Fragile Fifteen Update - December 2015

It’s been a tough year for Knox Heritage’s Fragile 15 List of Endangered Historic Places. The annual listing is designed to increase public awareness about the most fragile places that are threatened with destruction and focus efforts on identifying viable solutions that will preserve these signature places. But, ultimately, the list is made up of places that are the most likely to be lost forever, even when valiant efforts are made to save them. This year that reality was more painful than it has been in years, but it was balanced by solid progress on other fronts and for that we are grateful.

We are also grateful for your steadfast support of our work. Without you, there would not be a Knox Heritage to stem the tide of destruction that has threatened so many of our region’s most cherished places and to advocate for solutions based on the preservation and reuse of those places. We will continue to passionately pursue our mission which has supported and assisted in the renaissance of downtowns, neighborhoods and countless buildings all across East Tennessee.


♦ The H.E. Christenberry House – 3222 Kingston Pike

The stately home on Kingston Pike sat on over four acres and overlooked the Tennessee River until it was demolished on May 26th. The house and its fate were in the news for the last few years as the Kingston Pike / Sequoyah Hills Neighborhood Association and Knox Heritage worked to find new owners willing to preserve the structure. Early interest from one potential buyer resulted in a demolition permit being pulled for the property, but it was never used and that party walked away from the purchase.

In 2014, a local developer came forth with a proposal to preserve the house, but it also included building 20 new condominium units on the property near the riverfront. The change in density required an application for rezoning from R-1 Single Family Residential to RP-1 Planned Residential. The Knoxville City Council denied the rezoning request in June of last year. The developer then walked away from the deal.

During that time neighbors and Knox Heritage also worked to gather investors to purchase the property, preserve the house and divide the site into smaller lots for resale that would not require a rezoning. The property remained on the market, but the neighbors’ offer was not accepted by the owners and the property was scheduled to be auctioned to the highest bidder.

The property was sold to new owners in April before the auction could be held and they announced plans to build a new residence along the waterfront.  The owner indicated to Knox Heritage on May 12th that no plans had been finalized for the house and accepted an invitation to meet with us to discuss possible scenarios for saving the house. That meeting never occurred. A demolition permit was requested and issued the week of May 18th and the house was destroyed on May 26th.

The demolition sparked a widespread public outcry since the public was not alerted when the new owners pulled a demolition permit the week before the house was destroyed. Ironically, the house was demolished just hours before a City Council vote to institute a 60-day waiting period for demolition permits issued for National Register-listed or eligible properties in the city.

Knox Heritage worked in cooperation with Mayor Rogero’s administration and City Council to craft the new demolition delay ordinance and we are confident it will allow more time to craft solutions for historic properties threatened with destruction in the future. There are almost always viable strategies to save these important places, while benefitting those who own them, when there is time to work cooperatively toward solutions.

♦ White Avenue Houses – 1302, 1308, 1302 White Avenue

These three Victorian-era houses in the 1300 block of White Avenue in the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood were added to the Fragile 15 in 2013 when the University of Tennessee Knoxville administration announced their intention to demolish them for a new academic building.

The houses formed part of the southern boundary of the Fort Sanders National Register Historic District and the Neighborhood Conservation (NC-1) District that was enacted in 2000 on the recommendation of the Fort Sanders Forum. The Forum’s plan was crafted with the support of a broad coalition of neighborhood stakeholders, including the University of Tennessee. Under that plan, the 1300 block was protected from further encroachment by UT, but a new UT administration released its own campus master plan update in 2012 that include the acquisition of the block and the removal of the houses.

Knox Heritage engaged in a dialogue with the University in an attempt to craft an alternative to demolishing the privately owned properties. When the University asserted its intention to move forward with acquiring and removing them, we attempted to raise the funding required to move all three houses to new locations in the neighborhood. We were not successful in raising the funds required to purchase the vacant lots required and UT issued a request for proposals for them to be moved. The RFP allowed less than two weeks for potential developers to respond to a highly complicated, expensive and time-sensitive situation. One developer, Carl Lansden, responded and purchased two of the houses, 1302 and 1312. The Judge’s House at 1308 was left to be destroyed and the same fate eventually crushed 1312 when Lansden was unable to secure a new lot for it before the University’s deadline. He did save 1302 White Avenue and it now sits on the corner of Clinch and 13th Street. He intends to complete restoration of the house soon.

The University recently announced its most recent update proposed for its master plan which states no further encroachments into the neighborhood will be undertaken. This is good news for the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood and Knox Heritage will continue its dialogue with UTK administrators in order to work cooperatively to protect the neighborhood and encourage development that builds upon and strengthens its historic character.

♦ The Pickle Mansion – 1633 Clinch Avenue

The Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood suffered another tragic loss this fall. The iconic Pickle Mansion, which has been a perennial member of the Fragile 15 for years, was demolished.

The house was the victim of a disastrous fire in 2003 and suffered extensive damage.  The last owner purchased the property in 2005 and created a design for completing an extensive restoration of the house, but work to get the house under roof and stop its deterioration was never completed. It sat, open to the elements, for 10 more years as that owner refused to move forward with restoration or sell the property to new owners. After his death, the property was sold to local developers intent on finding a way to save it. They stabilized it this spring, but multiple attempts to craft a financially viable solution failed and the ruins were removed due to safety concerns.

However, all is not doom and gloom for the Fragile 15! Progress is being made on several fronts and we continue to assist property owners with developing viable plans to save these important places.

♦ The Howard House – 2921 N. Broadway

This spring the community was shocked to learn the beloved Craftsman-style house on Broadway would likely fall to the bulldozer and be replaced by a national brand grocery store. The home is a North Knoxville icon and is one of the finest examples of Craftsman style architecture still standing in Knox County. It has a rich history and received Knox Heritage awards on two occasions for the quality maintenance and care undertaken by its previous owners, Mr. and Mrs. Paul E. Howard. This property is now a part of Mr. Howard’s estate, which requires the residence be sold.

Knox Heritage worked with North Knoxville residents to save the house and created an online petition imploring the developer to spare the house that garnered almost 8,000 signatures. The North Knoxville Community Coalition was formed by County Commissioner Amy Broyles to coordinate opposition to the destruction of the house and the rezoning of the property. Knox Heritage met the developers to negotiate a solution, as did neighborhood associations representing communities around the location. In the end, the Chattanooga-based developer withdrew plans for the project and canceled its option on the Howard House and the church next door.

However, there is still much work to do. The house must be sold, so Knox Heritage hopes to work with the heirs of the estate to market the home to a buyer dedicated to its preservation and reuse.

♦ Knoxville College – 901 Knoxville College Drive

The situation at Knoxville College has continued to dramatically deteriorate and several National Register-listed campus buildings are either condemned or suffering from a lack of maintenance. The school is mired in debt and the very survival of the historic campus is in doubt. Earlier this year the college’s board announced the campus would be closed for this academic year as they work to reorganize and develop a plan for the physical campus. The board has created a Development Committee to evaluate the campus and its buildings and identify a development partner to preserve the historic buildings. Knox Heritage Executive Director Kim Trent is serving on the committee.

♦ Standard Knitting Mill – 1400 Washington Avenue

The mill was purchased in December 2012 by a large developer who has announced plans to rehabilitate the property. Knox Heritage is providing assistance to the owner that will encourage the preservation of its historic character while utilizing available historic rehabilitation tax incentives.

♦ Eugenia Williams House – 4848 Lyons View Pike

The University of Tennessee issued a request for proposals earlier this year seeking a long-term lease agreement for the property, but an interested party failed to appear. Knox Heritage hosted our annual Fall Members Tour at the property in September and the event drew almost 600 guests. We will continue to raise awareness and promote the property to potential developers interested in the 99-year lease the University has proposed.

♦ South High – 801 Tipton Avenue

The City of Knoxville recently purchased the building and plans to issue a request for proposals for its redevelopment soon. Knox Heritage is working with the city officials and residents to attract a new owner who will restore the building to its role as an asset to the surrounding neighborhood.

♦ Giffin School – 1834 Beech Street

In March, the Knox County Commission voted unanimously to sell the vacant school to Knox Heritage. We issued a request for proposals later that month and are currently in negotiations with a developer who intends to restore the property for a new use. We are working closely with the South Haven Neighborhood Association to insure any use is compatible with the surrounding community and will place a permanent preservation easement, with restoration requirements, on the property when it is eventually sold.

♦ French Broad River Corridor

This fall the Development Corporation and Knox County announced plans to revive the Midway Business Park in East Knox County. Knox Heritage is working with community residents, the Metropolitan Planning Commission and Mayor Burchett to insure there are safeguards in place to protect the character of the corridor since it will be impacted by increased business activity in the area. We look forward to continuing that discussion and creating a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

♦ Pryor Brown Garage – 314 & 322 W. Clinch Avenue

Earlier this year the building suffered a partial roof collapse, but a structural engineer has determined it can be saved. Knox Heritage is working with the building owners to craft a redevelopment plan that will preserve it for another generation. The owners do intend to save the building if a financially viable plan can be developed.

♦ Tennessee Supreme Court Building – 617 Cumberland Avenue

This summer the Knoxville City Council approved the purchase of the building that has sat vacant for years. The City of Knoxville plans to conduct a market study in advance of issuing a request for proposal that will redevelop the site while preserving the original courthouse portion of the building. The RFP is expected to be issued in early 2016.

As you can see, our work is both time-consuming and complex. We often work for years to save endangered historic places, but each time a place is rescued, it proves that work is well worth the time and effort. From The Bijou Theatre to the 500 Block of Gay Street to the Walker Sherrill House, we have more than 40 years’ worth examples of signature places that would not exist today without Knox Heritage. We count on your support to help us continue this very important work.