The Century Building Comes Back to Life

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

It’s pretty easy to get discouraged by the demolitions, fires and less-than-inspiring designs for new construction that seem to be proliferating lately. Those of us who watch the scene with intense interest can sometimes miss the larger picture for the details. I know that McClung Warehouses – which once could have been an anchor in redevelopment on the north side of downtown – is currently being demolished. I’ll get to that soon, but there is also good news and we should relish it. This is a good time to love downtown Knoxville.

I noticed last week that someone from Henry and Wallace had subscribed to my blog. I’m always curious when I see a company that I don’t know, so I searched them out via Google and the building listed with the first entry immediately caught my attention: The Century Building. What did this company have to do with the Century Building?

Lobby, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Lobby, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Retail Space Available, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Retail Space Available, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

A small wager says I’m not the only person who’s wandered past that empty address in recent years feeling a bit of sadness at such a magnificent building sitting empty. According to the Henry and Wallace site, the building was constructed in 1886, though I thought it was a few years later. Obviously, it would have been home to many businesses across the years. You’ll see in one of the photographs in this post evidence that it once held an inventory of paints. I found a reference to a 1986 rehab involving the first three floors. As long as I can remember, it sat empty.

So, I emailed Patrick King, Community Development Specialist for Henry and Wallace and asked him if, in fact, the company was working on the building. I told him I’d love a tour and a few emails and schedule changes later, we settled on last Saturday morning. When I arrived I found that he had invited Jenny Brown, Operations Manager to join us.

Jenny Brown and Patrick King beside the massive rear windows, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Jenny Brown and Patrick King beside the massive rear windows, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Available Office Suite, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Available Office Suite, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Henry and Wallace is a development company with a variable number of employees ranging from twenty to thirty, depending on projects underway at a given time. The company includes C-3 Studios, their architectural division, Century Building, LLC, their in-house construction company, Architectural Flooring, and a brokerage service. They hope to have a design group in the near future. Typically there are ten or twelve working out of their offices over Mast General Store at 402 South Gay Street. They have purchased the Century Building and will soon move their offices there.

In addition to the Century Building, they have numerous other projects underway spread across the region. The most notable local project besides the Century Building is the Standard Knitting Mills redevelopment. They also have projects – including new construction spread from Gatlinburg, Morristown and Chattanooga to the Nashville metro area.

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

The bottom or ground floor of the Century Building is divided. One side is unfinished and is for lease as a restaurant or for retail space. I expressed my opinion as to which is most needed downtown, but the market, obviously, will dictate what happens there. It’s a long, large space which would require just the right type of retail, but it is certainly possible. Parking is available to the east at the State Street Garage, to the West and the Market Square Garage and, of course, thousands of people are downtown in the day time and a couple thousand of us call downtown “home,” so hopefully that space will be snapped up, soon. Maybe by a cell phone/computer/hardware/pharmacy/men’s clothing store.

The other side of the ground floor will serve as a lobby for Henry and Wallace. There is also additional office space available for lease on the back side of this floor, which includes not only offices, but a small kitchen. This space appears ready for occupancy, but the company is awaiting clearance from the city.

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

The mezzanine and second floor will be occupied by Henry and Wallace. It’s a very cool space with massive floor to ceiling windows on either end of the building. The rear windows overlook one of the more interesting alleys in the city – between the Bacon and Company buildings. Jenny said she’d seen several photographers working that space. There are also many beautiful arched brick doorways connecting the two sides of the building.

The primary work space for the company is a large open space with no segmentation for offices. It was opened up by the owners revealing steel beams which had been obscured by a wall. Previously the front windows on that floor were only visible from inside the small offices on that end, but now they give light throughout the work space. It’s the kind of space most of us would love to enjoy every day.

View of Back Alley, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

View of Back Alley, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Remnants of a Paint Business, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Remnants of a Paint Business, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

The upper three floors will be developed into condos. The likely result will be four condos per floor for a total of twelve, which would run about 1100 to 1200 square feet on one side and about 1400 to 1500 square feet on the other side. They are flexible, however and would be willing to build larger – or perhaps smaller if the demand was there. This makes this project very different from other recent projects downtown, as the other residential developments recently completed or underway involve apartments. Could this be the beginning of a shift back to purchasing?

The owners of these condos will have amazing light and great views of the city. The front will, of course, overlook Gay Street. In either case, it’s a great location to live or work. An additional staircase will be constructed to pair with the one that appears to be original to the building. An elevator will also be required.

Old Stairwell, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Old Stairwell, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

The time table on the building’s occupancy is dependent on a number of variables, but Henry and Wallace hopes to occupy their portion right away. The retail space will likely be ready to be built out to spec this spring. Jenny said the hope is to have the condos ready for sale later this year.

Original Windows overlooking Gay Street, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Original Windows overlooking Gay Street, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Original Windows overlooking Gay Street, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Original Windows overlooking Gay Street, Century Building, 312 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

So, there’s some good news for this long Knoxville winter. A building that has languished for years is now welcoming a new generation of our citizens. That’s one building that won’t get torn down. There really are some good things happening. Maybe the next step will be filling in some of the gaps on the downtown streets – like the two on either side of this building. Anybody?

Comments

  1. Amanda Rowland Hampel says:

    Hi there! That building was occupied by my parents law firm from 1986-1999, about the time my father passed away. If you look on the front doors of the building, the “Rowland & Rowland P.C.” decals are still on the doors. At least they were when I was home for a football game in October. Anyways, I was surprised to read you thought it was vacant all those years. Let me know if you would like any additional information. I grew up in that building and it holds many, many memories for me and my family. 🙂

  2. Any updates on the condos? Are they finished? If not when is expected completion?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      That’s on my list to look into. I’m hearing they may be sold as spec condos, but I’m checking.

  3. I’m all for preservation if it is possible and love what they have done with the place. I love the character of older structures. On the other hand I also like modern new construction. I would love to see Knoxville get a new modern tower downtown. Maybe we could get a new mixed use tower on one of these sites. But it we get anything it would be better than an empty hole so I won’t complain. I think downtown could sustain a new condo tower with retail on the ground floor.

  4. Lee Ingram says:

    We were the architects in 1986 when Mike and Ann Rowland saved this building. KNS called them urban pioneers at the time, and they really were. You wouldn’t believe how bad it looked in the mid-80s, but they took it on. It’s been sad watching it go back into decline so this is wonderful news! FYI, this was originally the Haynes-Henson Shoe Co. building, and its top floor was added after the Great Fire (hence the old frame added inside its south wall). This building was adjacent to the gaping hole left in Gay St. by the fire – there’s a picture showing it. So here it is again, next to another gaping hole in the same place. The street has rebuilt itself before and can again. So can Jackson Avenue. As Kim has said, though, let’s rebuild with something worth saving in 2114!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Great information, Lee. I’m holding my breath that we start filling in those gaps with something worth saving. My faith is weak, but my hope is strong.

    • I love this building! Such history and character!! I worked there for 12 years for Mike & Ann Rowland. Still drive by occassionally. I knew this builing from basement to roof. So glad someone has puchased it!

  5. Jonathan Ziegler says:

    So happy to hear some good news about downtown redevelopment. Urban Guy, have you done a profile on the buildings on summit hill across from vine furniture, behind the 300 building. I don’t know what they’re called. Although outside of downtown, the very historic buildings at Knoxville College are turning to rubble before our eyes: do you know anything about the history of preservation attempts there?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Yes. I wrote about the building directly behind the 300 building here just over a year ago. Of more interest than the article are the comments which, basically, schooled me on the situation. Since that time, the owner has died and, I believe, his children own the property.

  6. What an amazing job they did! Great photos too!
    I’ll echo everyone’s thoughts on the two adjacent spaces, hopefully something good will come from those prime areas, and with any luck, prompt someone to start some renovation on the buildings around Bacon and Company.

  7. OutoftownBill says:

    We get to Knoxville from time to time and were able to visit the Century Building before any renovations were begun. We are impressed with the results and congratulate Knoxville and Henry and Wallace for moving the city forward.

  8. Art Wagner says:

    Thanks for the news and photos on the Century Building. I had suspected that something might be going on there the last few times I walked by. This is great news for a great structure.

    As far as the empty lots between the Century and the Mast Building, I think there is a fabulous potential for new construction with character. Because of the way Wall dead-ends into Gay, it is almost crying out for a pseudo continuation of the “street” as a pedestrian alley, enclosed by and interior to a larger building-an alley that could contain retail establishments on that level. That would certainly give access to State Street as well, something that will be needed if the apartment/retail projects on State Street take shape. Unfortunately, I understand that Buzz Goss owns at least one of those parcels and, given the disappointing suburban architectural premise of the Marble Alley project, I now have little faith in his abilities as an urban visionary. I would like to be proven wrong.

  9. Thanks do much for keeping us on the know and showing us around. I have wondered about that building. Great photos!

  10. Great windows. Huge and colorful.

  11. Chris Eaker says:

    I like the idea of filling in the gaps. Removing some of the blank spaces, including surface parking lots, and putting in architecturally similar buildings to bring downtown back to what it used to be, although newer. If the design of new buildings hearkens back to the way buildings used to look, it will be great for the surrounding area, and the tenants will get to enjoy modern conveniences not always possible with old buildings.

    I sure hope the city has learned its lesson with the McClung warehouses that they can’t let buildings sit idle while developers talk the talk but not walk the walk. The Pryor Brown garage, in my opinion, is in the same situation now. If the city wants to save it, they should snap it up through eminent domain immediately before it too catches fire mysteriously.

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