Thursday, January 16, 2014

A long hiatus; demotivation

I have not written a blog post since August. That is not to say that I haven't started a few and then stopped. When I started this blog, my mission was clear. I wanted to make the people of Knoxville aware of what rich treasures we have lost, in the hope of avoiding further losses. Well, 2013 was perhaps the worst year in decades for historic preservation in Knoxville.  Frankly, I have become a bit demotivated by all that his been destroyed this year.

Aconda Court


Temple Court
Stokely Athletic Center
W.H. Obenour House (The UT Black Cultural Center)
The Magnolia (please excuse the picture quality)
The Mack Truck Dealership on Depot (Industrial Belt and Supply) - lost to fire
The Walnut Street Townhouses
The Walnut Street buildings were a particularly harsh blow to the preservation effort in Knoxville, and to me personally as they were the buildings that prompted me to start this blog. There have been some other demolitions that most folks won't fret over much: the Liberty building, Lucille's, the produce warehouses on Dale Ave. Sadly, there are several more slated for the near future: the 18th Street IGA and it's neighboring Victorian house, the three Victorian houses on White Ave. Perhaps we will see the demolition of Estabrook Hall (the second oldest building on campus), all of the dormitory towers on UT's campus (that should change the skyline), two mansions on Kingston Pike, and others.

There were some successes this year, but the amount of loss was staggering. Here's to a brighter future and to more awareness of our heritage. I hope to begin working on new posts for the near future. Until then...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Changes - Gay Street at Clinch (The 700 Block)

Here we find ourselves standing on the eastern sidewalk of the 600 block of Gay St. looking northwest, through the Clinch Avenue intersection, to the western side of the 500 block. Oh, how much has changed since this shot from the 1920's!

1920's

2013

Let's count the changes -

On Gay Street itself - the street cars are gone, as are the platforms and the traffic tower.

Now, from left to right.
1) The 1875 building and then the Fouche block have both been replaced by the East Tennessee History Center. 

2) Holston National Bank is still there, but it is now the Holston, a condominium development.

3)The next seven storefronts including the Bond Brother's Building (clothing store) which housed 
Hanover Shoes and Wormser Hat Shop; the Fred Breeden Barber shop and Economy Drugs and Tea Room; Hope Gift Shop along with the Hope Bros. clock; O'Neils Cafe; and the Queen Theatre have all been replaced by the Krutch Park extension. 

4) The last two store fronts on the block, Woolworths 5 & 10 and the 4 story Park National Bank were replaced in 1974 by the new 13 story Park Bank Building (now the William F. Conley building). Interstingly, this building was built in two halves. The Woolworths half (southern) was built up to the top floor with the old Park building still standing. When they finished that half, they moved the bank into the new part, tore the old Park building down, and built the second half.

5)The next block shows the Miller's building still standing. It went through a period where it was hidden by sheet glass, but it is restored and back in its former glory. The 1935 art deco addition had not yet been built in the earlier photo.

Other than the street lamps, do you notice any other changes?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

614 W. Church Avenue - The Hotel Arnold - A Twist of Fate

At the corner of Henley Street and the Clinch Avenue viaduct, stands an early 1980's building. It was built during the construction of the World's Fair Park, when the old rail yards were reborn into a global stage. The building was perhaps the most practical of all the structures built for the fair as it soon housed the Knoxville administrative offices for the State of Tennessee. It has served that purpose for over thirty years, however, that is all soon to change.

Tennessee State Office Building

Recently, the local newspaper has announced that the state has agreed to sell the state office building to a local developer/hotelier, who also owns the adjoining Holiday Inn. He intends to turn the state office building into the fanciest hotel in Knoxville. Story Here. Called the Tennessean, it will boast sleekly designed, large, luxurious rooms. The plan is promising, mostly attractive, and offers a sensible path to reuse a large but otherwise unremarkable (to some) building. A building designed to house state offices will be repurposed to become a hotel. Ironically, diagonally across Henley Street the State of Tennessee demolished a hotel in 1964 in order to construct a building to house state offices.

If one were to go to the site today, there is not much to see. Fifty years after the state announced plans to expand its offices next to the Tennessee Supreme Court building, fifty years after it laid a wrecking ball into the side of a once popular landmark downtown, the spot is still a surface parking lot.

614 W. Church Ave. Another surface parking lot.
 Granted, among the surface parking lots downtown, this is one of the nicer ones. The lot seems dedicated to employees of the state or those working at the Duncan Federal Building across the street. It does, however, host many excellent tailgates during football season.

The parking lot at the corner of Church and Locust. The old state office building in the background.


The Tennessee Supreme Court moved to this block in 1954, when the new Supreme Court building was finished. The new building was a striking, sleek, and fully modern design. Adjoining the main court building was a six story brick building that housed state offices. That building served as the main state office building until the 1980's when they moved into the building at the World's Fair Park. The court building served as the home of the Supreme Court in Knoxville for over half a century until the court moved into new digs at the post office across the street. A decade after the court moved into the mid-century modern structure, in 1963, the state announced intentions to build another multi-story building on the block. Almost immediately, the stately building on the corner was torn down. The state never built the office building it claimed that it needed. Ironically, the mid-century modern court building now sits vacant and finds itself on Knox Heritage's Fragile 15 list. As it's architecture has long been out of style, many fear that the short sightedness of the past will prevail and this building too will be lost forever.

The 1954 Tennessee Supreme Court Building. Mid-Century Modern styling with pink Tennessee marble construction.

You may be asking what exactly the state tore down in order to not build a promised building. Let's take a look by returning back to the corner.

The site as it appears today.

---Time Warp---

The same site in postcard glory. The UT Conference Center was Rich's department store at the time. Note the Medical Arts building in the background.
On this site once stood the Hotel Arnold, née Arnold Apartments. The Arnold was built in 1923. It was named for M.D. Arnold, Sr., a prominent Knoxville businessman. He was one of the sixteen businessmen who were often referred to as "Knoxville's merchant princes." Before he moved to Kingston Pike (home still standing), his home was on this site before the Arnold was built   As strange as it may seem, given that many hotels began life as hotels and then became apartments, the Arnold started as apartments and became a hotel. 

The Arnold Apartments, pre-hotel days, just after completion.
 The apartment building was converted into a hotel in 1928, just 5 years after it began life as apartments. 

Hotel Arnold with new sign and awning.

The hotel was five stories tall and boasted 150 rooms, each having a bath and ceiling fan. It was concrete, steel, and brick construction with cast details. The building was arranged in a classic H shape with two large wings joined by a central corridor. The massive gables at the top were purely ornamental. 

Window Ornamentation
Entrance detail
Hotel Arnold Lamppost, you've arrived.

The Arnold wasn't one of Knoxville's fanciest hotels. the Andrew Johnson and the Farragut duked it out for that billing. It was more along the lines of today's 3 star hotels, competing mainly with hotels like the St. James and the Atkin. In 1959 a single room would run $2.00 and up, $3.00 for a double. That would be about 2/3 of the rates at the AJ. The Arnold was a popular choice for those coming in to see the Volunteers play football, probably due to its proximity to campus. It almost always ran large ads in the programs.

The Arnold also was host to a nice grill on the bottom floor.

Arnold Grill
If one were to be shopping for historical postcards of Knoxville, the Arnold would undoubtedly turn up. The management seems to have spent a fortune on postcards.



A unique shot showing the lobby
It looks like a decent place to stay if you wanted to see the General Neyland coaching the Vols.

Alas, the state purchased the hotel and its parcel in the 1950's for $250,000.00. The hotel continued to operate for a few years, but by 1962 it had closed and by 1963 the building was reduced to rubble.

Hotel Arnold from the Knox County Courthouse. It is to the left of St. John's pyramid roof, to the right of the Candy Factory.
Aerial view showing the Arnold
The same shot, Hotel Arnold circled. Note: First Baptist Church upper right, St. John's Episcopal upper left, Masonic lodge lower left.
Looking from the southeast.
Same shot with Hotel Arnold Circled. Note: St. John's Episcopal center right, YMCA and Masonic lodge, top center.
And today...
Hotel Arnold site circled. Note: St. John's Episcopal top center, YMCA and Masonic lodge lower left.

While it may be ironic that a hotel was demolished for a state office building that never materialized and now a state office building is becoming a hotel, it may be even more ironic that this site has been floated several times as a possible new hotel.


The above project was interesting, but it never came to fruition. Nick Cazana is doing excellent things on the other side of Henley Street and his proposal was for the Supreme Court site was exciting. Unfortunately, we will never have another Hotel Arnold.


Photographs used with permission from the McClung Collection, Knox County Library

Friday, February 22, 2013

Holston Hills - Before Golf

Aside from my ardent preservationist beliefs, one of the ways in which I became interested in doing this blog was through a hobby I developed on lunch hours. I like to look through archives of old photos and identify those photos which have been labeled "unidentified." I have found that I have quite a knack for it, identifying nearly 100 photos for the McClung Collection over the years. There has, however, been a series of unidentified photos that have been bothering me for nearly three years. The reason they were so hard to figure out was that they aren't very remarkable on their face. Surprisingly, the inspiration came to me today and I was able to crack them.

In Knoxville, we are very fortunate to have the photograph collection of Jim Thompson. This man photographed just about everything he could lay his eyes upon. He is the source for the grand majority of the photos that one sees in the photo history books of Knoxville. Take a trip down to Steamboat Sandwiches on Market Square sometime and you'll see a huge collection of his photographs. Perhaps the most amazing photographs that he took were from an airplane in the early 1920's. I imagine it was an amazing ride, open cockpit, fabric sides, all of that. From that plane ride, Mr. Thompson capture images of downtown, North Knoxville, factories, and countryside.

The pictures that have been bugging me for several years depicted a sweeping curve of a river somewhere. Between the banks one sees a sliver of an island and several smaller islets. There is a long road with a few houses riding parallel to the river. The scene is reminiscent of Kingston Pike, but the houses don't match those on the pike. The island in the river resembles an island that lies offshore of South Knoxville's Lakemoor Hills neighborhood, but the bends in the river aren't quite right. Other than that, there are fields and trees. That's not a lot to work with. However, one of the river bends has a distinct dip in the middle, just past the island. The river is thin and contains a shoal, not at all like the Tennessee. So on a hunch, I decided to look up river, past the forks.

These are the photos (they've suffered damage over time):


Bendy river, islands, farms, and a road.

A little further down river, the road, houses, the island.

Closer to the other bank.


The same river, but from the other bank. Note that the large field area at the top of this photo is the same as the large field to the left of the next photo up.

Finally, these two photos are the really interesting ones. They focus on the field above. The plane has made a full circle around, so now we are looking back up the river.



I noticed the road in the last photo and the shape of the river bend. In the first photos I noticed the placement of the island, the road next to the river, and I was able to match the some of houses pictured to current aerial shots. It all came together.

So what are we looking at? 

It's Holston Hills Country Club and Neighborhood before there was a golf course or houses. The old farm lent itself nicely to golfing. Holston Hills road is already there but plays host to a barn instead of golf course homes. The road on the other side of the river, it's the old Holston River Rd. (now partially taken by John Sevier Hwy). The shot in the middle "from the other bank" depicts Holston Hills from Asheville Hwy. The road in the foreground is Holston Drive and some of the houses shown are still there. 

I thought this might be a fun little diversion from the normal "what we have lost" series. We will get back to the business of surface parking, interstate highways, urban renewal, and "progress" next time.

Friday, November 30, 2012

333 W. Depot Street (Regas Square) - The Atkin Hotel

Checking the local newspaper today, I found an article focused on plans to build a bullet train from Savannah, GA to Chattanooga. High speed rail is touted as the transportation solution of the future. The rail system in Europe functions as the backbone of transportation on that continent. I understand that it is very important in Asia as well. There was a time when rail was the precursor for development in the United States. A grand majority of towns in the interior US were built with their faces turned toward the shiny rails that brought the big steam locomotives. Knoxville, though founded well before train travel, was much affected by the rise and importance of the railroad. Knoxville, being a larger city, had two major railroad stations, the L&N and the Southern. The L&N, located in what is now the World's Fair park, is now more likely to pop into the minds of modern Knoxvillians when presented the terms "Knoxville" "Train" "Station." However, in the early 20th century, it was the Southern Railroad Station that was doing much of Knoxville's passenger and freight railroad business.

The Southern Railroad Station is located across the tracks, north of Summit Hill on the north end of downtown. It is somewhat cut off from the rest of downtown by the tracks, but the Gay St. viaduct made it very accessible. After it was constructed, a small city of hotels, restaurants, shops, and warehouses sprung up to serve the railroad and its travelers. If one were to get off a train at the Southern in the 1920's, they would find a bustling community, ready to meet almost any need. Today, however, that traveler would find almost nothing. They wouldn't find depressed shops, nor would they find abandoned buildings. They would find open land paved over with asphalt and a backdrop of the I-40 viaduct. In my last post, I showed a picture which depicted a cluster of large buildings in the backdrop. They're all gone. All of them! (small disclaimer, a small portion of one still stands).

If you travel north over the Gay St. viaduct, this is what you will find:

Empty lot on the left. Empty lot on the right.

The site of our subject property.

Several empty lots facing the Southern Depot (note the large tree on Gay Street).

Here once stood the Watauga Hotel, the Central Hotel, the Maxwell House, the Southern Hotel, the Hudson & Essex Car Sales, several cafeterias, and our subject property the Hotel Atkin. Before we begin discussion of the Hotel Atkin, let's begin by looking at the man that was responsible for its existence and for much of what we recognize as Knoxville, C.B. Atkin.

C.B. Atkin

Clay Brown Atkin was born in Knoxville December 27, 1864. His father ran a furniture/mantel store on Gay St., having previously run a sawmill and owned a brickyard among other things. CB left Knoxville to attend Vanderbilt University. When he returned he entered the retail world by way of his father's furniture store. Atkin's store and furniture factory was located on the block now topped by the First Tennessee Plaza Tower, a block that it shared with Staub's Opera House. CB and his brother ultimately purchased the business from their father. That partnership ultimately fell apart, leaving CB to run the C.B. Atkin Company. CB's company became the largest manufacturer of cabinet fireplace mantels in the world. The factory at 812 S. Gay St. burned down in 1893. Mr. Atkin had it rebuilt without ever stopping the manufacture of the mantels. Atkin married Mary Burwell and the two moved to Perez Dickinson's old mansion on Main Ave. (now Main St.), which they remodeled extensively.

The CB Atkin House (located roughly where First Baptist and the Bank of America Building now stand).

The Southern Railroad soon presented an opportunity to Mr. Atkins. The railroad built the Coster Shop along the tracks just south of Sharp's ridge. This shop was sure to provide for many jobs. The workers filling those jobs would need somewhere to live, so Mr. Atkins seized the opportunity to purchase a 132 acre tract of land between Broadway and Central Ave. The land was covered in hardwoods, primarily oaks, which were perfect for the manufacture of mantels. Atkin used the trees for manufacturing at a factory he built there and sold the land as 300 (or so) divided lots with homes. We now know this neighborhood as Oakwood. 

The downtown factory and the new furniture factory in Oakwood supplied furniture to all points in the nation.  Oakwood was not Atkin's final land deal. He and a business associate acquired the Knoxville and Fountain City Land Company in 1905. That deal included the Fountain City Duck Pond, the Hotel, the Park, and the dummy line. It was Atkin that set aside the land that is now known as Fountain City Park. He sold many homes and lots in the area.

Mr. Atkins got into the hotel business in 1907, building the Colonial Hotel on Gay St. The hotel was on the same block as his furniture factory and was the nicest hotel in Knoxville at the time. In 1908, as head of the Auditorium Company, he was responsible for building the then current version of the Bijou Theater. In the early 1920's Atkin purchased the relatively new 10 story skyscraper on the corner of Gay St. and Clinch. He subsequently added to the south and east sides of the building, creating what we now know as the Burwell building (he named it after his wife's family). He was instrumental in the creation of the Tennessee Theater and he also owned the Mercantile and Plaza blocks downtown. In other words, Mr. Atkin was a major force in the formation of modern Knoxville. He died at age 67 in 1931. 



Of Mr. Atkin's properties, the flagship was the Hotel Atkin, built between 1910-1913. The hotel was built on the corner of Gay Street and Depot Street, directly across from the Southern Railway Depot. Occupying that prominent corner, it was literally the gateway to Knoxville. Before construction of the hotel, the corner was home to several shanty-like businesses (saloons, boarding houses, and the like). One such business, ironically, was a boarding house called the Atkin House. Many folks believed that Mr. Atkin was deluded building a hotel on the northern outskirts of town, but he saw the potential for Knoxville to grow northward. 

Site of the Hotel Atkin in 1909

The hotel was constructed with 200 rooms, 135 of which had baths. Reportedly, one could get from the train to a room in five minutes. The hotel opened during the Appalachian Exposition. Several dignitaries stayed there, including Walter Damrosch, Albert Spalding, and President Howard Taft. 

The lobby of the hotel had two entrances, one on Gay Street and one on Depot.  As the hotel was near the train station, it played home to many traveling salesmen. It had rooms that the salesmen could rent to sell their wares. The hotel housed an Economy Drug Store, a barbershop, and a dining room. The dining room, which was remembered by Knoxvillians for many decades after it disappeared, opened onto Depot. The dining room featured a young female violinist. Her name was Bertha Roth and she played a 17th century Maggini violin. Walter Damrosch, a famous New York conductor, heard her play in the dining room. Later he wrote that he had never heard a woman "get such tones from a violin." Ms. Roth went on to found the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Another locally famous figure with employment ties to the Atkin dining room was John J. Duncan, Sr. A young Representative Duncan once worked as a night clerk at the hotel while he attended the University of Tennssee.

The hotel had an "Eco-magneto" clock, full electricity, steam heat, and a sprinkler system. In an article touting the benefits of sprinkler systems, one October 1916 letter written by CB reports that a bed caught fire in the hotel while 200 guests were present. The sprinklers limited damage to $100 and no disturbance was caused. 

Physically the hotel was massive, encompassing half of a city block. It was five stories tall, constructed of deep red brick with light stone embellishments. The roof was hipped at the eaves and composed of Mediterranean style tiles along the perimeter. The corners of the building are often depicted as holding large, flying flags. 


The Hotel Atkin on the corner of Gay and Depot. The main entrances are covered by ornate awnings. This is now a parking lot.

Hotel Atkin with Economy Drugstore on the corner. The recent Regas restaurant was located toward the left of the photo under the Hotel Watauga sign. Note how nice the street looks without the interstate bridges.

The Economy Drug Store sold aristocratic candies!

Dandy folks going about their day at the Hotel Atkin.

The barbers' chairs at the Hotel Atkin.

As the circus came to town, passing in front of Knoxville's grand hotel.

A close-up of the details.

The Gay Street entrance.

 A great shot of the Hotel Atkin, looking north up Gay St. Note how North Knoxville flows into Downtown with the lack of I-40.

Depot Street from further out. Central Hotel on left, Hotel Atkin Center, Southern Hotel on far right. The railroad depot, the small buildings on the far left, and the small buildings on the left side of Gay St. are all that still stand today.

Note the Tennessee River on the right. Railroad tracks bisect the city. Hotel Atkin is left.

Hotel Atkin Circled

Closer

With Labels.

----And Today---

Same tracks, new road, shrunken neighborhood. Just look at all of those parking lots!

The site of the Hotel Atkin across from the Southern Railroad depot.

Showing the sites of the large hotels.

So what happened? Railroad travel all but ceased in the South. That certainly had a lot to do with the demise of the Hotel Atkin. The interstate may have had something to do with it. When the expressway first appeared in Knoxville there was a Gay Street exit. Then there's that always present mantra that there is "no parking downtown." A quick look at the aerial photos above should be enough to dispel that notion. So, what is the verdict?

There are two stories about how the Atkin came down. The first is from an interview with Bill Regas. Regas states that his mother and father got married in the dining room of the Atkin. He then reluctantly goes on to say that "the family demolished the old hotel to build a 177-space parking lot. Although it was painful for the Regas kin to see the old structure collapse, the availability of that much parking kept the restaurant downtown, at its original location." Unfortunately, we now have neither the Regas restaurant nor the Hotel Atkin.

The other story comes from a 1966 newspaper article written just as the building was being demolished. In that article, John Kennedy Craig, president of the Atkin Hotel Company, said that the "old hotel has done well financially but that the site will be more valuable if put to some other use, pointing out that it is close to I-40." Almost 50 years later, the site is still vacant. Perhaps Mr. Craig's prediction was a little off.

Whatever the case, the Atkin came down in June of 1966. It was one of many 1960's demolitions that created the many vacant spaces currently found in downtown Knoxville. If one were to visit St. Augustine, Florida to see the Ponce De Leon hotel, or French Lick Springs, Indiana to see the grand resorts there, one may see a glimpse of what we lost when we lost the Atkin. It was truly a grand old hotel.

Until next time when another lost piece of Knoxville will be found.


Photographs used with permission from the Knox County Library System, McClung Collection.