Friday, November 14, 2014

308 S. Gay St. - The McGhee Building - The Gaps of Gay Street Part 2

The last installation of Knoxville Lost and Found's "Gaps of Gay Street" series focused on 322 S. Gay St., the "Terminal Building." This time we are heading north, passing the "Century Building," and landing on the next hole in the Gay Street fabric, 308. We're also going to focus on a building that I initially thought was gone, but later discovered is still there hiding in plain sight. We'll get to that later. This story starts out with a trip back to gilded age Knoxville and one of its most illustrious citizens Charles McClung McGhee.

Charles McClung McGhee

I could not even begin to delve into the person that was C.M. McGhee. His influence in this region was vast and still affects us to this day. If you would like to know as much as possible about Mr. McGhee, William MacArthur wrote the definitive dissertation and you can find it here. The short version is that Mr. McGhee made a lot of money starting in the railroad business and becoming a financier and smart investor. He had deep ties to the Knoxville area (his great-grandfather was James White), so he had keen interests in the civic pride of the city. McGhee was responsible for the siting of most of Knoxville's railroad tracks. McGhee often formed partnerships with another of Knoxville's most illustrious industrialists, E.J. Sanford. Together they founded the Knoxville Woolen Mills, the Lenoir City Company, and acquired the Coal Creek Mining Company.

Mr. McGhee lived here,

The C.M. McGhee mansion at 505 Locust St. Photo thanks to Knoxville Urban Guy @

Which now looks like this,

The Masonic Temple at 505 Locust Street. The McGhee house is still inside of that box.  Photo thanks to Knoxville Urban Guy @

Today, C.M. McGhee is probably best remembered for his greatest gift to the city, the Lawson McGhee Library, which is named for his daughter May Lawson McGhee who died at an early age. His grandson, McGhee Tyson is the person for whom our airport is named. His was a very prodigious legacy.

Mr. McGhee began his career in Knoxville operating a meat packing plant on Gay Street. It is not entirely clear if this plant occupied the same plot that is now known as 310 S. Gay St. We do know, however, that McGhee invested in many land development projects, so that may be how this particular parcel became part of his estate. In any case, McGhee owned a row of two-story buildings on the spot as early as 1870. They were collectively called the McGhee Block. Collectively they housed a wholesale liquor store, a grange, a tailor, a produce store, a rag supply and a drug store.

The building preceding the McGhee was not a victim of the "Great Fire of 1897". Rather, it burned in another fire in 1902, which the Century building again survived. It appears that C.M. McGhee commissioned the building of a larger wholesale house on the site of the smaller building.
308 S. Gay Street, before 1897, at extreme left (two story building). The Century Building (still standing in 2014) is to the left with the two ornamental gables.
 In 1903, C.M. McGhee would replace the small, burned, two story edifice with a five story, two bay building on par with the newly rebuild heart of commerce in Knoxville.

The McGhee Building just after construction in 1903.

The McGhee Building 1930's
It was of semi-mill construction with thick, brick exterior walls. The first floor was marked by two, large doorways capped with scroll work that was repeated above the third floor and on the cornice.

Scroll work and lions
Proudly displaying the name McGhee
One of the ornamental doorways

The McGhee building does not seem to have ever housed a business by the name of McGhee. It was originally occupied by the Broyles, McClellan, and Lackey Company, which sold farm equipment and seed. For a brief time it housed the Shield and Gillespie Clothing Company. Later it housed various furniture concerns including the King Mantel Company, Sterchi & Haun company (which would become Sterchi Bros.), and then Haun Furniture. In it's last years, Walker's store occupied the address 306 (the northern half of the building), while Bill Vasey (Vasey's) Furniture Store occupied the southern half.

A fanciful 1908 rendering by the Shield Brand Clothing Co. showing their marquis on top. The building never looked like this. Shield got its own building later, on the 100 block.

A very early photo of the block. The McGhee is to the left with the square shaped protrusion. The dark building with the stripes is the Century Building. 
King Mantel and Furniture Company in the McGhee Building. Late 1920's/early 1930's.
Sterchi and Haun at the McGhee.
Sterchi and Haun storefront (note the ornate door frame)
1930's The McGhee divided into two fronts (by paint) housing Walker's in the norther half.
Close up on Walker's, the southern side looks vacant. Sterchi may have moved down the street at this point.
1950s Walkers is still there and the southern half is now called Haun and Company Furniture
Looking south down Gay St. early 1960's. The McGhee is identified by the "Furniture" sign at the right. This time it is Bill Vasey Furniture.

As most of my entries go, the McGhee building was eventually torn down. I have been unable to locate the specific date but it was between 1968 and March 22, 1969. We know this because the March 22, 1969 edition of the Knoxville Journal proclaimed the following.:
"A city building permit was obtained Friday on behalf of the estate of C.M. McGhee to construct a two level parking lot at the 308 S. Gay St. site formerly occupied by Vasey Furniture Company. The lot, estimated to cost $47,000.00 will have basement parking and street level parking space and a small office. David B. Lieberman is architect and Brownlee-Kesterson Construction Company is the contractor, according to the permit which also stated that the parking had been approved Friday by the city traffic engineer's office." Interestingly, the parcel was still part of the McGhee estate in 1969. As late as 1985, it was owned by a group called McGhee Properties, when it was sold to Rowland and Rowland P.C.

I had always assumed that the hole in Gay Street at this location was merely a surface parking lot, but it is in fact a two story parking structure. Here is how it looks today.

The hole that used to be 306 and 308 S. Gay Street. Note that the parking lot is at grade.
That gap next to the Century Building used to be the McGhee Building. You can still see the scars that were its floors.
The only thing that remains of the McGhee Building, the rear foundation wall that makes the back wall of the basement garage structure.

Another shot from Fire Street Alley looking toward the Century Building. There are cars inside of that wall.
One thing I discovered when researching this building is that there was once a bridge from the northern half to the building across Fire Street Alley. The scars of that bridge are still there today.

The scars of a former flyover bridge from the McGhee, about two floors up.
And now for the traditional aerial shots showing the missing McGhee Building.

Gay Street, unbroken and containing the McGhee Building
Here it is circled.
From a different vantage, looking east, southeast.
The McGhee Building circled
And how it looks now...

Holes on either side of the Century Building. The one to the left once housed the McGhee.
This hole has been vacant since 1969!

The Century Building casts a shadow where the McGhee Building once stood.
There you have it, the second big gap on Gay St. Now for the bonus round. As I mentioned before, I thought that there was a second building here that had disappeared. Well, it's still there but it looks nothing like it did when it was built. The earliest photos that I can find show it being the Federal Clothing building, but most Knoxvillians will remember it as Max Friedman Jewelers. Let's take a look.

Federal Clothing Stores, McGhee to the right.
I've cropped the McGhee building out of the above photo so that we can focus on the Federal Clothing/Friedman's building.

A detail of the elaborate window openings and cornice.
In the 1930's, the building housed Bill's Auto parts, a business which seems to have moved all over the city during its long history.

Bill's Auto Supply occupying 304 S. Gay St.
A detail shot of the Bill's storefront.
The principal reason for my confusion regarding this building is that it looks nothing like it did back in the 1930's. Sometime in between the 30's and the late 40's, the building suffered major fire damage which cost it its top floor. Then, in the push to modernize Gay street to compete with suburban shopping centers, a metal face was added with a clock that would become iconic in downtown Knoxville.

How 304 S. Gay St. would look from the 1940's until the 1990's.
304 was the home of Max Friedman's Jeweler.Mr. Friedman's store was an anchor and gateway to what was then Knoxville's Jewish community that centered around Vine Avenue from the 200 block of Gay Street all the way on Vine to the old Temple Beth-El. Mr. Friedman, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, was a highly regarded political figure and one of Knoxville's most powerful Jewish citizens. It is said that he bore a striking resemblance to Harry Truman. An old family tale credits him with giving FDR the idea to call his political package the "New Deal." He also served two decades on city council.One can learn all about Mr. Friedman and the Jewish community of Knoxville in the book A Separate Circle: Jewish Life in Knoxville by Wendy Lowe Besmann.

His shop sat vacant for decades after Mr. Friedman retired. In the 1990's, the metal skin on the front of the building was removed and the building had a brick front that reflected all that had been done after the 1940's fire. The building was owned by Cormac McCarthy's brother Dennis for a short time in the late 90's.

In the above photo, you can see that by 2007, almost nothing remained of the original facade. The building was purchased by Everettt Properties, LLC who commissioned Sanders Pace Architecture to revamp the street face of the old building. It now looks like this.

The Federal Clothing/Max Friedman Building today.
During the 2007 renovations to the building, the Crimson building next door caught fire and was completely gutted. 304 survived to be completed. Sanders Pace received numerous awards for their design. You can read all about the redesign process here.

It isn't until you look at the rear of the building that you realize that it is over 100 years old.

Max Friedman's from Fire Street Alley
So, Federal Clothing / Max Friedman's Jewelers is still there today, housing Buzz Naber's Dentistry and looking completely modern and sophisticated. The McGhee Building is but a distant memory. Perhaps the owners will someday decide to fill in this gap in Gay Street.

Until next time...

Monday, September 29, 2014

322 S. Gay St. - The Terminal Building - The Gaps of Gay Street Part 1

If you have lived in Knoxville for any length of time, or if you've just eaten at the Downtown Grill and Brewery, then you have without a doubt heard of the "Million Dollar Fire of 1897." That fire destroyed much of the east side of the 300 and 400 blocks of Gay Street. Firefighters came from as far away as Chattanooga to battle the blaze, which threatened to burn down the entire city. With the ruins smoldering, city leaders declared it the greatest loss the city had ever suffered. However, times were optimistic and the business community vowed the next day to rebuild the structures better than before. Most of them were rebuilt, bigger and better, within five years.

Fighting the fire of 1897. To the right, the Cowan McClung & Co. (now H.T. Hackney and The Market).

Almost everything decimated. (Century Building at left, still standing)
From the ashes of the fire, rose many of the iconic structures we see today on the 300 and 400 blocks. Identifying them by their current businesses, the buildings that hold Sapphire, Downtown Grill and Brewery, the Art Market, the Phoenix (Clayton Bank), and Mast General Store were all built as replacements to the structures that burned in 1897. Walking that block however, one cannot help but notice the large hole that follows Mast General Store. The question of how that hole developed will lead us to another fire, but first, let's take it from 1897.

Perhaps the biggest loss of the fire of 1897 was that of the Daniel Briscoe Company, losing over $300,000 of stock. The company's namesake, Daniel Briscoe, was a former confederate solider who had come to Knoxville by way of Morristown. He was a classic "jobber," operating in the wholesale buisness.

Daniel Briscoe

His company operated its headquarters at 322 S. Gay Street, rebuilding after the fire of 1897 and again after the fire of 1904. Mr. Briscoe retired in 1909 and his company reorganized, moving to a new Jackson Avenue location. 

The Briscoe Building

Enter 1930, the Briscoe building underwent a huge reconstruction or re-purposing. The Briscoe building was hollowed out on the bottom floor, with the middle-south bay forming an arcade. This served as a pass-through to the building's namesake purpose, a terminal for the Union Bus Company.

The Terminal Building under construction in 1930.
Manley & Young, Architects - Weaver and McGill, Contractors

 The Terminal building was an imposing structure visible along Gay Street and forming the terminus to Wall Ave. If one were leaving Market Square, The Terminal would fill their view.

The completed Terminal Building

 The Terminal Building was an Art Deco design. It was a brick shell construction, utilizing walls from the earlier Briscoe building, with a stone facade. Perhaps the most striking feature was the lattice work which decorated the window arches and arcade entry.

Decorative Lattice

Finished in 1931, the building standing on Gay Street served as a pass-through to a bridge over Fire Alley. That bridge led to another building which served as the waiting rooms and staging areas for the Union Bus Company, which later became part of the Greyhound Bus lines.

An advertisement from a UT Volunteers football program, 1944.

Standing on State Street looking west towards Gay, buses waiting to depart the Union Terminal.

Buses departing for Bristol and Chattanooga. There were lines to Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., and most other large cities.

The waiting room of the Union Bus Terminal
 Intercity bus traffic eventually moved slightly north of downtown after the consolidation of bus lines into the the huge Greyhound Company. Greyhound built their new "modern" terminal at the corner of Central and Magnolia on U.S. Highway 11. With rail traffic in sever decline, this became the new gateway to Knoxville.

The Greyhound Bus Terminal circa 1960 (still operating).

The Terminal Building served a much larger purpose than just the entry to a bus station. It was also home to Knoxville's first, full-sized Sears Department Store. Sears came to Knoxville in 1928 and located at 520-522 Western Avenue. That was a small, farm and hardware only store. Sears realized that Knoxville would be an ideal market, so the moved to the much larger location at 322 S. Gay Street in 1931.

The Terminal Building with Sears announcing its coming store.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. "The Thrift Store of a Nation"

Sears, Roebuck & Co. after opening.
Just look at those tools! Do you think Craftsman guarantees that plow and collar?
Sears operated in the building until at least 1947, opening a new "suburban" store on Central Avenue in 1948. That would become their main store. The other original anchor of the Terminal Building, operating in the south bay, was Cole's Drug Store.

Cole Drugs and Soda Fountain
The Cole Drug Co. was started in Knoxville by Robert H. Cole and eventually became a regional chain. The company once operated a store in the Kern's building on Market Square. The Cole Drug chain was still in existence in the 1970's.

Cole's, prior to the hanging sign. (note the Knox Dry Goods Co, later Knox Department Store, next door)
The Terminal Building was a perfect example of a multipurpose structure, serving commercial needs and as a transportation hub. So what became of the building and why does Knoxville now have this large gap in the most cherished block of its most cherished street?

Here we see the Terminal Building in the 1950's still operating much as it did in the 30's. The bus station is still in place as is Cole's.

Of course, these illustrated images tend to paint things a bit rosier than they actually were. The following are from the Tennessee Archive or Moving Images and Sound's film of the 1947 Last Streetcar in Knoxville.

We can see from the film that both Sears and Cole's were still in place in 1947, as was the bus terminal. The scenery looks a little more dingy than in the postcard view above. It is also notable that the JCPenney's building is already covered in its shiny modern skin that would remain until the late 2000's.

From the 1960's. Terminal on the left.

Below is perhaps one of the last photos of the Terminal Building while it was still standing. It was taken in the late 1960's/early 1970's.

Photo taken by M Jacquelyn Patterson (from left to right the Century Building (Credit Plan), the Sterling-Cruze building (Jones Music), Hall-Browns, The Terminal Building, Knox Department store, JCPenney's, Fowler's).
Here we can see that during the 60's the businesses have changed. The Terminal Building (right) houses the Dollar General Store and a Revco pharmacy. Long gone are the buses. You can see the awnings that formed the 1960's urban renewal project, the "Gay Way." Downtown is beginning to look a little down and out in this photo, but not nearly as down as what was to come...the end of the Terminal Building.

We began by discussing the Million Dollar Fire of 1897, but almost nobody today discusses the 3 Million Dollar Fire of 1974! In the early morning, Sunday, July 22, 1974, smoke was noticed coming from the rear of the Revco Drug portion of the Terminal Building. The fire department was on the scene some two minutes later. Firemen entered the building from the front and from below the Promenade, at the rear. The fire chief, Bill Potter, noticed that the first floor was about to collapse, so he ordered his men out with seconds to spare. The floor fell and the fire "mushroomed" out the front and rear of the building. Two firefighters were thrown and injured. The flames traveled upward until they were sailing high into the dark sky.

When the fire was extinguished, the Terminal Building was a burned out shell. Its neighbors, The Knox to the south and Hall-Brown to the north, were severely damaged by smoke and water. A second floor wall in The Knox (Mast General) caved in. The remains of the Terminal Building were ordered demolished that day. Interestingly, the property was still owned by the Daniel Briscoe Estate at the time.

Flames leaping from the roof of the Terminal Building

Firefighters battling the blaze.
From the rear, note the angular columns of the promenade.
In the daylight.
The rear, daylight.
The burned out interior of the Terminal Building.

The fire of 1974 was reported to have cost $3.5 Million in damages.

Lables to put the fire in perspective.
The next day brought the demolition of the Terminal Building and it's neighbor, Hall-Brown, too damaged to remain. Somehow, the damaged Knox lived on and now houses Mast General Store.

The Century Building remained, having survived this fire and the fires of 1904 and 1897. The Century Building and Taylor Lofts both date to the 1880's and are the oldest on the block.

The following is a photo of the rear of the block when it was remade into "The Promenade" in the 1950's.

And now for some customary before and after shots:

From the southwest

Standing in the hole that used to be The Terminal:

The remains of a wall:

Something that many who frequent "The Promenade" may never have noticed is that it used to be 5 arches longer before the fire. The parking area behind "The Promenade" mysteriously extends well beyond the current structure.

Where "The Promenade" abruptly ends

Note how the concrete rail is roughly sawed off. It used to extend 5 more spans.

Finally, a note on Hall-Brown, also destroyed by the fire. Hall-Brown, formerly Hall's, was an upscale men's and women's clothing store. It was one of Knoxville's oldest clothing retailers.

Hall's "On the Square" on Gay Street.

Hall's to the right, Century to the left.
Note that this little "jog" in the Gay Street sidewalk still exists.

 What Caused the Fire???

As it turns out, the 1974 fire on Gay Street was not a freak accident. The next day the police had a suspect, Jerry Wayne Penley, a 19 year old, former city employee.. The police picked him up on tips that he had been setting fires, though much smaller ones. He was referred to in the papers as a pyromaniac. He pleaded guilty to the charges a few weeks later and was sentenced to 5-10 years in prison.

So, the story turns out to be one of the intentional destruction of the beautiful spaces of Knoxville. This time it was at the hands of an arsonist, but when you look at what was lost is it really much different when the destruction comes at the hands of a demolition crew? In the end, another surface parking lot prevailed.

There will be more "Gaps of Gay Street" to come...stay tuned.

****Update 9-30-2014**** I found this photo showing what it would have been like leaving Market Square in the 1930's