Knox Heritage announces the 2017 Fragile 15 list


Knox Heritage announced its 2017 list of the most endangered historic buildings and places in Knoxville and Knox County on May 15, 2017. The announcement took place at Knoxville High School, 101 E. Fifth Avenue.

Every May during National Preservation Month, Knox Heritage releases its list of the most endangered historic buildings and places in Knox County to inform the public and local leaders about the plight of significant historic resources. Often, the endangered buildings and places are representative of issues that endanger other centerpieces of our heritage across the community.

The historic places included on the list are selected by the Knox Heritage Board of Directors from nominations received from members of Knox Heritage and the general public. The list provides a work plan for the organization over the next 12 months. Preservation strategies are developed for each site on the list and can include working with current property owners, government officials, citizens and/or potential new owners to preserve these important parts of Knox County’s heritage. Knox Heritage is committed to acting as an advocate for the endangered properties we identify each year. We invite the community to join us in our efforts to save our endangered heritage through advocacy and action. To volunteer, please contact Knox Heritage at 523-8008 or

2017 Fragile Fifteen

  1. Standard Knitting Mill – 1400 Washington Avenue
  2. Estabrook Hall – 1012 Estabrook Road
  3. Knoxville College Historic District – 901 Knoxville College Drive
  4. Fort Sanders House & Grocery – 307 18th Street, 1802, 1804, & 1810 Highland Ave
  5. Rule High School – 1901 Vermont Avenue
  6. Sanitary Laundry – 625 N. Broadway
  7. First Friends Church – 2100 Washington Avenue
  8. The Eugenia Williams House – 4848 Lyons View Pike
  9. Burlington Commercial District
  10. Lucky Inn – 4625 Asheville Highway
  11. The Sterchi Mansion/Stratford – 809 Dry Gap Pike
  12. The Paul Howard House – 2921 N. Broadway
  13. The Knaffl-Stephens House – 3738 Speedway Circle
  14. Greyhound Bus Station – 100 E. Magnolia Avenue
  15. French Board River Corridor

Standard Knitting Mill  – 1400 Washington Avenue

This circa 1945 building is the only remaining structure associated with Standard Knitting Mill. Standard was founded in 1900 with 50 employees. By the 1930s Standard was the largest textile and knitting mill in Knoxville, and employed over 4,000 Knoxvillians. Standard eventually produced over one million garments a week and inspired Knoxville’s title as “Underwear Capital of the World.”

The future is uncertain for the remaining building of the Standard Knitting Mill complex. Located in the industrial swath of land between the historic Parkridge and Fourth and Gill Neighborhoods, the original portion of the mill was in place along Washington Avenue by 1903. Later additions almost doubled the size of the complex, but the earliest portion was destroyed in the early 1990s. The current footprint still comes in at over 400,000 square feet and was the home of Delta Apparel until 2007.

The mill is owned by Henry & Wallace, LLC, who have plans to rehabilitate the property. Knox Heritage is providing assistance that will encourage the preservation of its historic character while utilizing available tax incentives. A mixed use development combining office, retail and residential tenants would have a positive impact on the surrounding community. Plus, its redevelopment will add to the city’s tax base, and spur on the renaissance underway in the surrounding historic neighborhoods. Knox Heritage encourages the owners, the City of Knoxville and other stakeholders to make the redevelopment of the structure a top priority since its currently condition is having a negative impact on the surrounding historic neighborhoods and its redevelopment will have a tremendous positive impact on those neighborhoods.

Estabrook Hall – University of Tennessee – 1012 Estabrook Road

Estabrook Hall was built in 1898 and named for Mr. Joseph Estabrook, the fifth president of University of Tennessee from 1834 until 1850. Estabrook led the movement to change the name of the school form East Tennessee College to East Tennessee University in 1840. The building has a strong association with the Engineering program at the school, housing classrooms, offices, and an engineering experiment station in 1921. During the 1930’s, TVA associate and nationally recognized chemical engineer Harry Curtis kept an office here. Estabrook Hall is also the birthplace of the UT School of Architecture, having been the main home for the program before the Art & Architecture building was constructed in 1982. Buckminster Fuller, the renowned 20th century inventor and visionary, was a guest at Estabrook when he was invited to speak to students and faculty members.

Estabrook Hall was used by Summer School of the South from 1902 until its closing in 1918. It and South College are the only UT buildings left from the Summer School, which had a national impact. Starting in 1902, Summer School of the South was a major instrument of regional educational improvements that over the years instructed over 32,000 teachers in the art of education. In 1906, an addition was added to the building, and this marks the first university facility to have state appropriated funds obtained for its construction.

The fate of this venerable University building will soon be sealed as UT decides if it will be incorporated into the development of new academic buildings. University representatives have expressed a willingness to preserve Estabrook if building code and security issues can be addresses in a cost effective manner. UT Knoxville’s new chancellor has the opportunity to put a new emphasis on preserving what is left of the University’s architectural heritage. Knox Heritage stands ready to assist in this process to determine a strategy for incorporating the historic structure into the University’s future.

Knoxville College Historic District – 901 Knoxville College Drive

Knoxville College was founded in 1875 as part of the missionary effort of the United Presbyterian Church of North America to promote religious, moral and educational leadership among freed men and woman. The National Register District is composed of ten buildings, eight of which contribute to the district. Knoxville College has significantly contributed to the educational and spiritual welfare of the African American population in Tennessee since 1875. The campus was the first African American college in East Tennessee and hosted prominent figures such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King, Jr. The buildings at Knoxville College are a tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of the student body. While pursuing their education, students assisted in the design and construction of these historic buildings using bricks they manufactured at the campus. This spirit of involvement continues today, even as the college struggles to continue its mission. The historic buildings, with their fine craftsmanship and sold design, are deserving of support from the entire community and their preservation is a critical part of the rebirth of the college.

The situation at Knoxville College has hit rock bottom with all campus building standing either condemned or suffering from a severe lack of maintenance. Arson fires on campus and the fact that it is now completely vacant have heightened the critical need for immediate intervention. The school is mired in debt and the very survival of the historic campus buildings is in doubt. This gargantuan task will require assistance from the City of Knoxville and other organizations in order to secure the campus in the short term and develop a financially feasible strategy to save the historic buildings that are now deteriorating at a rapid pace. Knox Heritage and its members are committed to assisting in these efforts to preserve its architectural heritage.

Fort Sanders House & Grocery – 307 18th Street, 1802, 1804, & 1810 Highland Ave

These historic structures on the southwest corner of the 1800 block of Highland Avenue comprise one of the few remaining dividing lines between the residential and medical uses in the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood. They all were purchased by Covenant Health in February of 2008. Though the houses have been protected by Neighborhood Conservation (NC-1) Zoning for more than 15 years, they are currently boarded up and deteriorating, thus the future of the historic structures is still uncertain.

307 18th Street – This Commercial Vernacular style building was constructed circa 1923 as the W.T. Roberts Grocery Store, but for many years has been known as the 18th Street IGA. Roberts owned and operated the store from 1923 until 1950, and afterwards it was owned by Fred McMahan, who lived on the second floor of the building. It was a viable and familiar market until the recent era of the hospital’s ownership.

1802 Highland Avenue – This Victorian style house was built circa 1891 for Ranson D. Whittle (1852-1932) who owned and founded the Whittle Truck and Bag Company; the Whittle Springs neighborhood is named for his family. From 1914 until 1950 William T. Roberts, owner of the 18th Street IGA around the corner lived in the house.

1804 Highland Avenue – This Victorian Cottage was built circa 1898 and the first owner was Methodist Reverend Isaac Van Dewater.

1810 Highland Avenue – This Victorian style home was built circa 1895 for Dr. Henry Patton Coile, a prominent surgeon and physician, who lived there from 1895 until 1900. His son Samuel A. Coile, the first pastor at Fort Sanders Presbyterian Church, became the owner of the family home, and left it to become president of Tusculum College in Greeneville. Later, it was the home of Jeremiah Work, dean of Knoxville College and a Presbyterian scholar and author.

Covenant Health has stated its intention to demolish all of the structures in order to “clear the corner” – even though no plans for new construction have been announced. The properties were included in a Neighborhood Conservation (NC1) District as part of the Fort Sanders Forum Plan adopted by City Council and MPC 17 years ago and that is still the official adopted plan for the Fort Sanders Neighborhood. This plan was the result of 18 months of meetings and negotiations that included all neighborhood stakeholders, including Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Knox Heritage calls upon Covenant Health to abide by the commitments it made and work with residents and Knox Heritage to restore these important properties so they can continue to be assets to the community and a transition between the institutional and residential uses in the neighborhood.

Rule High School – 1901 Vermont Avenue

Rule High School was named after Captain William Rule, a former Union Army Captain who went on to become the mayor of Knoxville, as well as publisher and editor of the Knoxville Journal from 1885 until his death in 1928. Rule High School was built in 1926-1927 and opened in the fall of 1927. Its hilltop location still offers stunning views of downtown Knoxville and the mountains. The school closed in 1991 and is currently owned by the Knox County School Board. The school continues to languish in a deteriorated state and the resources for its preservation are lacking.

In the summer of 2015, the school system began looking for a new home as part of a budget compromise with Knox County. Knox County officials are looking to potentially sell the Andrew Johnson Building downtown, where the school system’s headquarters are currently housed. The district has been at that location since 1991. In July 2015, the school system requested letters of interest to gauge possible locations for its administrative and operations offices. The system received five responses, including one from Dominion Development, which wanted to acquire Rule and rehab it for the school system’s needs.

In 2013, the East Tennessee Community Design Center was asked by the school board to identify the building’s best uses and most economically viable purposes. The group found while the school is “detrimental to the well-being of the surrounding community,” the school board should work with city and county officials to revitalize it. The district surplused the school’s stadium, but still owns the rest of the property.

Knox Heritage encourages the Knox County School Board to continue its efforts to identify a new owner who will make the necessary investment to restore the property for a new use. Or, if one cannot be identified, seriously consider the campus as a new headquarters for the Knox County School administration. In the interim, the School Board and Knox County should secure the property and identify ways to stop further deterioration that is increasing the cost of redevelopment every day.

Sanitary Laundry – 625 N. Broadway

The Sanitary Laundry & Dry Cleaning Building was built in 1925. V.L. Nicholson served as engineer and building contractor, using mill work furnished by Knoxville Lumber & Manufacturing Company.

Located in the area now known as Downtown North, this neighborhood was still the northern part of an uninterrupted downtown business district when this brick building was built, and several streetcars per hour squealed past the building on their way toward Fountain City. Nearby Emory Place, named for a beloved minister who was a victim of the 1904 New Market Train Wreck was Knoxville’s first urban public park.

The building has been allowed to deteriorate to a point that it is endangering surrounding structures and detracting from the revitalization efforts underway in Downtown North, which has been designed as a redevelopment area by the City of Knoxville. The City has acquired the property and issued a Request for Proposals for environmental remediation. Knox Heritage encourages the City to reissue the RFP as soon as possible and stands ready it assist a new owner with efforts to transform this important building into a hub of activity in this quickly revitalizing area of town.

First Friends Church – 2100 Washington Avenue

The First Friends Church congregation was founded in 1908 with services being held in a frame structure at the corner of Luttrell and Lovenia streets, in the nearby Fourth & Gill Neighborhood. In 1927, the congregation built this brick church, with the cornerstone of the church being laid on September 16, 1927. An early pastor, Lydia M. Hoath, was reportedly the only woman pastor in Knoxville in 1933. The Quaker congregation remained in the church building until 1978 and the building served two other congregations prior to being sold to the current owner.

The current owner controls a number of vacant and neglected properties in the Parkridge neighborhood. The property was on the Better Building Board Agenda for Demolition by Neglect at the May 2016 meeting. The City of Knoxville boarded the property as it became an attractive nuisance for vagrants. First Friends Church is an example of numerous vacant, neglected properties and vacant lots in the Parkridge neighborhood. The Board of Directors of the Parkridge Community Organization are extremely concerned about the number of vacant, neglected properties and vacant lots and would like to see the structure saved for the community. The building has structural challenges that must be overcome, but its historical significance makes it worthy of further efforts to save it by either the current owner or a new owner committed to preserving it and its prominent place in the neighborhood.

The Eugenia Williams House – 4848 Lyons View Pike

Eugenia Williams was born to Dr. David H. Williams and Ella Cornick Williams in January 1900. Dr. Williams was a prominent physician and one of the original financial backers who introduced Coca-Cola to East Tennessee. In 1940, Eugenia commissioned her childhood friend, John Fanz Staub, to design her new residence. Staub, a native Knoxvillian from one of the city’s prominent families, is best known for designing homes for many of the wealthiest and most influential Texans, with a little over half of his design work located in Houston. He was also the architect for the well-loved Hopecote on the UT-Knoxville campus. Miss. Williams’ Regency-style home sits on 24 acres bordering the Tennessee River and Lyons View Pike and features a three-car garage, with automatic garage-door openers which were a novelty in 1940. In 1998, the house was willed to the University of Tennessee as a memorial to Eugenia’s father. For many years after her death, Miss. Williams’ house was plagued by vandals and a lack of basic maintenance, but its character-defining details remain and the house is still structurally solid.

The Eugenia Williams House remains an embarrassing black eye for the University of Tennessee as it continues to languish with no plan of action revealed to the public. The lack of a viable solution for the future of this high-profile property should give potential donors of property to the UT system pause since the lack of proper stewardship of Ms. Williams’ gift is astounding to say the least. A recent offer to restore the property at no cost to the University stalled for reasons that are unclear. What is clear is that President DiPietro and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees are neglecting their duty to carry our Ms. Williams’ wishes when she gave the gift and they are allowing one of the most important historic buildings in Knoxville to decay without any clear plan for its preservation. We encourage Dr. DiPietro, in the strongest terms, to put forth a plan to restore the Williams House or move forward with transferring the property to another entity that will.

Burlington Commercial District

This early 20th-century “downtown” has deteriorated a great deal in recent decades, both in terms of businesses and buildings, but it still has an appealing, homey, walkable feeling. Originally located at the end of Knoxville’s first streetcar line, it was a place where people stepped off the trolley to go to Chilhowee Park and also to Cal Johnson’s Racetrack, whose oval outline is still evident in nearby Speedway Circle.

The area is ripe for development that will restore its historic buildings while providing needed retail and restaurant options for the surrounding neighborhood. Knox Heritage recently received a grant from the City’s Historic Preservation Fund to complete a National Register District nomination for the area. This will make the buildings eligible preservation tax credits and other incentives for redevelopment. We forward to working with the City of Knoxville, property owners and the community to encourage investment in the heart of the Burlington neighborhood.

Lucky Inn – 4625 Asheville Highway

This 1947 mid-century modern roadside motel was originally the Lucky Inn and by the early 1980s was a Holiday Inn. As road surfaces improved and interest in automotive adventuring grew, the demand for better lodging increased, prompting a building boom along America’s highways and byways. It’s estimated that the number of motels in America tripled from 1940 to 1960, increasing from approximately 20,000 to over 60,000 nationwide. Tourists now found motels with modern design and rooms with comfortable amenities. The term motor court gradually gave way to the more modern sounding “motel” that sprang up across the country to entice travelers in for the night.

After decades of booming business, motels began a slow downward slide in in the mid-1950s with the passing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. This long-range plan called for 40,000 miles of interstate highways to be built across the country. Unfortunately, these new highways often bypassed existing motels or blocked traffic to their location with limited on and off ramp access. With little means to move their facilities or re-route traffic, these motels gave way to corporate chains investing along the new interstates.

The Magnolia Avenue/Asheville Highway corridor was once a bustling thoroughfare for tourism and today is the only commercial corridor in Knoxville to retain most of its original mid-century motel buildings. The Lucky Inn has stood along that route for 70 years and its architectural details are still intact. Other mid-century motels around the country have made encore performances as market rate housing, workforce housing, elderly housing or have even been reborn as motels that play upon tourists’ architectural nostalgia. The Lucky Inn is located in an area seeing new investment as younger professionals take advantage of good values on homes in Holston Hills and the neighborhoods stretching westward toward downtown, which is only 10 minutes away. Knox Heritage seeks to work with a developer who recognizes the classic design of this building and envisions a future with a residential or tourism use.

The Sterchi Mansion/Stratford – 809 Dry Gap Pike

Stratford was built for Knoxville businessman and community leader James G. Sterchi. The Classical Revival house was designed by local architect Richard F. Graf and was constructed in 1910. Sterchi is best known as the cofounder of the furniture wholesaler, Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company. At its height, Sterchi Brothers was the world’s largest furniture store chain with 65 stores across the southeastern United States. In 1946, the company became the first Knoxville-based firm to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Sterchi played a surprising role in the promotion of early popular music. As one of the South’s major suppliers of phonographs, Sterchi was interested in expanding the supply of recorded music on 78. Beginning around 1924, he sponsored some of the earliest known country-music recordings. He was a major sponsor of the Brunswick-Vocalion recordings at the St. James Hotel in 1929-30, recently celebrated with the release of a high-quality box set “The Knoxville Sessions.” That international project by Bear Family Records of Germany actually includes a verbal statement recorded by Sterchi in 1929, outlining the success of his furniture company. The accompanying book, written by early music scholars Ted Olson and Tony Russell, describes Sterchi and the house known as the Stratford, which shared its name with a hotel Sterchi owned on Wall Avenue near Market Square.

The land where Stratford sits today was originally part of a 371-acre farm Sterchi’s grandfather purchased and farmed starting in 1848. In 1900, Sterchi purchased the family farm and other adjoining farms until he had amassed an estate of 1,400 acres. In 1910, he built Stratford, the home he and his wife used until his death in December 1932. Following his death, his widow continued to live in the house until her death in 1973.

The stately mansion is a community landmark and many have been dismayed to see it empty and deteriorating. A lengthy foreclosure battle between the current owners and their mortgage holder has left the property in limbo and its future uncertain. It is currently listed for sale and its fate apparently rests in the hands of new owners. Knox Heritage will assist in marketing the property to new owners dedicated to its preservation.

The Paul Howard House – 2921 N. Broadway

This elegant 1910 Craftsman style house was considered a model when it was designed in 1910 by local architect Charles Hayes. Built in an era when many prominent Knoxvillians lived on Broadway, it has been home to two City Councilmen, a Knox County Trustee, and a Knoxville City Manager – that last post was held by Charlton Karns, a powerful figure in 1920s and ‘30s Knoxville. During the era when Broadway was becoming known as part of the national Dixie Highway, the house served for several years as the Minton Tourist Home. For more than 60 years, it has been owned by the Howards, a prosperous plumbing-supplies family.

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 has received Knox Heritage awards on two occasions for the quality maintenance and care by its previous owners, Mr. and Mrs. Paul E. Howard. This historic North Knoxville icon is now a part of Mr. Howard’s estate, which requires the residence be sold.

This stretch of Broadway in Historic North Knoxville is already cluttered with development that detracts from the historic neighborhoods in the area and the loss of this beloved historic property will be detrimental to efforts to improve the area and surrounding residential property values.

The home was recently saved from destruction that would have made way a big-box retail store, but its fate is still in limbo. Mr. Howard’s heirs have listed the property for sale, but there are no protections in place to save it from being demolished by a new owner. Historic Overlay (H1) zoning would prevent its demolition and that tool has been used to save South High School and Kern’s Bakery with widespread public support. Knox Heritage is working to identify a new owner committed to preserving this beloved part of North Knoxville’s history and future.

The Knaffl-Stephens House – 3738 Speedway Circle

This Victorian was built on Gay Street circa 1880 and was home to art and portrait photographer Joseph Knaffl. He is best known for his 1899 portrait, “Knaffl Madonna,” which has been reprinted thousands of times, and is still used for Hallmark Christmas cards. The Knaffl family lived in the house for more than half a century. The house was originally located at 918 Gay Street until the construction of the Andrew Johnson Hotel in 1926. The Knaffl family moved to a new house and one would assume the house was torn down. However, in 1927, James Stephens, a local steel contractor, moved the house three miles east of downtown to Speedway Circle, the former Cal Johnson racetrack turned residential subdivision. The Stephens’ family lived in the house until the mid-1960s. The Victorian house still retains its original marble façade and its original street number “918” over the front door.

The artist’s home has witnessed incredible changes over more than 130 years and it has escaped destruction once already, but it has never been more imperiled that is now. A foreclosure in 2012 left the house in the hands of LPP Mortgage and it was sold to new owners in 2013. The owners reside in Greeneville and have stripped all of the original woodwork from the interior of the house while allowing it to deteriorate to the point that it has been condemned by the City of Knoxville. Knox Heritage requests that the city move forward with a finding of demolition by neglect and acquire the house for resale through its Homemaker’s Program. This will enable a new owner to retain and restore this important former residence of one of Knoxville’s most well-known artists.

Greyhound Bus Station – 100 E. Magnolia Avenue

The Greyhound Bus Station was built in 1960 and designed by Louisville, KY architect W.A. Arrasmith. Arrasmith is best known for designing over 50 Greyhound bus terminals all across the United States. The station was to be “of the most modern type” and featured air-conditioning, a cafeteria, a barber shop and a beauty shop. The exterior featured extensive blue window walls in bold aluminum framing, red brick walls and extensive interior tiling. The building reflects the modern style that evolved during the 1950s and 1960s.

Last year Greyhound Lines announced they are considering relocating their bus terminal to a new location. That move would make the building available for redevelopment in a blossoming area just north and east of the downtown core. The building is showing its age, but that could be an asset for a new owner. This type of mid-century architecture lends itself to new uses and its former use does not dictate its future. As with The Grey, a new restaurant in Savannah housed in a former Greyhound bus station, Knoxville’s bus station could be reborn to serve the growing residential population in the area and capitalize on the renaissance taking place in downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods.

 French Broad River Corridor   

The French Broad River corridor, because of its relative isolation and lack of urban infrastructure, has retained its historic places, scenery, breathtaking views and vistas and its glimpses of Knox County history during the 18th and early 19th centuries and for centuries before.   Some of its buildings are well-maintained, and still utilized by descendants of the families prominent in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Others are vacant or deteriorating; if they are lost, a large portion of this portrait of early Knox County will also be lost.

The French Broad River was a significant settlement area for prehistoric peoples, and was one of the earliest settlement paths in Knox County after European-related settlement began.   By the mid-1780s, early homes and industries were located on both sides of the river.  The French Broad was the highway for commerce and social interaction, with ferry landings on both of its banks.  Francis Alexander Ramsey settled in this corridor and the stone Ramsey House still stands today. There is evidence to suggest that James White built his first house in the area. In The Annals of Tennessee by Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey, the French Broad Corridor is described as the home of Alexander Campbell; the large Georgian style house he built still stands. On both sides of the French Broad are some of the most intact architectural examples of early Knox County including a mill, churches, homes built using the technique of noggin construction, a cantilevered barn, log homes, and early cemeteries and ferry landings.

The East County Sector Plan approved by Knox County Commission calls for protection of the river corridor’s historic resources through historic overlay zoning and a small area plan. Knox Heritage encourages the Knox County Commission and County Mayor to support the work of the Metropolitan Planning Commission in this area and make it a priority to implement plans to protect this endangered treasure in east Knox County from being destroyed by nearby development.