Fragile and Fading Knoxville Landmarks 2023

Lord Lindsey, Currently Vacant
Ruins at 1633 W. Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, May 2015 (The Pickle Mansion which was subsequently demolished.)

This week, as part of Preservation Month, Knox Heritage published its Fragile and Fading list. Included are area landmarks, most but not all of which are buildings, that are in danger of being lost, generally to neglect. While we tend to think of preservation battles as situations in which we are trying to stop a wrecking ball, more often we are trying to stop the ravages of time and neglect. I’ll mention the locations they designated outside the downtown area, but focus on those closer to the urban center.

A primary focus this year was on the “West View Cemetery District on Keith Avenue.” The area includes three abandoned African American cemeteries: Southern Chain Cemetery (est. 1898), Longview Cemetery (est. 1915), and Crestview Cemetery (est. 1922). With over 15,000 gravesites within the three cemeteries, ownership has become murky, caretaking sporadic, and the three have been basically abandoned for the last forty years. Most recently, “Denzel Grant, Executive Director of Turn Up Knox, and others have raised money for care of the cemeteries, but their future remains uncertain.

Giffin School, located in South Knoxville saw its original section completed in 1920, with design by Barber and McMurry. Additions were built in 1928 and 1950. No longer used as a school, it became home to Remote Area Medical and was owned by Knox County. In 2015, Knox Heritage purchased the property, placed a preservation easement on the building  and sold it to Giffin Senior Community, LLC, which did nothing with the building an allowed it to deteriorate. In 2022, the building was purchased by Historic Giffin, LP and the hope is it will now be restored and utilized.

Ruins at 1633 W. Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, May 2015 (The Pickle Mansion which was subsequently demolished.)

The Fort Sanders Historic District, located just to the west of the heart of downtown has been subject to decades of preservation battles and has been discussed on this website many times. While numerous Victorian and other homes, including the childhood home of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee have been lost, “the neighborhood still contains a notable number of its original Victorian-era houses and other buildings which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as the Fort Sanders Historic District.”

It has suffered over the years due to its proximity to both the University of Tennessee and to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Each institution has played a part in the demolition of portions of the neighborhood. The nature of its closeness to the University, makes it a tempting spot to demolish homes to build larger apartment buildings, or to subdivide homes into apartments. “Knox Heritage is committed to advocating for the district expansion from 21st Street to 23rd Street along Clinch Avenue, Laurel Avenue and Highland Avenue.”

The photos included here are of the Pickle Mansion, located at 1633 Clinch Avenue in that district. It’s an example of the homes that have been lost in the area. After these photos, it was demolished.)

Parkridge Home Tour, 1618 Washington Ave., Knoxville, October 2015

The Park City Historic District, more commonly known (though some still hold out) as Parkridge lies in the opposite direction from downtown, located to the east of the Forth and Gill neighborhood, and not far north from the new stadium site. “Originally developed as a streetcar suburb for Knoxville’s professional class in the 1890s, the neighborhood provided housing for many workers at the nearby Standard Knitting Mill. In 1990, over 600 houses were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Park City Historic District. The neighborhood contains one of the largest concentrations of houses designed by George Franklin Barber (1854–1915), a mail-order architect known nationwide for his ornate Victorian house plans. Diverse architecture, walkable streets and its notable history make this district an important part of the city’s development story.”

While many homes in the district have been lovingly restored, others have been demolished, allowed to fall apart, or modified in ways not consistent with their original architecture.

While Knox Heritage characterizes the above properties and districts to be “fragile,” the are a number of properties they determine to be “fading fast.” Without action in the near term, it is likely these historic properties will be lost forever.

Lord Lindsey, June 2018

One of these properties sits in the core of downtown and is the subject of much local love for the memories made at the Lord Lindsey (615 W. Hill Avenue). Originally built in 1901 as a private residence, it became home to the congregation of the First Church of Christ, Scientist from 1926 – 1976. But it drew the love of many after the church left when, in 1979, it became a bar and restaurant called Lord Lindsey’s, owned and operated by preservationist Kristopher Kendrick. Since closing as a bar, the building has been through a series of owners and is deteriorating in place.

Knox Heritage would like to see it placed on the National Register of Historic Places (it is eligible), which would open up grants that could be used to restore the building and return it to usefulness in modern downtown Knoxville.

Standard Knitting Mills, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Standard Knitting Mill (1400 Washington Avenue in Parkridge) has been the subject of much conversation in recent years. Built around 1945, it is the “only remaining structure associated with Standard Knitting Mill.” The mill was founded forty-five years before the completion of this building and, at its peak employed over 4,000 Knoxville residents and produced “over one million garments a week and inspired Knoxville’s title as the “Underwear Capital of the World.” The remaining building, with over 400,000 square feet, “was the home of Delta Apparel until 2007.”

The building has been empty since and slowly becoming more endangered. Owned for a while by Henry and Wallace, who did no work to preserve it, it was sold in 2019 to WRS Investments. It was a hopeful moment that soon faded, perhaps partially due to the pandemic which hit three months after their purchase. The company has done nothing with the property, which suffered major damage in January 2022. “WRS, Inc continues to work with the City of Knoxville and a local architecture firm on redevelopment plans. Knox Heritage has reached out to the current owners multiple times  but has not received a response . . .”

McKee Hall, Knoxville College, Knoxville, May 2017

Knoxville College (901 Knoxville College Drive) sits to downtown’s northwest and is just a short bike ride from the city center. I rode my bike there in 2017 for a photo essay on the endangered property. The photos used here are from that article.

The college was founded in 1875 for freedmen and women. It is now a National Register Historic District with eight contributing buildings. “The campus was the first African American college in East Tennessee and hosted prominent figures such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Students “students assisted in the design and construction of these historic buildings and used bricks made on campus.”

McMillan Chapel, Knoxville College, Knoxville, May 2017
McMillan Chapel, Knoxville College, Knoxville, May 2017

Potential use and preservation of the buildings has been a topic of discussion for decades while the buildings suffer fires and deteriorate from a lack of maintenance. Many of the buildings are vacant.  “Knox Heritage offers support to the college leadership in researching pathways to re-accreditation in order to gain eligibility for grant funding for the stabilization of these historic structures. We encourage more partnerships to emerge that can work together to save this significant site.”