36 Market Square: The Square’s Most Beautiful "New" Building?

36 Market Square, Knoxville

I’ll admit I had my doubts and grumbles about the building for a long time. The front facade was crumbling and all parties agreed it had to be removed. Ultimately the back end of the building had to be replaced. The interior, when exposed looked like a small explosion had blown away everything but chaos.

The other exposed exterior wall seemed better suited to the graffiti wall which sometimes contains surprising art by such local creative spirits as Cynthia Markert and Brian Pittman among others. Of course, it also gave voice to some of Knoxville’s most disenfranchised or at least disgruntled citizens as they expressed their distaste for or opinions about any number of subjects, but always of TVA whose towers replaced a once vibrant street scape across Wall Avenue with two very large towers.

Interior view of the first floor from front to back, 36 Market Square

Interior view from rear, looking out toward the square, 36 Market Square

Ken (he asked that his last name not be used) saw something different. He saw the great potential and possibilities in 36 Market Square, the tallest (see views from inside in photographs below) and most spacious building on the square. Of course, he wasn’t the first. That would be Scott and Bernadette West who once owned the building but lost it when much of their property was taken by federal agents in 2006.

View from the first floor, 36 Market Square

“Hello neighbors,” from second floor, rear windows. 36 Market Square 

View of Market Square from the second floor of 36 Market Square

The view of TVA Plaza from 36 Market Square

A year later, at auction, Ken stepped in, bought the building, and promptly watched our economy stumble, fumble and fall. Not a great time for a huge project needing financing and facing a mine-field of local and national rules, regulations and requirements for reconstructing an historic building on Market Square. He enlisted the help of contractors Christopoulos and Kennedy who, along with site supervisor Mike Laghazzi, would see the entire project through.

Ken, along with his son Josh, patiently set about doing everything that was necessary to make his vision for the building come true. He had memories of eating burgers at the Blue Circle while hanging around downtown as a young guy in the 1960’s. Perhaps those memories of what downtown once was made him determined to preserve some of the past while offering a new beginning to an old friend in 36 Market Square. He saved that Blue Circle sign, which wasn’t easy I’m told. He hopes to re-introduce it somehow into the design of the building.

Basement at 36 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2011


Second Floor, 36 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2011

Fourth Floor, 36 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2011

He and his wife Brenda, of whom he speaks lovingly, have already enjoyed the building. The two of them have listened to Sundown in the City from inside the building and he, particularly, has enjoyed reading on the roof top, though once that resulted in his being encouraged to jump. He’d hoped to have a deck on top of the building but, so far, that seems not likely. The same difficulties with sight-lines that gave the Wests so much trouble at the Preservation Pub seem to have thwarted those ideas for the time being.

The building contains a basement and four floors, with each being available for lease. The intention at this time is to leave each level open from front to back with retail likely for the first floor and the top three floors, perhaps along with the basement being set for office space. The upper floors are well lighted as windows have been installed on every side, while the basement is smaller and less lighted.

One of two new stairwells, 36 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2011


New Elevator in the rear of 36 Market Square


Old elevator shaft looking from the top, 36 Market Square

The building previously had an elevator, but that shaft was not workable with a modern elevator, so a new one has been installed in the rear of the building. A stairwell has been added to the front to afford direct access to any of the floors above the first.

Mysteries and a couple of treasures were uncovered along the way. Ken said, “Sometimes I felt like Geraldo Rivera.” He tells me he found a couple of very old coins beneath the original surface of the first floor, one of which dated to the 1880’s. Some of the wood floors inside were able to be salvaged and were donated to Knox Heritage and ultimately used in their Green House project in Fort Sanders. An apparent, sealed passageway to the neighboring building was uncovered. An inscription was found on the fourth floor wall to that neighboring building which seems as if it would have been designed for the exterior of a building, but that wall was never exposed to the best of any one’s knowledge. Jack Neely can’t seem to figure it out for certain and if he can’t, well, you know the rest of that sentence. You can read his musings here.

Mysterious inscription inside old elevator shaft, 36 Market Square

Other features had to covered due to the historical status of the building. Some were surprising. The new brick on the lower floors had to be painted to match the brick above that had already been painted. On the interior the brick had to be covered because that is the way it was originally built. When the contractors tried to add plaster to the remaining original plaster, it crumbled. This dictated its removal, exposing beautiful century-old brick. Generally downtown that is seen as an asset. Not this time. It had to be covered with a new layer of plaster to be historically accurate.

But all that will soon fade to memory as a once proud building opens, once more, for business and begins to build memories for future generations of Knoxvillians. I have a vague memory of going into the building when it contained a business on the corner. I might have bought cokes there for my family in the middle 1980’s, if I recall correctly. I hope, along with all of you to be able to frequent the building as a paying customer once more.

So, are you the right tenant for this building? If you think so, contact George Brown (gbrown@woodpropertiesinc.com) at Wood Properties and get the details!

36 Market Square, Knoxville, November 2011

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