There are actually several home tours which have happened or are happening soon. As part of Architecture Week, a city-wide tour of mid-mod homes was held last Saturday. This weekend (on Sunday), the Fourth and Gill Tour of Homes highlights Victorian and Craftsman homes in downtown’s neighbor just to the north. The first weekend in May will find the City People Downtown Home Tour in full swing.
Running for over a quarter century, the tour is what many downtown residents point to as the starting point to their decision to move into the center city. Urban Woman and I would be among those who attended a number of home tours before moving downtown. It helped us realize the range of homes available – and that range has certainly grown since we moved downtown in 2009. A variety of styles and location offers something for anyone interested in downtown living. Today, I’ll give you a preview of one of the unique homes featured on this year’s tour, with a look at the others to follow the event.
Kendrick Place, located on Union Avenue beside Chesapeake’s restaurant, wasn’t always known by that name. At one point called Masonic Court, probably due to the proximity to the Masonic Temple, construction is dated to 1916, though it is possible that some of the homes were completed later. Visitors to the city upon seeing the row homes often comment that they look like homes in Philadelphia, Boston, Alexandria, Virginia or other cities. While they are unique in downtown Knoxville in 2017, earlier in the century the style wasn’t uncommon.
The development consists of two rows of seven homes each facing in opposite directions. In between is a brick alley or courtyard very similar in feel to the mews which are common in London. Residents, in fact, call it, “the mews.” A common space, it is used by residents as an outdoor space for grilling, visiting with neighbors or guests and not infrequently, for parties. All homes have a front door to the street with a rear entrance into the gated mews.
From the exterior each of the three-floor homes appears virtually identical. Each has a front stoop with a double door and a balcony overhead. Bay windows extend from two floors and a third floor is beneath grade. One unit on the end of the north side is an exception, with a different shape and brick color and a slightly smaller size. It is thought to have been a coal furnace of sorts for the other homes in the development. One home on the south side has roof-top access, giving it additional square footage.
The homes were originally designed and built by B.H. Sprankle who built the first thirteen homes as single-family homes for rental puposes and census records indicate that in 1920 residents were doctors, lawyers and leaders of the city. The census records graphically illustrate the demise of the homes over the years. By 1930 the units were being subdivided and lawyers and doctors had given way to shop owners and managers and, later, to blue collar renters. It is thought that by 1980 the original 14 homes had become 42 apartments with each floor having separate occupants. I had a common legend confirmed that many of the units were occupied by prostitutes.
Enter Kristopher Kendrick around 1980 who purchased the property from the Sprankle estate. Kendrick saved numerous downtown properties, such as the Oliver and Patrick Sullivan’s in the Old City (Lonesome Dove) which might have otherwise been destroyed. Some of the integrity of the original homes remained when Kristopher bought them, though much had been lost through the years. Probably with an eye toward the upcoming World’s Fair, he hired an architect to restore the homes to single family dwellings. Then he stopped.
What he did next greatly contributed to the character of the homes today: He hired a separate architect for each unit. This simple idea led to what you’ll find today if you visit multiple units: No two are the same. Some are very modern, others more traditional. You’ll find one bedroom homes and multiple bedroom homes. Open foyers in some, open centers in one, stairwells placed differently and different floor plans throughout. All (with the exceptions noted above) have three floors with approximately 840 square feet on each floor for a total of over 2500 square feet, placing them among the larger homes in the center city.
The home pictured in this article is one of the dozen homes on this year’s tour. Other Kendrick Place homes have been featured in the past. This particular unit is among the more traditional homes in the development. Entrance through the front doors on Union Avenue (the Chesapeake parking lot side) opens up to the second, or middle floor. The doors through which you enter are original to the house and were restored in 2015. You’ll notice the original, still operational mail slot. The entryway features the original six-sided tile in a pattern you’ll recognize from numerous entrances around downtown dating to the same era.
A stairwell located directly inside the front door leads to the third floor. Original brick is exposed to the right of the door as you enter and runs up through the top floor. The banister that lines the entryway, stairwell and upstairs floor is not original to the home, but is period appropriate and came from Knoxville’s old county jail, probably harvested by Kristopher Kendrick and offered for use to the architects and builders completing the project. The fireplace on the middle floor is operational and original, though it was converted to gas. The mantel is period-appropriate, but not original to the home, having been added by previous owners.
The living space on this floor serves as a living room, dining room and kitchen, though there are no internal doors separating them. The back door onto the mews is located just behind the kitchen and wine shelving. The floors both here and in the top floor are hardwood, though not original to the home. The single internal door on the floor is original to the home and leads to the downstairs.
The basement or bottom floor serves as a potential second bedroom with two closets and a full bathroom. The basement also includes a full laundry room with a closet which appears to have been used for coal storage. Walls are lined with built-in shelving for books and the owner’s vinyl album collection. It is the only portion of the home to have a tile floor, giving it a more contemporary feel.
Following the stairwell from the front door upward leads to a large bedroom, walk-in closet, bath and a small study. The current owners had the bathroom re-designed by Open Door Architecture and renovated by Prime Renovations at the end of 2016. The former, larger bathroom was divided into the current bathroom, with room left at the top of the stairs for the office. Matching French doors were added.
The door to the walk-in closet is original to the home. The claw-foot tub in the bathroom, though period appropriate, is not original to the home, but was likely another piece saved by Kristopher Kendrick and is thought to have been removed from the Andrew Johnson Hotel. The external door to the balcony is located on this floor and is a replica of the original which was replaced in 2015 due to extreme deterioration. The balconies have been reconstructed and are functional, working outdoor space.
To see this home for yourself and to see the other eleven, very different, homes on the tour you’ll need tickets, which you may purchase here for $25. They will also be available the weekend of the tour, but the cost will be $35. A ticket serves as entrance to the tour homes Friday night, May 5, from 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM and Saturday, May 6, from Noon to 4:00 PM. You may come and go as you like for both days, though a ticket will only gain entry to each home one time. Money raised goes to City People, an organization formed in 1983 for people who live in or enjoy downtown. Funds are used to improve life in the city.