage has worked for 35 years to save dozens of threatened historic homes and buildings in Knox County that might otherwise have been destroyed. This fund is a powerful tool to help us be even more effective and protect the most fragile and valuable legacies of our community’s rich history.