I saw this photograph on Facebook this weekend, thanks to Mary Beth Tugwell via Charlotte Tolley and Kim Trent, and felt I should post it as a follow-up to Friday’s article. It’s hard to imagine (at least for me) what lay hidden beneath the more contemporary facade of the Industrial Belting and Supply Building. Obviously, from the photograph, the building housed the Mack Truck company many years ago. I’d have guessed that the building was nowhere near that old. I would not have thought it had a brick facade that was covered up – probably in an effort to make it look “modern.”
This represents one of many lessons I’ve learned about buildings from writing this blog and listening to people who know more than I’ll ever know about such matters. Last week I mentioned the UT Conference Center which, with its modern architectural style, didn’t really appeal to me at first. Now I see it through a different prism and appreciate it more. A bit further back we talked about the Bacon and Company Building and my readers educated me as to what makes for a good renovation of an older, if not historic, building.
I remember years ago taking a tour of New York City, sitting atop a double-decker bus while our cross-dressed tour guide regaled us with tales of the city. He said something I’ve thought about many times in the years since. He said, “The buildings are the stars. They are the city.” In one respect I re-coiled from that statement, feeling people are more important than buildings. And it is certainly true, as I’ve written many times, that the people make the business or, more broadly, it’s the people that make downtown Knoxville the great place that it is.
Still, there’s an argument the other way: the buildings will remain after we are gone. And in a way our stories and the ones of those who preceded us and who will follow are captured in ways small and large by the buildings we raise, preserve, destroy and live our lives in and through. So, with the loss of a building we experience the loss of the people whose life it represented: those who built it, worked in it and preserved it for us. Considered in that respect, it makes the loss more personal.
I’m bad about judging people by their appearance. It’s something about myself that I know is not a good thing and something I fight to overcome. I’m going to also attempt to apply that to the buildings that make up this city. Sometimes they appeal to me immediately. For those that do not do so, I will attempt to look and think just beneath the surface, to imagine the lives that building represents and to suspect that beauty of some sort may be just beneath the surface.