I can’t remember the year my wife and I first attended a tour of downtown homes. It must have been sometime in the early 2000’s. We were struck with the range of residences, from traditional to modern, from large buildings to small and from main corridors to hidden side streets and alleyways. Some of them, we agreed, we could see ourselves in and others, not so much. But we loved the conversation and kept returning. Until one year (2009) we found the perfect spot for us and moved to the center city. I call these tours a gateway drug for a reason.
While the tours through the years have been mostly hosted by City People, this year they have chosen to take a break and the East Tennessee Community Design Center has stepped in with an expanded version of the tours they have done for the last few years. While they haven’t always focused on homes, often opting to showcase other kinds of spaces, this year they will do just that. The focus will be on homes with unique outdoor spaces.
But it all starts with a Premier Party August 4, which takes place in the first floor of the Holston from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM. That’s a very interesting space in its own right. I first wrote about it here, two years ago tomorrow. I’ll have more details on very cool plans for the space in this Friday’s article and you’ll be able to explore it for yourself (plus the amazing vault below) and see the printed plans at the party.
You’ll also be treated to food samples by a local chef, along with wine pairings while enjoying the piano stylings of Dr. Bill Snyder on piano. Dr. Bruce Wheeler will discuss Knoxville’s history and some of the history of the Elliot (at the intersection of Church and State) after which attendees will be given a tour of one of downtown’s finest homes which happens to be in that building. It isn’t included on the tour the following two days. Tickets for the party are $125 and include the party and the tour (which costs $30). You can purchase tickets here.
The tour itself will run for two days starting Friday, August 5 (1st Friday), from 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM and continuing Saturday, August 6 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Participants will start at the Phoenix Building, 418 S. Gay Street and it’s something to see in itself. I’ve touted it as downtown’s most valuable building. It offers not only residences, but a coffee shop, bank, dry cleaner, convenient care clinic, drug store and soon soda fountain and lunch counter. Snoop around and see if you aren’t impressed.
You can purchase a ticket on the spot or in advance for $30 and you may do so here. From the Phoenix, you’ll receive a brochure which will direct you on a walking tour of homes in eight different downtown buildings, each featuring a unique outdoor space. It may stretch your idea of what it’s like to live in the city. Volunteers will be stationed throughout to make sure you find your way.
You’ll visit homes in the Carson, located at 713 S. Central Street sits off the beaten path and will be missed by most people who visit downtown. The building dates to 1940, but was redeveloped by Kevin and Melinda Grimac starting in 2005 and among its many features is a walled back yard. Next, the tour includes the Holston (531 S. Gay), built in 1913 and redeveloped in 2005. Many of the condos include balconies overlooking the city via Krutch Park.
Built in 1929 as a part of the YMCA, Crown Court (535 Locust St.), also on the tour, was transformed into condos in 2007 and includes a beautiful interior courtyard. The next stop on the tour is Kendrick Place (600 block of Union), built in 1916 as two rows of seven single-family homes with a courtyard (the residents call it the “mews”) in between. Kristopher Kendrick, Knoxville’s modern saint of preservation and redevelopment, oversaw their updating in 1981, restoring them to single-family homes.
Gallery Lofts (402 S. Gay St.) sit atop Mast General Store. The building was constructed in 1898 after the “million dollar fire” of 1897 burned the previous building and was transformed to lofts after the opening of Mast General Store. A number of the units feature balconies facing off the back of the building. That stop on the tour is followed by downtown’s first new apartment construction. Once designated for a jail, all buildings on the city block were demolished in the 1990s and the spot remained a massive parking lot for nearly fifteen years until developer Buzz Goss opened Marble Alley this year. It features an open space in the center of the development with a salt-water pool, community grills and other amenities.
The tour winds down on the 100 block of Gay Street in the Emporium (1902) which was redeveloped by David Dewhirst early this century. The building not only features condos, but is home to a number of artists and art organizations and is a favorite stop on First Friday rambles. The building also boasts a cool courtyard formed by the absence of a previously neighboring building and the elevation of Gay Street. The tour ends in the Old City at the Jackson Ateliers Building at 130 W. Jackson, which has included residences for the past decade, but was only completed in 2012. The home on the tour features a very cool roof-top room with a great view of the city.