Yesterday an anniversary of sorts passed without so much as a thought. It’s something that some people would rather be forgotten. It’s something that only the most spiteful among us might be interested in celebrating. I think it is worth remembering and taking note.
For those of you who didn’t read this blog two years ago, I’ll review. Unfortunately a number of links in the articles I’ll reference have been lost because the Knoxville News Sentinel has chosen to remove them from the Internet. That would be all links to articles in Metro Pulse and also to Josh Flory’s Property Scope blog.
The first time I wrote about St. John’s Episcopal was in November of 2011 when they formally requested a demolition permit for their properties at 710 and 712 Walnut Street. At the time, they insisted the buildings were too deteriorated for them to afford to repair. Initially they said they wanted more parking. When it was pointed out that they would gain five spaces, they reversed course, presenting a rendering of a fenced courtyard in that space, saying it would be an amenity for downtown.
2012 was quiet on the demolition front and I noted in March of that year that the church continued to ask for postponements of their hearing before the Downtown Design Review Board. I worried it would end suddenly after the issue had faded from public attention. It did and by mid 2013 the permission for demolition was granted.
A protest was held on a Sunday morning in June outside the church. A second protest was held later in the month of June. A petition, started by Andrea Monk, asking the church to stop the demolition gathered nearly 700 signatures and she delivered it personally to the church. David Dewhirst offered to renovate the buildings and then lease them from the church. His offer was ignored.
In August, after the church secured the permit for demolition, I wrote an open letter to the church and published it on this blog. The church had shifted its reason for demolition from the cost of maintenance to the need for parking, to a desired courtyard and ended with the urgent need for a drop-off point for their older parishioners. The truth had become obscured through all the changes in tactic. The truth was widely held to be that the buildings were being destroyed out of spite.
And then it happened. On a Saturday in September, the two buildings were destroyed. It was over. The church exercised its legal right to ignore the wishes of the community and did so. Despite the fact that the community wanted the buildings saved, we would have parking or a courtyard or a very much needed drop off point for senior citizens.
So, it’s been two years, what do we have? Nothing, of course. Some grass and a couple of mounds of dirt. No courtyard, no drop-off, not even five parking spaces. Just an empty spot where two nearly hundred-year-old buildings used to stand. Just a chain of lies to justify a demolition that did not need to happen.
I’ve been accused of being too hard-line about saving old buildings and maybe that’s true. I’ve been instructed that tearing down the old is the only way to make way for the new. Unfortunately, the new often doesn’t materialize for years or even decades and when it does, it is rarely as thoughtfully constructed as what was lost.
We now have a few parking lots turning into buildings for the first time in a generation, rather than the other way around. It seems to be a trend. I hope we’ve learned something from this debacle and that we won’t repeat this scenario in the future with the Pryor Brown Garage, for example, or the Cal Johnson Building which is being demolished by neglect as you read this. If we are to avoid this mistake again, it may only be if we remember the errors of our past – including this error which happened only two years ago yesterday.