Without preservationist organization Knox Heritage, the city of Knoxville would lack many of its now-familiar landmarks.
The nonprofit began in 1974 as a group of volunteers gathered to save the Bijou Theatre, at a time when it appeared the 1909 landmark was going to be demolished. Soon afterward, KH took on an even more ambitious goal, that of saving the crumbling Victorian architecture of the Old City, the almost-forgotten warehouse district.
In recent years, Knox Heritage has played a critical role in saving and restoring several of the now-popular historic buildings that make up downtown Knoxville, including the S&W, the Daylight, and the Standard.
Also active in preserving residential neighborhoods, Knox Heritage is well known for its work with Fourth & Gill, Old North, Mechanicsville, Parkridge, Victorian neighborhoods that have dramatically improved during Knox Heritage’s tenure. Lately KH has been exploring the best of the area’s “mid-century modern” architecture from the 1950s and even early ’60s.
Much of the press Knox Heritage gets concerns controversies involving an owner neglecting or attempting to demolish a building deemed to have historical or architectural value. However, most of Knox Heritage’s work is quiet and cooperative. Its staff of six works daily to help property owners make the most of their historic properties.
KH helps property owners understand tax credits and other legal advantages of preservation. Many of these advantages come by way of a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. To qualify, a house or building needs to be at least 50 years old, to be in a form not much changed since its construction, and to be of some historical or architectural significance. Knox Heritage helps property owners explore that possibility.
Knox Heritage also helps with strictly practical sides of preservation, connecting property owners with salvage materials and with professional advice on preservation projects and dilemmas. KH also helps prospective sellers find prospective buyers.
Now made up of about 1,400 dues-paying members, Knox Heritage is one of the city’s most vigorous nonprofit organizations, especially in terms of hosting public events–as a partial calendar over the next five weeks suggests:
AT 11:30 a.m. this Friday, Sept. 18, Knox Heritage’s headquarters at Westwood, 3425 Kingston Pike, is hosting a free Lunch & Learn event featuring author and professional tour guide Laura Still, on her recent book, A Haunted History of Knoxville.
That evening, the Scruffy City Soiree is one of Knoxville’s most fun fundraisers. The venue is the Standard, the West Jackson event space, formerly a half-ruined industrial building that had been approved for demolition before Knox Heritage intervened, and connected its owner with a preservationist developer. This year’s includes a buffet dinner, wine and beer, and clever skits and songs in a one-of-a-kind floor show that’s often talked about for months afterward. Check knoxheritage.org for reservations.
On Sept. 19, beginning at 10 a.m., the Knox Heritage Salvage Shop will host a donation drive with a 10-25 percent off sale (more for donors) on vintage and hard-to-find architectural salvage and antiques, including fresh donations from Modern Supply, useful both for historic remodeling and for art projects.
On September 24, at 5 p.m., is an extraordinarily rare opportunity for the curious. For most of its 75-year history, the Eugenia Williams house, set back from Lyons View and located behind a high brick wall, was the home of a single property owner who did not welcome visitors. It was the work of one of Knoxville’s best-known architects, John Fanz Staub (1892-1981), who was born and raised in Knoxville but did most of his work in the Houston area. The interior of the house was a mystery even to its neighbors. It has been owned by the university for several years, but its future is uncertain. Knox Heritage is hosting an exceedingly rare members’ tour of the mansion. Non-members still have a chance to join. (Memberships start at $25.)
For those who might prefer a lower-key fundraiser than the Soiree, on Sept. 26 comes Bierfest 2015: Pints for Preservation, located in the parking lot of Flats & Taps, located in a block of renovated prewar commercial buildings central to Happy Holler.
And next month, on Oct. 22-24, Knox Heritage hosts the 2015 East Tennessee Preservation Conference. Described as a dynamic even for learning and networking, it draws preservationists, architects, planners, tourism professionals, government and community leaders, economic developers, real estate dealers and others who know that historic preservation principles and practices are a valuable asset. The keynote speaker will be Donovan Rypkema, of Washington, DC, a nationally know expert on the economics of preservation.
For more information on all of the above, see knoxheritage.org.