Alleys, Courtyards and . . . Mews?

The Elliot, Church and State, Knoxville 2011

I came into this post in a very round about way. A reader asked if I knew anything about the beautiful building at the corner of Church and State Street. He further wondered how many jokes there were around town about the intersection of Church and State. I don’t remember hearing anybody say a word about it, do you? I took a walk toward said intersection to have a look around.

The Elliot, Church and State, Knoxville, 2011

The building in question is the Elliot and it’s for sale. I agree that it is a beautiful old building and I realized I’d been inside. Probably in the late 1980s or very early 1990s I delivered food there. At the time it had fallen into serious decay and the people who lived inside lived in squalid conditions. I was a volunteer for FISH, which is a fantastic local organization that claims to feed more hungry Knoxvillians than all other pantries combined. Residents of the building had called and requested a food delivery and I was the volunteer sent with the food.

It would have been extremely difficult to imagine, then, what would become of downtown Knoxville. My prediction would probably have been pretty grim. Still, I couldn’t help but notice what a beautiful building was slowly falling apart and being abused in a pretty serious fashion. Now Knoxville is a completely different place and it’s for sale. Someone will do wonderful things with this building. I can feel it.

Courtyard behind the Elliot, Knoxville, 2011

Around back I found a pretty wrought iron gate with an enclosed courtyard. There was little evidence it is often used in more than a utilitarian manner but, to me, it seemed alive with potential to be a vibrant, green and welcoming spot. There are others, public and private scattered about our city. Some public, some private, some utilized more than others and some bubbling with potential.

Firestreet Alley, Knoxville, 2011

A stroll just to the east of the 100 block of Gay Street reveals a great alleyway. Michael Haynes wrote an article about the Fire Street Alley that highlighted some of its potential. It’s quite lovely as it cascades downhill from the south end of the 100 block down to the underside of Jackson Street which I’ve written, of late. He mentioned that it had recently been used for filming a scene from a movie. I could imagine the alley teeming with life as a pedestrian thoroughfare.

Courtyard between Gay and Fire Street Alley, Knoxville 2011

Courtyard between Gay Street and Fire Street Alley
Viewed from Gay Street

Off the Alley and between buildings on the Gay Street side is an evergreen courtyard. The grass is astro-turf, which seems a little jarringly green in the winter city-scape. Viewed from the current Gay Street level it is very pretty. It sits at the original elevation of the street and gives a good illustration of how far that street was raised a hundred years ago.

Kendrick Muse, Union Avenue, Knoxville 2011

Another alleyway some of you might not have seen is located just off Locust Street. It is technically an extension of Union Avenue with the homes on either side of the alleyway having a Union Avenue address. It is private and is referred to by the residents as a “mews.” A mews is a small courtyard formed by two parallel buildings. Kendrick Place is comprised of two parallel buildings and are examples of housing that was very common in Knoxville at the turn of the century but which has almost disappeared since.

Technically a mews should be formed by parallel buildings which once held stables. This type of mews is very common in London. I’ve included some pictures I took of mews in London last summer. Some of them even retain their stable doors and all of them are named and inhabited. We might take a cue from Londoners and take a second or third look at the many alleyways lying dormant in our little city.

Dove Mews, Kensington, London 2011

Astwood Mews, Kensington, London, 2011

Mews, Kensington, London, 2011

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