Once a year the Community Design Center throws a big party. Last night saw this years’ version set up shop on Main Street inside the U.S. Post Office Building. A massive marble building with Art Deco finishes, the building opened in 1934. Mentioned a couple of times in Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, the building is worthy of the attention. I’d never been inside any portion of it outside the small public space devoted to mailing letters.
The portion of the building in which the party was hosted is currently leased by Capitolmark Bank and Trust, who graciously allowed the event to be set up during business hours yesterday. The event included great food – some of which was catered by Yassin’s Falafel House – as well as drinks and, notably, great music by a jazz combo including the legendary Lance Owens, who at 92-years-old continues blowing his expressive saxophone. It was comforting to see him out there keeping on the same day we learned we lost the great Ornette Coleman.
Ticket sales and proceeds from the auction items go to the operating budget of the Community Design Center. I talked a bit about what the center does last winter when I featured Wayne Blasius who had recently been named director. The 45-year-old non-profit organization which serves a sixteen county area, providing design assistance to community groups and non-profits thanks to the volunteer efforts of local architects and others. It is (and shall remain) the only organization for which I’ve volunteered to be a celebrity bartender.
Of course, for me, the buildings are the big draw to the event. The space where the event started is a long hallway with more architectural flourishes than we’d include in a city block if we were building it today. The internal windows alone were worth the price of admission. The floors and the ceilings are equally beautiful. If you find yourself on Main Street, it’s worth visiting the bank just to see this portion of the building.
A tour followed the opening festivities and I stopped in on three of the sights, starting with the Tennessee Supreme Court Courtroom, located in the same building. Dan Holbrook, local estate attorney, told of famous trials held in the courtroom, including that of Cas Walker. He also pointed out interesting details like the original clock in the back and the painting of Lady Justice on the ceiling. Special permission was granted to paint her without her blindfold so she could be seen looking toward the Smoky Mountains.
I also looked inside First Baptist Church. My best memory is that I’d only been inside once before – about thirty years ago. I couldn’t remember what it looked like and I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Built in 1924 when the congregation moved from Gay Street, the building features a domed ceiling with “elaborate marble and wooden panels.” It seats 1200 and doesn’t resemble any other Baptist Church I’ve ever entered. Again, worth stepping inside when you are on that end of downtown.
I dropped in for a good cup of coffee from my friend Brad at Flow in the Medical Arts Building, which was also included on the tour. That beautiful building was completed in 1929 and I’d not seen an apartment since it reopened last year as residences. Amazing views present themselves through every window. The amazing lobby required another photograph, obviously.
My final stop was the Cherokee Building – another which I’d only seen from the outside. Built in 1895, it has to have one of the most diverse histories of any downtown building. At various points it has housed Knoxville Business College and School of Shorthand, a grocery store, apartments, a metaphysical library, a Baha’i amenity and an optometrists office before converting to condos.
Special thanks to Wayne Blasius and the Community Design Center, not only for the event, but for promoting and providing better design to our area. The event was ably organized by Mary Holbrook, whose attention to detail was evident. It’s a good event to mark on your calendar for next June.