When Brian was ten-years-old his family drove through Knoxville from Texas. As they approached the Tennessee River he noticed a beautiful, old home sitting a stone’s throw from the river’s edge at 623 Hill Avenue. He told his mother he would one day own that home. Eventually, his statement became fact and within the next few months both he and his mother will move into the largely renovated home.
The journey from a child’s wish to a grown man’s fulfillment includes many twists and turns. It could easily have never happened. By the time Brian saw the home he was looking at a greatly modified structure that would only get worse. So much worse, in fact, that it came very near demolition.
Built in 1907 by Charles McNabb, the home was occupied by Mary Boyce Temple from 1920 to her death inside the home in 1929. Mary Boyce Temple came from a prominent Knoxville family and established herself as a social force in the city. A suffragist, she friends with Lillie Crozier French who is one of the women depicted in the statue on Market Square. She was president of the League of Women Voters, a benefactor for the University of Tennessee, first president of the Ossoli Circle and founder of the Bonnie Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She founded Knoxville’s first literary organization, the Knoxville Writer’s Club.
She also is considered a pioneer in Knoxville’s preservationist movement. In 1925 Blount Mansion was in danger of demolition. She raised $35,000 for its purchase, which allowed us to continue to enjoy the home nearly a hundred years later. It’s interesting to consider that Knoxville’s preservationist battles are almost a century old. You can learn more about her and the home here and here.
By the 1940’s the home was subdivided into rented spaces, with a large number of both residents and businesses using the address. Eventually it became student housing for University of Tennessee students. This required significant alterations to the interior which included adding stairwells and expanding the western side of the home. Some of the alterations damaged the structural integrity of sections of the structure. Others obliterated the original design of large interior sections. A metal fire escape was attached to the home.
By the end of the century and into the beginning of the next, the home began to fall apart. A beautiful deck over the front porch, inadequately designed, retained water and rotted. The deterioration also included the wooden porch itself which crumbled. The home was overtaken by vagrants, prostitutes and drug addicts. The house was declared unsalvageable and was slated for demolition along with the concrete block building (1947) beside it to make way for parking for the Hampton Inn.
Appeals from preservationists including Knox Heritage and Victor Ashe, convinced Shailesh Patel, owner of the Hampton Inn to completely change course. He redesigned the hotel in order to provide parking while not encroaching on the Mary Boyce Temple Home. After this expense, he went a step further and offered $100,000 for anyone who would buy the building and restore it. Enter a, now grown, ten-year-old boy with a dream.
Brian, by now a successful architect, purchased the home in 2006. He acknowledged as we walked through the home examining what has been done and what remains to be completed, that many people are responsible for the success of the project. Noting the gift from Mr. Patel, he said it would not have been possible for him to take on the job without that initial aid. But there were others.
When confronted with replacing large numbers of windows at a potential cost of tens of thousands of dollars, he asked Pella Windows if they could help. The local division of the company gave him the windows at cost in exchange for advertising the fact outside the home. Many others have contributed their talent and hard labor to the project, including Carrie Walker who did the restoration of the iron work (which is currently housed in the basement awaiting deployment) and Preston Farabow will edit and re-install the ironwork.
As we walked through the home he introduced me to several people doing the work and he noted that without them the project could not have happened. Eddie Crim oversees the project and to him Brian is eternally grateful. Joshua Graham is the excellent finish carpenter whose imprint is everywhere in the home. CBID awarded the home a $25,000 dollar facade grant at a critical time. The list extends to KUB and the City of Knoxville who have been very helpful with allowing construction vehicles to park in the street and other small, but important ways. He’s hopeful the city will agree to bury the utilities surrounding the home and that they might allow him to have an access point to Henley which would allow him to have a garage.
So much has been done since I first saw the interior of the home that it’s difficult to describe in a brief space. The porch, approached by marble steps, but with a wooden surface, now sparkles with its new surface of Tennessee Marble. The front door has been restored and awaits the return of the original glass. The floors have been stripped and restored and will likely be finished next week. Additions to the home have been removed and the remaining structure has been returned to as near its original state as possible.
I found it incredible that the original doors, ironwork and other architectural features have almost all been saved, though many will have to be restored before they can be returned to their previous uses. The doors will have to be finished a few at a time as money allows. Mantles similarly will have to wait to be completely restored. An examination of the wood on the mantles displays a beautiful grain. One mantel had to be replaced and Brian was lucky enough to find one locally in the possession of Knox Heritage which proved to be a very near match to the other. He’s still searching for one more.
The home is large, but not, perhaps, as large as it might appear from the street. The living space has been the first and second floor which are each 1300 square feet. Brian will be joined in the home by his family, with his mother living on the the second floor. He has converted the former attic into usable space which he hopes to ultimately convert to a studio for his design work.
The views are spectacular in every direction. One small window frames the Sunsphere. Another frames the bell tower at Church Street United Methodist. The upper windows feature great views of the mountains, the Tennessee River and Neyland Stadium.
In the end, Brian plans for this home to serve the community. He hopes it will be used for art shows and fund-raisers. An avid supporter of Knox Heritage and the Friends of the Library, those two groups would likely utilize the home. He also talked of restoring the Victorian idea of a dinner party in which the guests might include a mixture of people who would not ordinarily mingle are brought together for an evening of lively conversation with the possibility of the formation of new and unlikely relationships.
Those of you who have read this far must now understand what a massively expensive undertaking this has become. Brian makes a good living, but he does not have a massive amount of money. What he has is now invested in this project. In addition to using his salary he has also sold originals and prints of his cathedral drawings. Proceeds from the purchase of one of his cathedrals goes directly into the work at the Mary Boyce Temple home. But that isn’t enough.
In an effort to find additional funds, an Indiegogo campaign, “Help Finish the Mary Boyce Temple House,” has been mounted with a goal of $35,000. Contributions bring various rewards such as signed cathedral prints, framed cathedral drawings, cocktails for friends inside the home, a Boomsday party, a paranormal exploration for a group and more. This is a great cause and I’d like to see Brian blow past his goal which would then enable him to attend to some of the details to which he is currently resigned to delaying indefinitely. Can you help? At least spread the word by forwarding this post or a link to the project itself. This is a worthy cause.
I’ll end with a couple of videos. The first shows the condition of the home when Brian purchased it along with the demolition work that had to be done before the re-construction.