A Tour of and Conversation about the Kern’s Bakery Building

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Recently Urban Woman and I were fortunate enough to be invited to join friends Karen, John, Robin and Chris for a tour, just over the Henley Bridge, of the Kern’s Bakery Building with David Dewhirst as our guide. Karen won the tour in the silent auction in June at the Community Design Center event. We all enjoyed the tour – which David graciously extended beyond two hours as he spun stories of development, redevelopment and the general craziness that goes on in a city.

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Urban Woman and I lived in south Knoxville for a number of years raising Urban Daughter and the smells that would waft from the bakery as we passed by were always one of the best parts of a trip in that direction. I didn’t tour the Kern’s Bakery Building as a school child as did students of a previous generation who grew up here, but I did tour the local bakery where I lived and the smell holds the same nostalgia for me as it does for many of you. We hoped we could still smell it, but the smell is long gone.

Built in 1931 as Kern’s Bakery by the family who had purchased the company from Peter Kern, the building eventually was sold and by 2012, when the last bread was baked there, Sarah Lee had use of the facility. Bimbo Bakery used it as a distribution center until last March, but by 2013 Knox Heritage had listed the building as one of its Fragile 15. The company had signaled its intention to sell the property and rumors were afoot that the site would be developed by first demolishing the building and its iconic sign. As David Dewhirst stated, “The idea was to develop college housing, which would make the best financial sense.”

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Nick Pavlis, city councilman from south Knoxville wanted to make that outcome a little more difficult and less likely by giving the property an H1, historic, overlay. That wouldn’t stop demolition, but it made it more complicated. Additionally, the property carried with it seven acres behind the building which were not for sale, but would be leased to the new owner of the property. Not every developer wanted to deal with these complications, and so the door was opened for David Dewhirst, along with partners Mark Heinz, Tim Zitzman and Dixon Greenwood, to purchase the building with an eye toward restoring and preserving it while redeveloping the site for new uses.

The sprawling 90,000 square foot building includes the original building, as well as some additions accumulated over the years. An interior loading dock anchors the south side of the building. The bread had to remain hot from the oven and into the trucks, so the trucks could not be loaded in the cold, hence the internal loading dock. Currently a concrete box is attached to this side and it will be removed as the facade is restored. Helping that cause will likely be a facade grant from the city.

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Throughout the site is the evidence of “improvements” that took a toll on the historic character of the building over the years: wooden flooring covered with tile, ceilings covered over with cheap drop ceilings. In other places, however, the character of the place still shows through. The massive trusses, the machinery used to make the bread and to run a factory are all still there. While a good amount of the machinery will be scrapped, some will be saved just because “it looks cool.” Anyone familiar with other Dewhirst projects knows the kinds of industrial touches that are left behind to lend authenticity and history to the “new” building. This will be no different.

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Massive Oven, Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Other characteristics of the property make it particularly interesting for redevelopment. The basement, for example has entrances to the rear which are on grade and open up into a large piece of the property. Additionally, a spur of the rail line runs along the north side of the building, through a nearby tunnel and connects to the urban wilderness. Decks and large windows connect the building to the outside in all directions. Large internal skylights give even the center of the building substantial daytime visibility.

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

In a fascinating twist, the large oven which dominates the center of the largest portion of the building, was discovered to be a highly coveted piece of equipment and has been sold for continued use. The person hired to scrap the metal realized its value and arranged the sale.

Another oddity is a Quanset Hut which attached to the rear of the building. This is where the fabled merry-go-round currently resides after it was searched for and rescued by the Dewhirst group. It’s not functional and, like so many other purchases and moves, was collected because “it’s really cool.” Beyond that, no one is sure what they’ll do with it.

As for the major question about the future use of the building, ideas are being developed and tenants pursued. Dewhirst would like to see a vibrant scene which would draw people from all over the area. He kept referencing certain sections of Asheville which are pretty raw and funky, but have a great vibe. He talked of the possibility of a brewery, restaurants and an interior climbing facility. He wants it to be tied to the urban wilderness in the sense of adding to Knoxville’s growing reputation for active sports. He’s considering uses from the obvious to the extreme for the neighboring property.

Kern's Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern's Bakery Building (Property to the Rear), 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

Kern’s Bakery Building (Property to the Rear), 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, July 2015

In short, he wants it to be a scene all its own, but to fit into the larger personality Knoxville is developing. He’s excited about the connection to the urban wilderness, but he also points out that the building sits within easy walking distance of two huge planned developments, the student housing planned for the west side of Chapman Highway and the apartments planned for the Baptist Hospital site.

The facade should be completed this fall, which should help reveal the building’s potential. The hope is to have it cleaned out sometime in the spring of 2016 and begin setting the plans into action. It could be ready for use within a year-and-a-half. It’s another extension of the development of downtown and paired with the apartments mentioned above and with businesses I’ve recently profiled, along with Suttree Landing Park, this portion of south Knoxville appears to be taking off in a very exciting direction.

Comments

  1. Sue Dwyer says:

    My brother worked for Kerns Bakery in early 60s and loved their fruit cakes. Does anyone know where we purchase them, or would anyone have the recipe. Would love to know.

  2. Beasleysmom says:

    As someone who remembers the old Kern’s Bakery from the ’50s, I’m encouraged that David Dewhirst is the one in charge of its redevelopment. Judging from his other projects, it seems like he does a great job of blending the history of a structure with a vision for its new purpose. Lots of fond memories of the Kern’s Bakery at Christmastime– they would have Chirstmas lights and music, the little carousel rides, and hand out miniature loaves of hot Kern’s bread to the kids.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how South Knoxville redesign decisions are being made by people NOT from South Knoxville FOR the benefit of people NOT from South Knoxville. I pray they keep their happy Lil backsides OUT of South Knox county.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Well, actually, I believe David Dewhirst lives in south Knoxville. Both the coffee roastery and the brewery I recently profiled also have south Knoxville residents as owners or co-owners.

    • I have to say I’m surprised that some folk consider the restoration of the Kern’s Bakery and other recent news regarding redevelopment across the river from downtown to be controversial. As a former South Knoxville resident I can say with certainty that Sevier Ave and Chapman Hwy. have long been commercial corridors. Relative to 35-40 years ago these areas have deteriorated badly. Bringing some intelligent, well meaning restoration to the part of South Knoxville that is close to downtown, led by someone as accomplished as Mr. Dewhirst, can only help preserve the value of private property there, create badly needed jobs, clean up the mounds of trash now piled along the roads, and reduce crime. What would be so bad about that?

  4. Helen Cargile says:

    I find this news to be very heartening! It’s prime property for something like The Factory at Franklin
    http://www.factoryatfranklin.com
    Seems to me this is a win/win for both downtown and south Knoxville. The south end of our fair city could use a big old dose of TLC. Mr. Dewhirst will oversee that tender, loving care as well as anyone.

    • Larry Lewis says:

      Helen’s point about the Factory at Franklin brings to mind another component of the ideas we’re tossing around, here. That facility is rebounding from a slack period (economy) and recently became the new home of a regular live music show, the prestigious “Music City Roots.” Without taking anything away from the efforts of WDVX/Boyd’s or the Bijou & Tennessee theaters, the Kern’s site would seem ideal for hosting a similar regular program, especially once the students are ensconced, a stone’s throw away.

      Granted, “MCR” draws Big Name performers in part due to its proximity to Nashville. Still, this concept could work in Knoxville if agents have niche acts somewhere between Boyd’s and the larger theaters in town…and those theaters’ music bookings are necessarily somewhat more sporadic. If a facility exists able to house larger numbers and is available regularly, Knoxville might become more of a destination tour stop?

  5. Urban Guy – Please let Mr. Dewhirst know that Kingsport TN has restored a 1950s Carousel just recently (Kingsport Carousel) and the people who did that work may be interested in doing this restoration. Would love to hook them up.

  6. Just John says:

    Urban Guy–

    You mention “student housing planned for the west side of Chapman Highway” but I’m not familiar with that (unless you refer to the student-housing part of the Bridges at Riverside project). What’s the skinny ?

    –John

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I think we are talking about the same thing. It is planned for directly across the highway from the new apartments on the Baptist Hospital site. When I last heard it discussed, the idea was that students would be the target for that development, but not for the Baptist Hospital site.

  7. I like the market idea as well. There is a lovely indoor market in Dayton, Ohio that stays busy year round: http://www.metroparks.org/Parks/SecondStreetMarket/Home.aspx. This area reminds me of the area by the tracks behind Biltmore Village in Asheville – there’s some really cool stuff back there!

    Would hate to see another brewery. I’m afraid we’re going to have the yogurt shop effect on those if the market gets supersaturated, and then they’ll all be empty shells again once the trend abates.

    Not sure if the developers know about this, but quonset huts are eligible for preservation grants. There was a big push to protect them by the VA a few years back. People at the very least are able to seek grants to cover the cost to have them moved, and out west and in AK many have turned them back into homes.

    At any rate, as Kelly (hi, Kelly!) stated above, I hope they keep in mind the true spirit of South Knox — which is its raw natural beauty. I’m a former South Knoxvillian, and would hate to see that area develop out its green.

    Also, that punch-clock fills me with mid-century industrial style joy.

  8. This sounds like a great idea, and like you said, the other developers would’ve demolished any and all historic value while giving very little to no regard for connecting with the urban wilderness that IS south Knoxville.

    I’ve recently been given an over view of South Knoxville’s rich history with a melting pot of working class ventures, and the long standing disconnect a lot of the elders / storytellers of the area feel about most developments that happen in the area that don’t invite or include them. Preserving this building should be another good step toward reversing those effects while boosting the economic growth, which helps any area last i checked.

  9. Larry Lewis says:

    Agree with Heather’s idea. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg, PA, which seems open year ’round and reminds me of the older Market Square. The Kern’s location at the gateway into South Knoxville would seem an ideal way to draw visitors & residents across the bridge on a consistent basis.

    Knowing that some machinery “will be saved just because ‘it looks cool’” reaffirms that I’d like to sit with Mr. Dewhirst and have a beverage.

  10. No disrespect to the neighbors of this building but just looking at this building itself, it seems like it would be a perfect structure for something similar to the “Reading Terminal Market” in Philadelphia (I’ve also seen these types of market places all around Europe.)
    Here is a link: http://www.visitphilly.com/restaurants-dining/philadelphia/reading-terminal-market/

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      That is a very cool little hub. I’m not sure the details of the two will be the same, but the vibe may be very similar.

    • I have actually been there! Especially for the city of Philly, it helps bring local produce to what would otherwise be a food desert. While something like that wouldn’t quite fill the same needs by this area in South Knoxville, the vibe it does have is a great one and could be a model for this property to host an extension of the Winter Farmer’s Market for the South or a more permanent one as you describe. In any case, it adds more options to this area, and could be done well with the surrounding community to enhance the space and tie the connection back to the Urban Wilderness.

    • Heather, I’ve been there and I completely agree. I don’t know how well that will work right near the campus and student housing, but as this generation leans more toward natural and fresh food, I think it would be a great way to bring people across the bridge.

  11. John McNair says:

    What’s the status of that rail spur? Is it in use? Will it be as south waterfront development proceeds? That seems like one of the major assets of that property – sitting on a rail line that dead-ends in Ijams Nature Center!?!!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      The rail spur serves one client at this time. It does appear to be a great potential asset. I understand one train does come through, but most days and some weeks see less than one! Who knows what might be worked out?

      • Art Wagner says:

        The ownership of the railroad spur seems to be a little complicated, but it was deeded to the Knox County Railroad Authority by the Knoxville and Holston River RR several years ago. However, the railroad operates it solely to occasionally deliver oil to the asphalt plant adjacent to Ijams. It seems like there could be other uses given that it essentially connects downtown with Ijams.

  12. Thanks for the good report. What a promising future for the historic Kern’s Bakery building. Hope it will accelerate a clean-up of that whole entrance area into South Knoxville. malcolm

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I hope so, too. I really tuned in to that visual entry to south Knoxville a couple of years ago and realized how sad it had become. This will help and I think much more is on the way.

  13. Kelly States says:

    This is a very upsetting article as I live behind this property and whatever they decide as to the fate of the property will happen right next to my home of nine years, the forest next to me and my historic neighborhood.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’d rather have this developer watching my back than most. Additionally, his development, whatever it will be, is the alternative to what other developers wanted: A sprawling college-student-oriented apartment complex. Leaving it abandoned wasn’t ever a likely option. South Knoxville, especially by the river, is about to surge in development. I always get confused by my conversations with people from that part of town who seem to feel neglected until there is some development and then they are upset because that seems to change things. Not saying that’s you, but it’s common. What would you like to see happen on the site?

      • I grew up in South Knoxville and lived in Island Home until my 30s. I think that the people of South Knoxville harbor the unlikely dream that the area could be restored to its former quiet state, but with the addition of nice restaurants and shops along its already developed Chapman hwy corridor, as well as upgrades to local schools, roads, and the preservation of historic buildings and sites. The area has run down and has met with an influx of drugs and the crime that accompanies it. They would like to see this eradicated and neighborhoods restored. What they don’t want is urbanization. They don’t want a huge influx of people and traffic, especially in the old Island Home area. While I would agree with this, I’m afraid it is a pipe dream. We are going to have to accept some changes that may not be the most desirable by area residents in order to improve quality of life and regain the desirability of living South once again.

        • Knoxville is a growing city and south Knoxville is so close to downtown and the river is obviously going to grow with the city. I personally would like something like the warehouse row in Chattanooga to happen in the area.

      • And, by the way, I’m glad Dewhirst owns the property now. I hope he might get involved with old South High as well.

      • Kelly States says:

        I have never felt neglected on the south side. I moved there from the fort to be near the quietness of the forest and still be close to downtown. I didn’t want it to change. I had hoped that Legacy Parks would have purchased the land and so have it protected as they own land connected to it. I understand that with urban sprawl comes more urban sprawl but I find it sad and since I live there am entitled to my opinion. I come from a small town next to a lake that gets its money from tourists that come there to get away from the city to see the beautiful lakes and rolling hills and so maybe I value forest and preservation more than more restaurants and condos.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

          Clearly everyone is entitled to an opinion. I think your hope for the land wasn’t one of the two possibilities. The parcel would not be divided by the owners – whoever bought the front could lease the back. And, as far as preserving the historic neighborhood, that building has been a part of it for a long time. Still, I understand what you are saying. Never intended to suggest you couldn’t have an opinion. And I don’t really think this would be called urban sprawl. The city spread through this area many decades ago.

          • Kelly Stated says:

            I’m sorry that I used incorrect terminology, but I have a right to my opinions and to feel bad about the forest next to my home of nine years. I have that right. You have not seen what they have done. I have. I don’t care about Kerns bakery. I care about the land behind it. As someone who lives here next to it I am entitled to an opinion and know of what I speak. You are getting your way so I’m not sure why I’m not entitled to feel sad for destruction of a forest that I have grown to love.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

            I’m not sure what to say, friend. I’ve not said you can’t feel sad and my last response included the fact that I respect your right to an opinion, twice. As for me getting “my way,” I don’t really have a “way.” I wrote an article. I understand you like the woods and I hope you get to keep them.

          • I’m confused. Who said anything about the destruction of the forested area? Just because they are leasing it does not mean the forest will be destructed or that they won’t do anything distasteful that doesn’t pay attention to it’s neighbors. Really this is a win in my opinion because the other alternative was an out of town developer acquiring the land (if Bob Monday had agreed to sell the land instead of lease it) and building some horrendous student housing complex a-la ‘The Woodlands” or “Quarry Trail.”

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

            Only in the comment here. I’ve heard nothing about destroying any forest. I was told money has been spent on kudzu eradication, but that hardly damages the trees.

          • Trees have already been cut down you can clearly see behind the bakery. Also they have re-surveyed the land and marked trees in the forest that remains. I live literally right next to this property. I have no reason to lie.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

            No one said you were lying, Kelly. I simply stated what I knew to be true.

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