I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the business changes at the Southern Railway Train Station. In a comment, someone asked about the smaller and similar building next to it. The building is the old Southern Railway Freight Depot and I wrote about it just over a year ago when it opened as an event space. All of which brought up an obvious issue: how to distinguish between two similar buildings sitting side by side at what used to be one property utilized for the same purpose and which now will, once again, hold somewhat overlapping businesses?
When I wrote about the new businesses at the larger building, I initially called it the “Southern Railway Depot,” which probably added to the confusion. For now, at least, I’m going to refer to it as the Southern Railway Station (I’ve changed the previous blog posts) and I’ll refer to the smaller building as the “Southern Railway Freight Depot.” It seemed reasonable to look into the back story on that business as a companion piece to the other article. That led me to a different building about a quarter mile away, to a conversation about an entirely different railway, and to Marianne Greene.
I initially met Marianne at the Foundry. It’s a building that has been downtown for about 149 years but, thanks to road patterns and modern development, many people likely never notice it. It sits at the north end of the World’s Fair Park near the Western Avenue Viaduct. You might guess it was once a site for metal works and you would be correct. It originally cast railroad spikes and flathead nails from buckboard wheels and cannonballs, which I suppose were in surplus after the Civil War.
Like any building that old that still survives, it has seen many incarnations. Sitting on five acres on both sides of Second Creek, the original foundry was called Old Knoxville Ironworks. A few years after the turn of the century, it became Ameri-Steel which was eventually purchased and renamed Florida Steel, a name which would sit well with many current citizens.
It fell into disuse for decades and could easily have been lost before being resurrected as the Stroh Haus for the World’s Fair in 1982. After some years of renewed disuse, it revived briefly as the final incarnation of Ella Guru’s, Ashley Capps’ legendary night club originally located in the Old City. Marianne Green bought the building in 1992 to develop it into a versatile entertainment and event space.
By the time she purchased the building, she had worked in the hospitality business for a decade, primarily at the Quality Inn on Summit Hill Drive, which later became the Radison and is now the Crown Plaza. She’d gotten the idea of a career in that industry after a trip to the Caribbean where she felt completely indulged as the guest and wondered why that feeling couldn’t be duplicated back home. Through her years in hospitality, she came to recognize a need for an event space in the city.
After some renovations and additions, in which she used harvested architectural elements where possible, such as the stones around the fireplace taken from the old McCallie School entrance, she opened The Foundry, along with her daughter’s Sharon and Rachel who continue to work with her, as an event space with something a bit extra: they had their own chefs and catered their own events. At the time they were the only place one could host an event and have the catering taken care of in the package. It’s still a rarity around Knoxville, though they are no longer the only ones providing the service.
After an article in the newspaper soon after opening, the business exploded and began to grow exponentially. The events ranged from luncheons with civic organizations to parties and wedding receptions. The wedding business, which still represents the largest portion of the business, grew to such a degree that more space was needed. That’s pretty amazing considering The Foundry can accommodate several parties at once and can seat up to 600 people at once.
This is the point in the story where the other train line enters the picture: The L and N Station offered a nearby, flexible space after the closure of the Ruby Tuesdays and the L and N Seafood Station that many of us enjoyed back in the 1980s. Marianne leased that space for years and it became a major part of her event planning. At the time it was selected for conversion to the Stem Academy, she had seventeen weddings booked for the building. With that loss, she knew she needed to replace it and she wanted to own that replacement when she found it.
That, finally, brings us to the Southern Railway Freight Depot, which she purchased in 2012 and opened late that year. It is the smaller of the two buildings on the site of the old Southern Railway Station and Depot. A newer building than The Foundry, it was completed in 1907. It subsequently burned and was partially re-built. Its current incarnation includes a patio on the eastern end of the building, which sits atop the foundation of the portion of the building which was later destroyed by the fire.
The structure was built simultaneously to renovations in the larger passenger station. Freight storage moved into the new building, as did the station restaurant. This left room for an expanded lobby in the station, as well as other improvements. Prior to this time, apparently, the entire operation was seen as subpar, but this brought it up to industry standards and seemed to make Knoxville residents proud, according to the news reports at the time.
While it passed through numerous uses in the period after the rail years, the most recent business to use it prior to Marianne’s purchase, was Corporate Interiors, which eventually became Synergy. They agreed to yield their lease when she purchased it and have since relocated to the Glass Building on Broadway.
The new acquisition has served the purpose she had imagined, but will likely be met with some confusion in the near future. We have several rail-related properties which have been or are being re-purposed. The L and N Station as a school is pretty easy to distinguish, but three properties within site of each other may be more difficult. The Station, as I noted previously will also host events in addition to being home to the new location for Blue Slip Winery and the Train Museum. The loading docks across the tracks are slated to be developed as a brewery and likely will have other uses.
It’s a problem for the owners of the various properties to sort out and I’m sure they will. For now I’ll call them the Station, the Depot and the Docks. How’s that? While it presents a problem for the owners and perhaps some confusion for their patrons, it’s a problem the rest of us can be thankful to have. If these businesses were not occupying these buildings we would have less confusion and very possibly fewer historic buildings. And that would be much worse.