The 2014 version of the Knox Heritage Preservation Awards took place last night in the Bijou Theatre. The setting itself is significant because our city’s modern preservation efforts first coalesced around the effort to preserve the Bijou Theatre about forty years ago. How hard is it to imagine no Bijou Theatre? It nearly happened. Looking around the magnificent room last night, I remember the water stains on the ceiling and the peeling plaster in the 1980s. We thought it was beautiful, even then.
Kim Trent, president of Knox Heritage got the evening started and Whitney Manahan and Jared Wilkins presented their Lost Knox project (read an interview with Whitney here). Mayor Rogero followed with a speech about the complexities posted by preservation on the governmental side when sometimes conflicting interests and current laws do not line up behind preservation efforts. She noted that a sixty-day waiting period before allowing a demolition request is working its way toward adoption at the city level.
The awards followed and seemed designed to address the question I raised at the top of this article: What is preservation? Clearly, preservation is saving old homes and buildings, and there was a lot of that discussed. But preservation is legislation or ordinances that make saving buildings more likely. Preservation is Lost Knox, a project to remind us of what has been lost in the hope that we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Preservation is writing articles like the one written by Cari Wade Gervin in Metro Pulse regarding the planned re-drawing of historic zoning lines in Fort Sanders in order to allow the demolition of historic properties there, for which she received an award. Preservation is the work done by Jack Neely who, by introducing us to our history, both large and small episodes, makes us less likely to go about destroying the buildings and sites that tell that story. For his work he received the prestigious “Preservationist of the Year Award.” The respect in the room for his body of work was palpable.
It also includes preserving band stands like the one in Chilhowee Park which was built in 1910 for the Appalachian Exposition. Preserving our historic cemeteries, such as the beautiful Old Gray constitutes preservation. And as painful as it is for some of us of a certain age to acknowledge, preservation of buildings just fifty years old can count as historic preservation. In the case of the awards, two of those buildings were bank buildings. And I have to admit, they are beautiful in their own way. A building doesn’t have to look as if it would fit in Williamsburg, Virginia to merit preservation.
The Mary Boyce Temple House, which I’ve included a number of times, received huge, and very well-deserved, accolades. All-around good-guy Brian Pittman won the Knoxville Mayor’s Award. He also won the “Spirit of Christopher Award,” for his fearless devotion to bring back the beautiful that has been lost, which certainly is the heritage passed to us by Kristopher Kendrick. Brian, who cannot be not loved, also received two standing ovations on the night.
Other renovations and preservation efforts receiving awards included 311 E. Scott, the Anderson Project at 223 E. Anderson St., 1022 Eleanor Street (with architectural work by the fabulous Sean and Sara Martin), two mid-century bank buildings (3001 E. Magnolia, 3101 N. Broadway), Patrick Sullivan Building, 630 Eleanor St., and the Chilhowee Park Bandstand. A strip along Broadway, inlcuding 1320, 1324 and 1328, which has turned around beautifully won an award. It’s the strip of buildings connected to K-Brew. 6008 Burnett Creek Road, restored by Todd and Rebecca Montgomery, won the Knox County Mayor’s award.
So, the night was about the many types of preservation successes. It’s easy for me to be drawn into focusing unduly on the defeats, but there are many victories on the preservation front. It’s encouraging to see young couples bring homes back, to see lives that have been devoted to the cause, and to see the city attempting to turn around its ordinances to encourage preservation. Each of these buildings could have been lost and weren’t. It’s up to us to take care that others are preserved for future generations of citizens of our beautiful city.