Knoxville High School Senior Housing Nears November Opening Date

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Just a few short years ago, the old Knoxville High School building was considered in danger of being lost. Built in 1910 and designed by Baumann and Baumann (same as the Andrew Johnson Hotel), the building ceased use as a high school in 1951, subsequently becoming primary administrative offices for the Knoxville City Schools, and serving Knox County Schools in various capacities after the merger of the school systems.

During its tenure as a high school, it boasted several notable accomplishments and/or historical markers for our city. It was the first coed high school in Knoxville, serving as the primary high school until its closure, at which time West High School, Fulton High School and East High School were opened. Improvements were made to Austin High and South High at the same time.

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Opening with just 646 students, enrollment eventually topped 2300. Changes were made to the original building, with expansions coming in 1914 and 1920. The doughboy erected in 1921 to commemorates the 117th Infantry Division soldiers which included a number of Knoxville High School graduates. The school won numerous sports championships, including national championships in 1930 and 1937. Interestingly, while W.J. Barton served as the school’s first principal, W.E. Evans served as principal from 1917 through the closure of the school.

The history of the building took a turn just a few years ago when a request for proposals was issued. In competitive bidding, an agreement was reached with Dover Development to redevelop the building as a senior living development. Misunderstandings of the type of development have persisted, as many have understood it to be a nursing home. The website identifies it as a, “lifestyle-focused community, rather than a health-care focused assisted living community.” Mr. Dover, in conjunction with Knox Heritage, opened the building to Knox Heritage members this past Friday night for a preview of what is happening there.

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Also termed, “independent living apartments,” the minimum age is fifty-five and the idea is to appeal to an older demographic who may have tired of home ownership and its responsibilities and who would like to live in proximity to peers, with amenities provided to make life a bit easier. Amenities include 24/7 staff, a full time activity director, a fitness center and salon/barbershop. Transportation to restaurants and events will be included.

The seventy-five planned units on three floors of the building will each include full kitchens and washer/dryer connections. With views varying from street views to skyline and north Knoxville vistas, each unit is different than the others. Occupying former classrooms and other spaces, Mr. Dover said the plans were dictated by what was already present, saying, “It sort of told us what to do.” He also noted that the building was in great shape relative to some he’s worked on. No doors to the classrooms were removed, nor were any added.

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Noting that he marveled at the majestic architecture, he said, “It was designed to be an inspiring building.” As a nod to the history of the building, graphic displays in the main hall will tell the story of the school. The Knoxville High School Alumni Association has maintained records and preserved memorabilia which will be on display. The building will be open to the public and they hope those living graduates and their children and grandchildren will visit.

Dover said plans have expanded to include a bar, restaurant, lounge and spa. He hopes to have celebrity chefs make monthly visits to the interactive kitchen, offering classes to residents. Art studios are being added in the attic where once, according to Dover, a rifle range existed.

Saying it is being constructed on a, “social model,” he acknowledged that it is being likened to a cruise ship and he didn’t seem to mind the comparison. Broadband access, an outdoor movie screen, fountains and gardens complete the package.

Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

Studying the Plans at Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

In terms of architectural elements, some of the original maple floors remain. Some stair balusters have been replaced over the years and no longer match. He said these will be removed and replicas of the originals will take their place. Original doors (which are beautiful) will remain, along with the transoms situated over many of them. One central hallway is particularly striking for its elevated internal windows which allow light from external windows to flow into the center corridor.

He also pointed out that ceilings had been repeatedly lowered over the decades. These have been raised, once again, to their original height, exposing many original ceiling tiles. Walls were repaired to remove the markings from the inserted lower ceilings.

In a personal note, Dover related the story that many years ago he had asked Kristopher Kendrick, the father of modern preservation in Knoxville, which building he would bring back to life given the choice of any local structure. He said Kristopher, who would develop Kendrick Place, Patrick Sullivan’s (now Lonesome Dove) and many others, immediately named Knoxville High. It makes this project more important for Dover to do and to do well.

Developer Rick Dover at Knoxville High School, East Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, July 2017

The building will boast, “at least two dozen staff” and Dover said the plan is to bring the units in at “below market prices.” The total cost for the project will be about fifteen million dollars. And the plan is for the units to be ready for occupancy in November. Interested? You’ll find the website here, but your best connection might be to call for more information or a tour at 865-293-6563. Want to be included in future tours like this one? Join Knox Heritage today.

And the fate of that doughboy statue? It was the first question asked from the crowd. Rick assured everyone that it will be restored and preserved for future generations.




  1. Knowing Dover’s reputation for honesty he probably never even met Kendrick.

    • Jeremy:
      I’m Mike Cohen. I represent Rick Dover. If you have questions about Rick Dover, who is one of the finest men I know, I am happy to answer them. All you have to do is say who you are. Nameless criticism is not myfave. You can write me here, call me at 659-4750 or e-mail me at Look forward to hearing from you.

      • I don’t need to. I’d rather ask the Tates, the wall of pointlessness put up in front of their business that’s had to be altered at least twice to actually serve any constructionally useful purpose, and the low five-figured amount offered to them to close their extremely successful business that he announced previously would stay in the Farragut hotel.

    • Susie Walker says

      Jeremy…how rude!

      • Susie before you call me rude, I’d suggest you look up a list of the things Rick Dover has said vs things he has done. Particularly regarding the French Market. I’m just being honest.

        • Mike Cohen says

          Two things, “Jeremy”… first regarding the French Market. In my experience, reaching a conclusion from hearing one side of the story is never smart. I would point you to the latest installment of Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell as a case in point. Secondly, you are like a Klansman wearing a hood: willing to stand for something, but only if nobody knows its you. You want to call people names: give your own.

          • I would add that all seems to have workd out very well for French Market as their new space is much roomier and more comfortable. Despite the public angst this caused it seems to have been the consumate… win-win for all concerned.

    • Allyn Schwartz says

      Rick Dover graduated from high school with Mr. Kendrick’s daughter. He grew up with her!! He most certainly did know Kristopher, as we all did.

  2. My first question would have been about the doughboy statue, too. Way to go, crowd! I hated to miss the tour. Thank you for walking me through the building here. When I grow up, I wanna live there.

  3. The French café was also the first thing I thought of when I saw the name Dover. The incident seems pretty shameful and capable of creating a lasting legacy.

  4. Great article. We were there for the look around and didn’t get to stay for the talk. It was pretty awesome to see the changes. My dad graduated from there in ’49. I found it interesting that the last day of school there was May 31, 1951…the day after I was born. We saw you taking these photos and were looking forward to your article. Thanks

  5. Susie Walker says

    My mother graduated from there in 1945. She will be 90 in August and I would love to be able to bring her to her old school and see the renovations. Would this be possible? August 30th is her birthday. I think she has a copy of the very old Blue and White. Her name is Wanda Stephenson Walker.

  6. Oren Yarbrough says

    I was sadly taking an exam on Friday and missed the Knox Heritage tour of this space and am really upset that I did. A handful of my friends got to make the event and told me that spaces were amazing and that the whole project is rather massive in scale. I was curious of two things. At one point I heard mention that their might be an “artist in residence” like component of the project with rotating artists living and creating art for an on-site gallery. I loved this idea and was curious if it was still an option. My second question was if it was possible to schedule additional tours of the space.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      The website says “schedule a tour,” so I am assuming that is the case. I’m also a little unclear regarding the artist spaces. I’ve alternately gotten the impression there will be units set aside for artists and that there will be studios. Not sure if it is either or both, but there is still something. Didn’t get to ask the question in time for the article.

  7. I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m interested in how they are going to deal with panhandlers and parking.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Well, I saw it. It’s not fake news. They will likely deal with the panhandlers the way the rest of us do – by kindly telling them, “no.” Probably the same way they deal with the panhandlers in West Town Mall parking lot, Walmart parking lot, Turkey Creek, at the exit ramps at Cedar Bluff, etc. I’m not sure the details about parking, though I think if I was older and lived there, I would prefer not to own a car.

    • Andrew,
      We will be offering security and valet parking to ensure the safety of our residents. We will also have staff on site 24 hrs. a day. In addition to this, our approach to “panhandlers” will be to treat them with respect and kindness.

  8. Leslie Badaines says

    Great concept! I am sorry I missed this, but hope to schedule a tour. I wonder about parking (if I remember, it was limited), and if there will be an elevator…,

  9. The renovations sound and look very nice, but I would only be able to afford to have an apt. there if it was subsidized housing. With all the amenities and the statement that rental rates would be “below market value, I’m guessing that it may not be HUD subsidized. Does anyone know whether that is a correct assumption? Thanks.

  10. Patricia Smith Hoppen says

    Will pets be allowed?

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