A Look Inside the Bottom Floor of the Holston

The Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

I’ve wondered periodically over the last several years just what was behind the door in the lobby of the Holston Building. I knew it had once bee the lobby for the various banks once occupying the building. The Holston Bank, founded in 1890, built the first twelve stories of the building in 1912, moving into the tallest building in the city during the summer of 1913. In 1928 the bank merged with the Union National Bank and added two floors to the top.

The bank failed, along with many others in 1930 and the building was taken by Knoxville-based Hamilton National Bank, which occupied the building until it was purchased in 1975 by Jake Butcher’s United American Bank which moved its headquarters down Gay Street into the Plaza Tower while maintaining a branch in the Holston until his banking empire collapsed in 1983.

The Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The building was purchased in 2005 by a group of investors including David Dewhirst who transformed the upper floors into condominiums. The building boasts the first condominium in the city to sell for over a million dollars. Two are currently on the market for well over that figure.

But what of that bank lobby? It has remained empty and positioned just across the street from the Farragut Hotel with the French Market and a string of businesses from there down a couple of blocks of Gay Street, I’ve often wondered if it might not make a good spot for retail of some sort. Not having seen the space, I couldn’t be sure. Last week I got an offer from Brady Greene who has the property listed for Conversion Properties at $1.2 million.

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The space actually includes two levels. The first floor which was the former bank lobby, measures just over 4,000 square feet and includes the former bank lobby and a narrow room that opens onto Gay Street. There are additional entrances off Clinch, over which the Holston National Bank name is still inscribed. A couple of pieces of the original copper cornice sits in this space awaiting repair and return to the top of the building.

Clear throughout the space are marble floors similar to the marble covering the lower exterior of the building. What must have been a receptionist’s desk sits surrounded in elegant rails and marble. Sunlight washes over the huge expanse through large windows lining the Clinch Avenue side of the building. The opposite side borders Krutch Park and has no windows or doors, but does feature indentations that call to mind fire places, though that’s not logical.

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

First Floor Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxvil

Only broken by support columns, the space seems perfect for a big venture, whether a bank a large restaurant or perhaps a department store. But over 3,000 square feet await below and it’s perhaps the more interesting, if less functional, portion of the property.

A wide marble-lined stairwell spirals just to one side of the receptionist’s station to the basement. A wide corridor includes high indentations along one wall, the function of which is lost on me. The other side of the corridor has doors which are now non-functional, but which would seem to have been entryways to booths, perhaps for viewing items retrieved from a safe deposit box.

Basement Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Basement Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Basement Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Safe Door at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The most fascinating feature of the floor is the large safe. I never considered a safe having a front and back door, but this one does. I also never considered that safe doors could be beautiful, but these are. Over a foot thick, their brass inner workings are visible and somehow elegant as gears go.

A trip through the safe (and who got to take that trip in the day?) leads to a fairly large room in the back. An exit from that room leads to a corridor partially running under Clinch Avenue. It’s an odd hallway which leads to a tiled area. The tiled area could once have been showers, but why showers in the basement of a bank? The corridor appears to end at the front of the building, but was it once a corridor under the street? I’m not sure but what the possibility of a subterranean safe-crossing made my mind become wildly speculative.

Basement Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Basement Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Basement Space at the Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Basement Space at the Holston, 531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

Clearly, the entire floor intrigued me and would take some thought to be fully utilized by a new venture. Obviously a bank could use it for its original function. A restaurant could potentially use it as a kitchen and food storage and staging area. Could we bring the downtown heritage of Watson’s basement sales back for another round below a new department store? Could it be a pharmacy/grocery store?

The potential uses and redesigns of the two spaces offer many possibilities. Could a doorway be opened onto Krutch Park with outside tables for dining? It goes on. Any buyer would also gain signage rights to the elevator penthouse atop the building which, visible from as far away as the interstate, would offer significant exposure for any venture contained therein.

The Holston,  531 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The Holston is one of any number of buildings which have in recent years returned from near-dead to vibrant and contributory. Many other buildings, as is the case with the Holston, still have more to give. It won’t surprise any of my long-term readers to hear that I would love for this space to become a retail space. It would add retail to a side of Gay Street which has very little retail activity at this point and, with the pending closure of Jay’s Megamart, will soon have less. This could be a nice step to reversing that reality.

In any case, it’s a great space fronting Gay Street at a time the stock of available buildings able to boast that is diminishing rapidly. And it is worth repeating that we have a building downtown with three spaces inside listed for over a million dollars each. We’ve come a long way from a time entire buildings were practically being given away. Interested in other downtown properties? You might want to click the “downtown properties” link above and see what’s available.

The Downtown Week Ahead (7/20 -7/26/2014)

If you see an event I’ve missed and you’d like to plug, please comment below or e-mail me (knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com) and I’ll try to add it. The list may, accordingly, be expanded through the week. Staying true to the scope of the blog, I’ll only list downtown or near-downtown events. Any number of venues outside of downtown have some great events, but I have to draw a line somewhere. If you want to add those in a comment, that’s fine. Please : “Friend” me on Facebook and invite me to your events. Look over to the right of this post and not only “friend” me, but “like” Inside of Knoxville. Subscribe (also to the right) to make sure you catch all the posts.

Sunday, July 20

Monday, July 21

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Steve Gilbert (Singer-Songwriter) / Liz Frame and the Kickers, Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Horror Film Triple Feature Mondays, Scruffy City Hall, 7:00 PM
  • The Milk Carton Kids, (Grammy nominated) Bijou Theatre, 8:00 PM, $16.50 – $19.50
  • Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Dirk Quinn Band, Barley’s, 10:00 PM

Tuesday, July 22

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: And the Giraffe (Indie Folk) / If Birds Could Fly (Folk/Americana), Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Brown Bag Lunch Lecture: “K’ville Freedman’s Mission Historic Cemetery,” East TN History Center, Noon, Free
  • Singer/Songwriter Open Mic Night, Preservation Pub, 7:00 PM, Free
  • Einstein Simplified weekly Comedy Improv, Scruffy City Hall, 8:00 PM
  • Jazz on the Square, Market Square, 8:00 PM, Free, But Please Tip
  • Connor Christian (solo), Barley’s, 10:00 PM
  • The Big Wooly, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Barghest, Pilot Light, 10:00 PM, $5

Wednesday, July 23

  • Market Square Farmers’ Market, 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Adron (Singer-Songwriter) Mountain Jacks (Bluegrass), Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Central City Sector Draft Plan on display, Cansler YMCA, 5:30 – 7:00
  • Cranford Hollow, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM

Thursday, July 24

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Adam Burrows (Singer-Songwriter), Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • The Tennessee Stage Company’s Shakespeare on the Square presents, “Titus Andronicus,” Market Square, 7:00 PM, Free (But $10 suggested donation and $15 gets you special seating and a bottle of water)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Tennessee Theatre, 8:00 PM, $19.50 – $59.50
  • David Gaine, Preservation Pub, 8:00 PM
  • “The Memory of Water,” Theatre Knoxville Downtown, 8:00 PM, $15
  • Dave Barnes, Square Room, 8:00 PM, $20 – $35
  • The Giving Tree Band, Barley’s, 10:00 PM
  • The Fustics, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Horse Thief, Pilot Light, 10:00 PM,, $5

Friday, July 25

  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: The Special Consensus (Bluegrass) / Quinn DeVeaux, Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • Northshore featuring Jay Storm and Bob Knapp, Alive After Five @ the Knoxville Museum of Art, 6:00 PM, $15
  • The Tennessee Stage Company’s Shakespeare on the Square presents, “Much Ado About Nothing,” Market Square, 7:00 PM, Free (But $10 suggested donation and $15 gets you special seating and a bottle of water)
  • Summer Movie Magic presents “The Wizard of Oz,”8:00 PM, $6 – $8
  • Spinrad, Preservation Pub, 8:00 PM
  • “The Memory of Water,” Theatre Knoxville Downtown, 8:00 PM, $15
  • Rolling Nowhere, Barley’s, 10:00 PM
  • Charlie and the Foxtrots with Big Coutry’s Empty Bottle, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • The Whiskey Gentry, Scruffy City Hall, 10:00 PM

Saturday, July 26

  • Market Square Farmers’ Market, 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • WDVX Blue Plate Special: Charlie Oxford (Singer-Songwriter), Knoxville Visitor Center, Noon, Free
  • The Tennessee Stage Company’s Shakespeare on the Square presents, “Titus Andronicus,” Square Room, 2:00 PM, $10
  • Club Leconte 35th Anniversary and Luau, Food, music, memberships at low prices, First TN Plaza, 6:30 PM
  • The Tennessee Stage Company’s Shakespeare on the Square presents, “Titus Andronicus,” Market Square, 7:00 PM, Free (But $10 suggested donation and $15 gets you special seating and a bottle of water)
  • Paula Poundstone, Bijou Theatre, 8:00 PM, $29.50
  • “The Memory of Water,” Theatre Knoxville Downtown, 8:00 PM, $15
  • The Burnin’ Hermans, Preservation Pub, 10:00 PM
  • Cutthroat Shamrock, Scruffy City Hall, 10:00 PM
  • Ebony Eyes, Pilot Light, 10:00 PM, $5

Scruffy City Hall: Another Reason to Love Downtown Knoxville

Jayme Hogan invites you into Scruffy City Hall, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2014

I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things that Urban Woman and I marvel at is that many of our favorite places and things to do didn't exist before we moved. And we moved here thinking it was an amazing place to live. Union Avenue and … [Continue reading]

A Final Look at Tailor Lofts

Tailor Lofts, 430 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

I've probably not been given the opportunity to follow any building more closely than that afforded to me by Daniel Odle of Conversion Properties at Tailor Lofts. When I first toured the building, I couldn't keep from calling it the "Arby's Building" … [Continue reading]

Bootleg Betty: New Business on the 100 Block

Bootleg Betty, 122 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2014

The 100 block of Gay Street continues to attract retail businesses. The latest, opening the beginning of this month, is Bootleg Betty, a shop featuring gently used bridal wear, party dresses and boots. Even though I'm not in the market for a bridal … [Continue reading]