About three weeks ago I noticed some unusual activity at the corner of Locust and Summer Place. You’ll recall that we’ve discussed this spot before. The first time I mentioned it was in December 2010 in relation to a then current discussion of blight in the city. A year ago, now, the location became the focus of a planned parking garage we discussed the importance of making the facility mixed use and then I sent a plea for people to comment to TVA, preferably with retail on street level. Then nothing.
Until that recent activity. First, workers raised a black fence. I asked Rick Emmett and Bill Lyons what was happening and learned that the cultural/environmental phase of the project would soon be underway in a serious fashion. An older structure had been discovered and a plan was developed to investigate.
Soon I noticed heavy equipment coming and going and took an opportunity to look behind the fence. Evidence of some preliminary work lay in every direction and soon enough, the site became a teeming ant hill, with workers moving in every direction from early in the morning until the end of each day.
Of course, I wanted a photograph to pass on to my readers and figured I’d have to shoot a couple of quick shots before being shooed away. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was greeted by Rocco de Gregory, the foreman for the site, who turned out to be a very friendly and informative guy. Originally from upstate New York, Rocco has an obvious passion for what he does.
The idea is straightforward enough: Find out what is buried on the site which may be of some significance before it is covered up again, in this case by a parking garage. So far, they have found evidence of what they think are turn-of-the-century apartments which they are excavating. Kendrick Place is just a few yards away and was built, probably as apartments, in 1916, so there’s a chance they could be similar. He also told me they know that Peter Kern, mayor of Knoxville and the person who built the building in which Tupelo Honey and the Hotel Oliver now reside, had a home approximately on that spot.
One of the features of the site which I couldn’t make sense of is a large, raised well-looking structure. It has hoses running into it and a couple of guys working it much of the time. This is an on-site filtration system for the water they use for the dig. They re-cycle it so they aren’t constantly putting potentially contaminated water into our drainage system.
He also took me just off the site to show me something that he said was the kind of thing he’s always looking for. What he showed me was shocking and I’d walked over it dozens of times and never paid attention. At the edge of the parking lot adjacent to the current site is a thick piece of crumbling pavement. Clearly visible (see the photograph) is an exposed section of hexagonal tile!
Long-time readers of this blog will recall a discussion of the use of this tile in entry-ways around the late 1800s to early 1900s. They are visible (see the link for examples at various spots around town, including inside Kendrick Place. Nothing will be done with this uncovered tile, as it is not a part of the current project. It makes me want to dig up the parking lot myself and save the tile.
So what happens next? Rocco said that TVA will likely have an “open house” on the site for people to come see what was unearthed. I asked him to let me know when that happens and he said in the meantime, anyone is welcome to do what I did and take a look from a safe vantage point. Barring discovery of anything amazing, this phase is more or less a formality on the way to a garage.
It made me wonder what happened to those comments we all left for TVA to ponder? Will there be any discussion of the options for the building? Was the comment exercise simply to make us feel we “had input” before they do what they want? I know a motion was made before city council to force TVA to comply with the Downtown Design Review Board standards which would seem to dictate some accommodation, but the motion failed eight to Marshall (Stair, that is). I’ll try to find out and report back.