Fragile & Fading
Knox Heritage Announces 2020 Fragile and Fading List
May is National Preservation Month and the perfect time to celebrate preservation success stories and draw attention to places that remain endangered.
Preservation success stories occur all year long. Last November, Knox Heritage celebrated many of these at our annual preservation awards event held at the Bijou Theater. Projects such as the Campbell Station Inn in Farragut, the General Wilder House on Riverside Drive, and First Presbyterian Church downtown were recognized along with exceptional volunteers and community partners, including former City of Knoxville Mayor Rogero and WBIR for their coverage of abandoned places. The complete list of award winners can be found HERE.
The annual Knox Heritage Fragile and Fading list, traditionally released in May, spotlights significant properties and neighborhoods still in need of preservation strategies. The goal is to strengthen community advocacy and support in order to initiate change before these places are lost forever. Property owners, community leaders, citizens and preservation professionals all play a role in overcoming the challenges these places face.
The Knox Heritage mission is to preserve structures and places of historic or cultural significance for our community. Historic preservation conserves resources, maintains beautiful architecture, sustains the local economy, creates new jobs, grows heritage tourism, stabilizes neighborhoods, and keep our community connected with its shared history. This year we revisit the 2019 list and find forward movement with one, four places that are still very fragile, and three others that are fading fast and need the most urgent responses.
Eugenia Williams House – 4848 Lyons View Pike
In 1940, Eugenia Williams commissioned her childhood friend, John Fanz Staub, to design a new residence on Lyons View Pike. Staub, a native Knoxvillian and University of Tennessee graduate, gained national prominence by designing homes for wealthy and influential Texans. Eugenia Williams’ Regency-style home sits on 24 acres bordering the Tennessee River and still has most of its original design features intact. In 1998, the house was willed to the University of Tennessee as a memorial to Eugenia’s father. However, the property languished for years as plans for how to use it never materialized. In 2019, the University of Tennessee obtained approval to sell the property and the Aslan Foundation placed the winning bid. Funds from the sale will start a University of Tennessee scholarship program named in honor of Eugenia William’s father. Knox Heritage will hold a preservation easement on the house protecting it from demolition and inappropriate changes going forward. It is a great example of several entities working together to overcome a difficult challenge.
Fort Sanders Historic District
Fort Sanders is named for the Civil War-era Union bastion that once stood near the center of the neighborhood and was the site of a key engagement in 1863. During the 1880s, several of Knoxville’s wealthiest residents built notable houses in the area alongside more modest dwellings for plant managers and workers employed in factories along Second Creek. Fort Sanders’ residents included some of Knoxville’s leading industrialists and politicians, as well as professors from the University of Tennessee and the author James Agee. Today, the neighborhood still contains a notable number of its original Victorian-era houses and other buildings which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as the Fort Sanders Historic District.
Fort Sanders suffers from popularity. Its close proximity to downtown Knoxville and The University of Tennessee makes it an ideal location for dense housing developments which are not part of the traditional streetscape. Many homes have been destroyed over the years either for new development or from neglect. The historic neighborhood is bounded to the west by the thriving Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center campus and to the south by a dramatically changing Cumberland Avenue corridor. Increasingly dense development, inappropriate renovations, and teardowns are destroying the character of this charming neighborhood. Parking is a growing challenge as many home renovations emphasize the highest quantity of rentable bedrooms in each property while using public street spaces.
Knox Heritage is currently restoring a home in the Fort Sanders Historic District that was saved from demolition by moving it across the street. Covenant Health, the City of Knoxville, the Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association, and Knox Heritage worked together to save two historic homes in late 2018. Our organization encourages community support for this neighborhood, sensitive development that respects its character, better renovations that adhere to the current design guidelines, and policies that encourage owner-occupied housing to restore balance to the once predominantly single-family residential nature of the neighborhood.
Knaffl-Stephens House – 3738 Speedway Circle
This c. 1880 Victorian home was once located at 918 Gay Street until the construction of the Andrew Johnson Hotel in 1926. It was originally home to art and portrait photographer Joseph Knaffl, best known for his 1899 portrait “Knaffl Madonna” which has been reprinted thousands of times and is still used for Hallmark Christmas cards. 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 house still retains a portion of its original marble façade with the original street number “918” over the front door.
The house has suffered from long-term neglect and the interior was stripped of much of its original character by former owners. The property was placed in the City of Knoxville Homemaker’s Program in 2017, which offered a unique opportunity for someone to restore a former residence of one of Knoxville’s most well-known artists. Hope was renewed for its preservation when it was purchased in July 2019 by experienced preservation-minded developers. Work has yet to begin as details are being finalized.
Park City Historic District
The Park City Historic District, most commonly known as Parkridge, is located east of downtown Knoxville off Magnolia Avenue. The area was once part of a vast farm owned by Moses White, the son of Knoxville founder James White. Originally developed as a streetcar suburb for Knoxville’s professional class in the 1890s, the neighborhood provided housing for many workers at the nearby Standard Knitting Mill. In 1990, over 600 houses were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Park City Historic District. The neighborhood contains one of the largest concentrations of houses designed by George Franklin Barber (1854–1915), a mail-order architect known nationwide for his ornate Victorian house plans. Diverse architecture, walkable streets and its notable history make this district an important part of the city’s development story.
While there is a trend of housing renovation taking place, too often these renovations are not sensitive to the historic character of the structures. In addition to inappropriate alterations, there are many neglected properties and occasional teardowns, particularly of ancillary structures that were once used for housing and contribute to the National Register district.
Knox Heritage would like to see all renovations within the National Register district adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. New infill should be sensitive to the historic character of the neighborhood. Knox Heritage seeks to work with homeowners on good design practices and has launched the H-1 Overlay Grant Fund in partnership with the City of Knoxville’s Preservation Fund to assist low to moderate-income homeowners with making repairs in compliance with design guidelines. More information and guidelines for the H-1 Overlay Grant Fund are available at www.knoxheritage.org.
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 1930’s, Standard was the largest textile and knitting mill in Knoxville, and employed over 4,000 Knoxvillians. At one time, Standard produced over one million garments a week and inspired Knoxville’s title as the “Underwear Capital of the World.” The current building footprint still comes in at over 400,000 square feet and was the home of Delta Apparel until 2007.
After years of an uncertain future for the remaining building of the Standard Knitting Mill complex, City officials and representatives from the new owner, WRS Inc., confirmed in December 2019 that the South Carolina real estate firm has bought the property for conversion into a mixed-use development. WRS Inc. is currently conducting environmental studies in preparation for environmental remediation and is working with Knox Heritage on nominating the complex for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Knoxville College – 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 freedmen and woman. The National Register District is composed of eight contributing buildings. 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. While pursuing their education, students assisted in the design and construction of these historic buildings and used bricks made on campus. The historic buildings, with their fine craftsmanship and solid design, deserve to be restored and used again. Currently, many campus buildings are condemned and suffering from a severe lack of maintenance. Arson fires and the fact that many buildings are completely vacant have heightened the critical need for immediate intervention. In 2019, a renovation to the historic McMillan Chapel was completed with assistance from a Tennessee Historical Commission preservation grant.
Knox Heritage encourages more partnerships to emerge that can work together to save this significant site and for the Knoxville College Board of Trustees to continue applying for grants to assist with stabilization efforts.
Pryor Brown Garage – 314 & 322 W. Church Avenue
The Pryor Brown Garage is an early example of a mixed-use structure featuring parking decks along with several retail spaces along both Market Street and Church Avenue. Its builder was Pryor Brown, a Knoxville businessman who moved to Knoxville and found work in local livery stables. By the 1890s, he was running his own stable on this site along Church Avenue. After a fire in 1916, Brown rebuilt his stable with concrete floors capable of accommodating cars and ran the Pryor Brown Transfer Company. With the popularity of automobiles growing, Brown expanded the garage in 1929 covering the area of his old livery stable. The parking garage is a remarkable story of continuity on one site and is one of the oldest parking garages still standing in the United States.
Knox Heritage encourages the reuse and preservation of this unique historic structure. There is great potential to complement a broader redevelopment of this block of downtown Knoxville with the garage becoming a compelling piece, both historically and architecturally.
Rule High School – 1901 Vermont Avenue
Rule High School was built in 1926-1927 and opened in the fall of 1927. The school was named after Captain William Rule, a former Union Army Captain who went on to become the Mayor of Knoxville as well as the publisher and editor of the Knoxville Journal from 1885 until his death in 1928. Rule High School closed in 1991. Its hilltop location still offers stunning views of downtown Knoxville and the mountains.
The school languishes in a deteriorated state and the resources for its preservation are lacking. In 2016, the building was transferred to Knox County as surplus property from Knox County Schools. Knox County has since been marketing it for potential redevelopment. The most recent request for development proposals closed January 23, 2018 and no responses were received. The county is currently reassessing their options and re-evaluating what to do with the property.
Similar schools have been repurposed into residential uses. 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. In the meantime, every effort should be made to keep the property secured and maintained so its future redevelopment remains a viable option.