2007 Most Endangered Historic Places
“The Fragile Fifteen”

Every year during National Preservation Month, Knox Heritage announces The Fragile Fifteen, its list of the most endangered historic buildings places in order to educate the public and local leaders about the plight of significant historic resources.

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 for 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.

1. The McClung Warehouses – 501- 525 W. Jackson Avenue
2. French Broad River Corridor
3. University of Tennessee Conference Center (Formerly Rich’s Department Store) – 600 Henley Street
4. Vacant Historic Knox County School Buildings: South High, Brownlow and Oakwood
5. 26 Market Square
6. Walker-Sherrill House - 9320 Kingston Pike
7. Fort Higley
8. Knoxville College National Register Historic District – 901 College Street
9. Minvilla (5th Avenue Motel) – 447 N. Broadway
10. The Cal Johnson Building – 301 State Street
11. Colonel John Williams House – 2333 Dandridge Avenue
12. Williams Richards House - 2225 Riverside Drive
13. The Glencoe Building (615 State Street) & The Elliott Hotel (201 W. Church Street)
14. J. C. Penney Building - 412 S. Gay Street
15. Edelmar – 3624 Topside Road

 

1. The McClung Warehouses – 501- 525 W. Jackson Avenue
McClung WarehousesThree buildings remain from the February inferno that destroyed half of the McClung Warehouse complex on Jackson Avenue. The buildings at 501-509 West Jackson Avenue were destroyed in the blaze. The fire illustrated the worst case scenario for vacant and blighted historic buildings. We lost three buildings significant to understanding Knoxville’s important late 19th century role as a wholesale center. We lost the opportunity to redevelop the buildings into loft and retail space, thus improving the tax base for all Knox County residents. We very nearly lost other historic buildings as the result of embers raining down upon buildings across downtown Knoxville. This must be the last “great downtown fire” of this generation and only decisive action by property owners and local leaders can do that.

A structural analysis of the remaining buildings conducted at the request of the City of Knoxville has revealed they are sound and suitable for redevelopment. We call upon KCDC and the City of Knoxville to facilitate securing a viable developer for the remaining buildings immediately. We also request that the city secure the buildings so they will not suffer the same fate as their neighbors.

These highly visible buildings on Jackson Avenue were originally built as wholesale warehouses and are a reminder of the era when Knoxville was one of the leading wholesale centers in the Southeast. They have been the subject of numerous redevelopment announcements by the current owner, but have never been restored or maintained properly. They are one of the most visible downtown landmarks to the thousands of motorists who pass along I-40 every day. Their restoration would have a major positive impact on the public’s impression of downtown. The Jackson Avenue area is currently the focus of a city redevelopment plan.

The buildings at 517-521 were built in 1911, and 525 was added in 1927. The buildings were originally built as wholesale warehouses for the C.M. McClung & Company. C.M. McClung & Company was a wholesale and hardware supply company. They sold everything: stoves, cutlery, sporting goods, supplies for mills, mining, lumbering, railroad, and contractors, a full line of plumbing supplies including: bath tubs, lavatories and closets. In the 1919 Knoxville City Directory McClung & Company advertised that within all of their warehouses they had a total of 3 ½ acres of floor space, and in the 1928 Knoxville City Directory McClung & Company was advertising 4 ½ acres of floor space. [Back to Index]

2. French Broad River Corridor
French Broad CorridorThe French Broad River was one of the earliest settlement paths in Knox County. By the mid 1780’s, early homes and industries were located on both sides of the river. It was the settlers’ highway; ferries crossed it linking communities 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 this 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 some of the best architectural examples of early Knox County - pre-historic settlements, a mill, churches and early cemeteries and ferry landings - tell the story of a river that acted as a highway for commerce and social interaction. The French Broad River corridor, because of its relative isolation and lack of urban infrastructure, retained its historic places, bucolic scenery, breathtaking views and vistas and it is a portrait of Knox County in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Knox County Commission’s recent approval of rezonings that allow industrial and commercial development at the Midway Road interchange with I-40, combined with increasing development pressure from Sevier County, threaten the survival of one of Knox County’s signature places. We call on Knox County government leaders to act with haste to develop innovative measures that protect this endangered treasure in east Knox County. [Back to Index]

3. University of Tennessee Conference Center (formerly Rich’s Department Store) – 600 Henley Street
UT Conference CenterThis Mid-Century Modern commercial building with structural glazed tile, polychrome glazed brick, glass enclosed corner towers and undulating concrete canopies, has seen many uses, but its signature elements remain intact. The beauty of the building is contained in its proportions and the interaction of its architectural elements. The circa 1954 building received a design award from the America Institute of Architects when it was originally unveiled. The color scheme was modern at the time of its construction and ties the building firmly to the era of its creation. The display windows that line the surrounding walkways highlight the pedestrian-oriented nature of the building, a characteristic which is still highly desirable today.

The character defining features of the building seem jarring when compared to the subtleties of earlier architectural periods, but they reflect the cutting edge architectural thinking of the mid 20th century and are the very features that are increasingly valued by preservationists across the country. The University of Tennessee occupies the building and has invested heavily in the interior rehabilitation. We are concerned that the same level of investment will not extend to the distinctive exterior of the building and that its character defining features may disappear due to a lack of maintenance or future unsympathetic renovation. We call upon the University to improve maintenance of the exterior and insure any future construction preserve the architectural details of the building. [Back to Index]

4. Vacant Historic Knox County School Buildings: South High, Brownlow and Oakwood
South High SchoolSouth High School – 801 Tipton Avenue
South High was designed by noted local architect Charles Barber and was built in 1935-1936 as South Knoxville Junior High School. The school opened in 1937. Barber was the primary architect of 14 schools in Knoxville and Knox County prior to 1940. It served as a junior high school and a high school until the last graduating class in 1976.

Preservationists and residents of South Knoxville began their efforts to save historic South High in 2002. Over the next three years, they worked with the Knox County School Board on a plan to preserve and reuse the building. The School Board voted to transfer the property to Knox County in 2004 so a request for proposals could be issued for redevelopment. In 2005, a local developer’s $3 million plan to restore the building for residential use was rejected by the Knox County Commission.

Since that time, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Ragsdale, Knox County has maintained the building and issued a new request for proposals. Renaissance Property Group has responded and is proposing to spend more than $5 million converting the school to offices for design professionals. We urge the administration of the Knox County School System to work with Knox Heritage and the developer to overcome the last major hurdle blocking the preservation and redevelopment of this local icon – parking. This is probably the last chance for this wonderfully designed and solidly built school. Knox Heritage calls upon South High alumni and citizens throughout the community to express their support for preserving the building by contacting their Knox County School Board representatives and interim Superintendent Roy Mullins. [Back to Index]

Brownlow SchoolBrownlow Elementary School – 1305 Luttrell Street
Brownlow Elementary School was built in 1913 and enlarged in 1926. The school was named for Colonel John Bell Brownlow, who was one of the developers of the neighborhoods surrounding the school. The Neo-classical style building was one of the first model elementary schools built in Knox County. Several years after the school closed Knox County made the school available for redevelopment through a request for proposals, but the chosen developer was unable to complete restoration in a timely manner. The property’s new owner has yet to follow through with announced plans for redevelopment. The building stills stands vacant and blighted. Residents of the surrounding historic neighborhoods are more concerned than ever about the fate of the building in light of the McClung Warehouse fire. Knox Heritage calls upon the current owner to proceed with construction immediately and insure the building is secured against trespassing by vagrants and vandals. [Back to Index]

Oakwood Elementary SchoolOakwood Elementary School - 232 E. Churchwell Avenue
This Oakwood neighborhood icon is currently owned by the Knox County School System and is used for storage. The later addition is occupied by the Teacher Supply Depot. The Knox County School System has moved most of its activities out the building and has discussed plans to sell it for private development. Due to the rapid deterioration of the building, Knox Heritage calls upon the School Board to act immediately to either make necessary repairs to the historic portion of the building or put the building out to bid for private development. Time is rapidly running out for Oakwood School due to the school system’s neglect and the resulting water damage occurring in the building. [Back to Index]

5. 26 Market Square
26 Market SquareThe A.L. Young Dry Goods Store occupied this building from 1880 until 1900. Dry goods merchants such as the McBee Trading Company and J.H. Webb continued to occupy the building until 1950. After that time the building housed several businesses, including a ladies clothes shop, a beauty shop, a record store and Mavis Shoes.

Market Square has experienced an incredible renaissance in recent years and what was once an empty, abandoned city center has been transformed with specialty shopping, restaurants, residential units, offices and a seemingly endless parade of public events. The building at 26 Market Square stands out as a glaring exception to the rule.

This significant building remains undeveloped and in a dangerous state of disrepair and deterioration. It is endangering the businesses and residences around it and a fire could potentially devastate all of Market Square. We call upon the owners and KCDC to act immediately in accordance with the Market Square Redevelopment Plan to repair and redevelop the building so it can once again contribute to the future of downtown Knoxville. [Back to Index]

6. Walker-Sherrill House - 9320 Kingston Pike
Walker-Sherrill HouseThe Walker-Sherrill House and the 104-acre-tract it is situated upon is owned by the heirs to the estate of Max Sherrill. The two-story house was built around 1830 of handmade brick in the Federal style with Georgian Revival influences. It is one of only two remaining houses in Knox County that contains a distinctive and elaborate, hand-carved woodwork created by one unknown master craftsman. The distinctiveness of the house has been recognized by its inclusion on Knox County’s list of National Register eligible buildings since the completion of the Historic Sites Survey in 1984.

The house is endangered by neglect and threatened by commercial development. It is located near the tract’s western property line along Kingston Pike; sub-dividing the acreage to create a separate parcel for the house will allow commercial or residential use of the undeveloped land while maintaining the historic house and its setting. We call upon the heirs of Max Sherrill to agree upon a course of action that preserves this irreplaceable architectural treasure. We call upon Knoxville government leaders to proceed immediately to adopt historic overlay zoning for the house and a small surrounding parcel of land. This will protect the house and define for any potential developers the historic significance and character of the location. [Back to Index]

7. Fort Higley
Fort HigleyIn many communities where Civil War Battles were fought, the land where competing forces struggled has been lost to redevelopment. Civil War battles often were not dependent on forts built with permanent construction, and this is especially true of Fort Higley, where temporary earthen trenches are the only visible reminders of the fort. From the earthworks on this South Knoxville hill, Civil War soldiers commanded the Holston River and helped protect the southern and western approaches to Knoxville. The potential of these places to teach important lessons to future generations and increase heritage tourism in our area is being lost. Fort Higley and the 105 acres of land around it are now listed for sale for $3.8 million. Its future is as uncertain as ever.

Knox Heritage calls upon the owners of the property to formulate a plan that preserves this irreplaceable example of Knoxville’s Civil War history. We call upon Knoxville government leaders to proceed immediately to adopt historic overlay zoning for the entire site with the understanding that archeological exploration could reduce its boundaries to a smaller size that allows development on portions of the site that are not of similar importance. [Back to Index]

8. Knoxville College National Register Historic District – 901 College Street
Knoxville CollegeKnoxville 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 women. The National Register District is composed of 10 buildings, eight of which are contributing, and two which are non-contributing. Knoxville College has significantly contributed to the educational and spiritual welfare of the African American population in Tennessee since 1875, particularly in the fields of industrial and normal education.

The buildings at Knoxville College are a tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of the student body. While pursuing their education, students designed and constructed these historic buildings using bricks they manufactured at the campus. This spirit of involvement continues today, even as Knoxville College struggles to continue its mission. The historic buildings, with their fine craftsmanship and solid design, are deserving of support from the entire community and their preservation is a critical part of the rebirth of the college. Knox Heritage and its members stand ready to assist the college in its efforts to preserve its architectural heritage and encourage Knox County residents to support the college’s efforts.
[Back to Index]

9. Minvilla – 447 N. Broadway
MinvillaKnox Heritage commends the City of Knoxville and Volunteer Ministry Center for their commitment to preserve Minvilla for residential use. By using a combination of federal funding and Historic Preservation Tax Credits, they have committed to using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation as they return the row houses to their original design. A restored Minvilla can join with the historic churches and buildings along Broadway and in Emory Place to link downtown’s renaissance to the historic neighborhoods and commercial areas to the north. Knox Heritage looks forward to seeing VMC’s current efforts come to fruition and encourages the community to do so as well.

The building was built as 13 row houses, with a cluster of three facing North Broadway and a cluster of ten units facing West Fifth Avenue. The development was named Minvilla, and built by H. Clay Bondurant. It was designed by Baumann Brothers, Architects and constructed by Brimer England Brothers Contractors.

In 1913, when Minvilla was built, Knoxville’s residents were continuing a 20- to 30-year process of moving away from downtown Knoxville, where the first residences had been. The development was on the streetcar line that led from downtown Knoxville to Fountain City and was surrounded by residential structures. The two-story brick row houses, with their elegantly shaped front bays and large windows overlooking the busy street, must have seemed like very sophisticated housing. They were located in an area with other residential development, near the churches and shopping that lined this section of North Broadway. As development continued to spread away from the central city, these buildings were converted to office uses. By the 1960s, a concrete block, one story façade was installed and the buildings were renamed the Fifth Avenue Motel.
[Back to Index]

10. The Cal Johnson Building – 301 State Street
Cal Johnson BuildingThis State Street building (circa 1898) was built in the Vernacular Commercial style and was originally used as a factory for sewing overalls. It was constructed by Knoxville’s first African American millionaire and is most likely the largest commercial structure remaining in Knoxville built by a former slave. Cal Johnson also served as a city alderman during his extensive career, which included the operation of several area saloons and one of Knoxville’s most popular and durable horse racing tracks at Speedway Circle. It could be a featured site in current efforts to encourage heritage tourism related to Knox County’s African American residents and their ancestors.

The building is threatened by long term, ongoing deterioration and a lack of maintenance by the current owners. Knox Heritage calls upon those property owners to make long-overdue repairs and hopes the current level of downtown redevelopment will spur the repair and reuse of this important structure before it is too late. This is another downtown building endangered by neglect that causes concerns about accidental or arson fires.
[Back to Index]

11. Colonel John C.J. Williams House – 2333 Dandridge Avenue
Col. John C. J. Williams HouseThe Colonel John Williams House was built in 1826 by Williams and his wife, Melinda White Williams. It is significant for its architecture, association as the home of a prominent Knoxville politician and its later use as the “Negro Division of the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Dumb.” The architecture of the Williams House is typical of Federal style houses in East Tennessee, but is distinguished by its unusual pediment with a fanlight at the roofline.

John Williams was born in Surry County, North Carolina on January 20, 1778. He attended school in North Carolina and studied law, and in 1803 he was admitted to the bar and established a law practice in Knoxville. In 1805 he married Melinda White, daughter of James White, founder of Knoxville. He served as Attorney General in 1807-08, and in 1813 was commissioned to recruit the 39th regiment of the East Tennessee Mounted Volunteers. In 1814 he served under General Andrew Jackson in the campaign against the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. During this time, Williams and Jackson quarreled bitterly; Jackson's enmity toward Williams affected Colonel Williams' political career for the rest of his life. In 1815, Colonel Williams was elected to the United States Senate and served for 7 years. In 1823, General Jackson opposed Williams for the Senate seat and won.

John Quincy Adams appointed Colonel Williams Charge 'd Affaires to the Federation of Central America in 1825-26, headquartered in Guatemala, and during his absence his wife managed the construction of their home. When Williams returned to Knoxville, he ran for Tennessee State Senator from Knox and Anderson Counties. The Jacksonians, including Williams' brother-in-law Hugh Lawson White, exerted their influence to defeat Williams, but he won and became a leading spokesman of the anti-Jackson faction. He was also a charter trustee of the East Tennessee College and chairman of the first Board of Directors of the Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad. Williams died on August 10, 1837; his wife died the following year. Both are buried at the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

The house was sold in 1855 to Abner G. Jackson, co-owner of the A. G. Jackson & Co., a dry goods store. Following Jackson's death in 1869, the estate was sold to a medical society that intended to use it as a hospital. That plan failed and Dr. and Mrs. Boyd acquired the property. From 1883 to 1885 it was leased to the State for the Negro Division of the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1885, the State Legislature authorized purchase of the house, enlarged it and provided $1,000 to install the wrought iron fence still surrounding it.

It is now owned by descendants of Williams who recognize the significance of the house, but have not taken steps to correct the degradation that occurred while the house was owned by the State of Tennessee. Although the potential for restoring this significant building still exists, in its current condition the house remains a negative influence on the surrounding neighborhood and the city-owned Williams Creek Golf Course. We call upon the owner to begin an immediate rehabilitation of the house. If the owner is unable to tackle the project, we hope a new owner will be identified in order to preserve the family’s legacy as embodied in this structure. [Back to Index]

12. Williams Richards House - 2225 Riverside Drive
Williams Richards HouseThis historic building is also known as Colonial Hall and Marbledale. The oldest part of this house was built in 1842 by John C. J. Williams, II, in the Federal style. The house faced Dandridge Avenue at that time. Williams was the grandson of James White, founder of Knoxville, and he was the great-grandfather of playwright Tennessee Williams. He called the plantation Marbledale, and reportedly entertained such dignitaries as President Andrew Johnson. Tennessee Williams was a visitor to the house. When the property was purchased by John Richards in 1899, it was remodeled and renamed Colonial Hall, and it acquired its current Neo-classical appearance at that time. The house was featured locally on postcards and china as late as 1910.

The house is endangered by the inaction of its current owners. Knox Heritage encourages the owners to stabilize the property and, if necessary, work to find a sympathetic new owner to restore the house to the prominence its heritage deserves. [Back to Index]

13. The Glencoe Building (615 State Street) & The Elliott Hotel (201 W. Church Street)
Glencoe BuildingThese former downtown residential hotels speak to the time when Knoxville was the rail center for the Southeast and, like today, downtown residential living was in style. The Glencoe was built in 1906 in the Neo-classical style. It was designed by the firm of Gredig & Lynn Architects that practiced in Knoxville from 1909 until 1910. Albert Gredig is most credited with the design of this building. He entered the office of George F. Barber and Company in 1893 and remained with them until 1901. Gredig was in and out of firms or practiced independently until 1914 when he practiced alone. During the year 1909, when The Glencoe was designed, Gredig also designed The Whitfield Apartments, the residence of Judge H.L. McClung on Circle Park (presently UT Circle Park), and the McMillan School. Its architectural features include two half-octagons forming a central recess, which incorporates a three-story porch. The Elliot was built in 1907 as The Whitfield Apartments and is in the Neo-classical style.

The ElliotThese buildings were condemned by the City of Knoxville for building and safety code violations. The buildings also suffer from years of deferred maintenance. They are a part of the Gay Street National Register District and eligible for preservation tax incentives. Their rehabilitation will restore these beautiful buildings to their rightful prominence in downtown. Knox Heritage encourages the current owners to make the needed repairs and proceed with planned redevelopment as quickly as possible.
[Back to Index]

14. J. C. Penney Building - 412 S. Gay Street
J. C. Penney BuildingThis building was constructed as the Sterchi Brothers Furniture store in 1898 after the “Million Dollar Fire” of 1897. Because it previously was endangered by a lack of maintenance, the building has been listed on the Fragile 15 list for several years. The building has been stabilized by new owners whose work has revealed the spectacular original façade. We are encouraged that the property has new owners and are hopeful the restoration or reconstruction of the original facade will compliment the historic streetscape and character that exists in the 400 block of Gay Street. This would be in keeping with the other buildings that have been restored in that block, including the beautiful restoration of the Hope Brothers Building and The Phoenix Building.

The J. C. Penney Building is part of the Gay Street Commercial Historic District, a National Register district that carries the potential for preservation tax credits for rehabilitation. The National Register status of the district is precarious because so many buildings have been demolished. Restoration of the original façade of the J. C. Penney Building could help in assuring the continued survival of the National Register listing, which is crucial to redeveloping many of the Gay Street buildings. We call upon the owners to formulate a redevelopment design that is respectful of neighboring historic structures and recognizes the building’s context and unique original architecture. [Back to Index]

15. Edelmar – 3624 Topside Road
EdelmarThis house built in 1914 was the summer home of prominent Knoxvillian C.B. Atkin. It is named after Atkin’s three daughters – Edith, Eleanor and Marion. Atkin was an important figure in Knoxville's history, the proprietor of several businesses, including the Fountain City Railway Company. He founded a furniture company that crafted furnishings for some of Knoxville's finest homes, and a business that manufactured fireplace mantles for elegant mansions nationwide. Atkin developed a large portion of Knoxville's Oakwood and Fountain City suburbs, and built two hotels and two theatres in downtown Knoxville.

The 30-acre-estate overlooking the Little River portion of Lake Loudon was recently subdivided into smaller lots and auctioned to the highest bidder. The new owner has requested a rezoning in order to develop the site. The MPC staff report, prepared in conjunction with the proposed rezoning of this property, calls for historic zoning (HZ) to be placed on the 6600 square foot Atkin family home known as Edelmar and the surrounding parcel in order to guarantee preservation of this significant building. We request that MPC approve this zoning alternative and call upon the Knox County Commission to enact the protective designation for the building.
[Back to Index]

   



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