Interviewed by Jack Neely and Paul James, Knoxville History Project on June 25, 2019
Contents: Growing Up in Bearden/Early 1950s, Black Community, Homberg Drive Area/Pike Theatre, Restaurants/Motels, Kiddie Land, Old Businesses/Drug Stores, Cas Walker’s, The Brickyard, Bearden Post Office, Music, Baum’s/Hail Storm of ‘62/Weisgarber Road, Bootleggers/Dick Vance, Western Plaza, Bearden Field/Athletic Field, Misc.
Growing Up in Bearden/Early 1950s
Jack: Welcome, David. Tell us about your early experiences with Bearden. Were you born and raised there?
David: No I was not. Actually, I was born in Athens, Tennessee. And my family moved to Bearden in May, 1949. I would have been probably three weeks old. And we moved there with my grandparents my Dad’s parents. D.L. Myers and his wife Ruth Myers. He was a section foreman for the Southern Railroad and he was transferred there. So we lived there with my grandparents for a few years. And it was in a little section house on Gore Street where the railroad crossing is. Are you guys familiar with the old section houses?
Jack: I was just about to ask about those.
David: This was not high-end housing, ok. This was old clapboard-style housing. Wood-framed housing. He owned the house but not the property. If I had that I might be a rich man today. The house was located where Buddy’s BBQ parks their catering trucks, it’s a parking lot. There were two sectioned houses on the other side Gore St, but we lived there for the 8 years of my life. And after that we lived on Kingston Pike approx. where Free Service Tire is. There were rows of houses there. Close to where Home Federal Bank is. We just lived there a short time. When I was 11 years old we moved to Timbercrest, lived on a house on Lonas Drive. Timbercrest was one of the first that Paul Shirley built when he developed Timbercrest, he started on Lonas and he gradually built up the hill. That’s where I spent my teenage years. We’ve lived for the past 34 years in Foxfire subdivision off Ebenezer Road.
Jack: When you lived on Gore St, was the train station stull there? Do you remember anything about it?
David: I have a very vague memory of walking down the railroad tracks with my grandparents and I remember we went in the station, it was vacant. I can’t say for sure exactly where it was located.
Jack: It was just on the other side of Northshore near from where you were. It’s near Prism Pool & Backyard business there. (at 203 S. Northshore located immediately right after going under the railroad trestle, heading south, and south of the railroad tracks.) Back behind there is a ramp that led to the train station. And that’s all that’s still there. It’s a concrete block thing so it’s not an early construction. It looks like 1930s or ‘40s ramp, but I guess it was enough there that they tore it down in the 1950s. .
David: To the best of my knowledge they tore it down in the mid-1950s. They brought the lumber to a field next to my grandparents’ house and it sat there for years. The railroad owned the property. I can’t say for sure what happened to the lumber. I know it sat there for several years. I remember the green and white Bearden sign was there and many times I‘ve wished I’d have saved it. It was probably on the building or just beside it.
Paul: White on green background? (laughter!)
Paul: We got with local train expert, Bob Davis, and looked at the station in Oliver Springs that has been saved and determined from the barest reference image we have of the Bearden Station that the two buildings were likely similar. Quite a few people were killed there crossing those tracks in Bearden in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Almost an entire family who lived on Deane Hill were wiped out crossing the tracks in the ‘30s. Tragic. Whether there was a siren or a bell that they didn’t hear, we don’t know.
Jack: Tell us, your mother was a dental hygienist?
David: She started working as a dental assistant, working for Dr. John Gass, in 1952 when I was three years old.. Their office was in the wooden buildings opposite the Bearden Center…the long narrow building that’s now a snowball place (Pelican’s SnoBalls, 5900 Kingston Pike.) It was at the corner of Kingston Pike and Agnes Street. One of them was Dr. Webber’s office, he was the medical doctor, but the long narrow building was Dr. Gass. It was about 1955, he built the building that Belleza Spa is in. I think it has won awards for mid-century architecture. I know my mom worked on many of the administrative details. She has exchanges with the architect but I don’t remember his name. It later on became a medical doctor and a dentist’s office. She told me one time that it was the only dental office between Farragut and the UT area, and basically in the 1950s and into the ‘60s, everyone in the area went there. Dr. James Reddick joined later, both great guys. Reddick had a large Catholic family. He had 12 kids so I imagine many of them are still in the area.
Jack: Were there a lot of Catholics around in the neighborhood? I’ve always wondered why they built Sacred Heart where they did.
David: I don’t know. Pretty much any Catholic kids I came into contact with went to Sacred Heart School. I think it was built in the mid-‘50s.
Paul: We’re not sure if it was part of the original Baum Nursery lot.
David: The school was built next to the church. (According to the Knoxville Diocese, both buildings were completed in 1956 after purchasing six acres of land from the Towles Farm in 1953 – PJ.)
David: Back to the dental office – the Everly family were patients there. She remembers the brothers, she was big fans of them. The brothers, they were patients there. Clifford Curry’s dad, Cliff, was a longtime custodian there. I know that my mom thought the world of him. It was kind of the center of the community. It’s where most people went to get their dental and medical attention back then.
Jack: Do you remember much about the black community? That was not too far from you lived.
David: There wasn’t a lot of contact in that era. The contact came when I went to Bearden High School. Bearden integrated in my sophomore year. And in my opinion things went very well, especially given some of the things that happened in other places in the south. But to my memory, everyone got along well. One of my class mates graduated in ’67 – Ron Davis, who I know who has been very active in the Lyons View Community. He lives in Alcoa now. His daughter is the principal at Emerald Academy and his grandson is Todd Kelly, Jr. who’s wrapped up his football career at UT. But Ron Davis has been very active in the Lyons View Community and if you wanted to talk with someone in that community, he’d be the guy.
Jack: We’ll do that. What year would have been your sophomore year?
David: That would have been 1964. The ‘64-’65 school year.
Jack: That would have been pretty early for Knox County. Some schools were still struggling several years later.
David: As I said, I don’t remember any tension but Ron might have a different perspective. He’s stated that the experience was good there. I just don’t recall any negative incidences whatsoever.
Paul: Do you recall black families living on, what we would say Homberg Drive, near the AME Church?
David: Yes, I do. I’ve heard a rumor, only recently, that Tina Turner lived on the corner of Homberg and Kingston Pike when she was a little girl. And I know the house they are talking about. It had a big wrap-around porch. And I know there were some black families who lived there.
Jack: That’s interesting. That’s not impossible. Her dad worked for Oak Ridge for three or four years. I thought they lived in Oak Ridge. She mentions in her autobiography that she sang here for nickels and dimes in downtown Knoxville. But whether she lived here I don’t know.
Paul: That house, would it be about where Naples is?
David: No, its further east. It’s probably there where the traffic light is now.
Jack: I’ve heard that there was a big house with a lot of people living in it.
David: Yes, there was. I just remembered the big wrap-around porch.
Jack: I’d love to know more about that. Do you remember any names?
David: No. Again, there wasn’t any immediate contact until we went to Bearden High School.
Homberg Drive Area/Pike Theatre
Jack: You remember the Pike Theatre?
David: Yeah, Absolutely. I remember going a lot of times for the Saturday afternoon matinees. You talk to kids who grew up in Bearden in the ‘50s that’s what everyone remembers.
Jack: A lot of Westerns?
David: The Three Stooges. A lot of Three Stooges! I’m sure they had some cowboy films too.
Paul: Do you remember a Quonset hut behind the Pike?
Jack: There is still one there isn’t there? The Cherokee Porcelain building. Wasn’t that a Quonset hut?
David: I think that building is still there. They used to have a neat Art Deco sign out front, like an Indian. I loved that sign.
Jack: They still exist. Believe it or not, they manufacture subway signs for the New York subway system. Its’ crazy. I’ve been in their factory and it’s bizarre to see.
David: I’ve read that. Do they still do that?
Jack: They did at least a couple of years ago. I checked their website not too long ago and they still brag about that. That might be the Quonset hut you’re talking about.
David: It was more than that though, wasn’t it? It was a warehouse building.
Jack: But it had a carved, arched roof I believe.
Paul: We need to go down there and have a wander around.
Jack: I’ve always been curious about the architecture of Naples, It was originally the Wayside Inn and it looked like a house. But do you remember when they had that distinctive curved brick or stone architecture?
David: When it was Alberti’s, yeah.
Jack: Do you know if it was when it was Alberti’s or before that?
David: I think I read that that building where Alberti’s was, and Naples is now, was built sometime in the ‘50s.
Jack: Because that looks such a distinctive, eye-catching roadside building from that air-streamed era.
David: I don’t really remember the Wayside but my earliest memory would be when that building was Alberti’s.
Jack: Do you remember, I guess you lived through the tail-end of the through traffic before the highway system when there was a lot of tourists from Michigan or somewhere, or just driving down Kingston Pike. Was it obvious to a kid?
David: Well no, I did because I went across KP and there was a lot of traffic – it ran smoother then – one thing that I’ve thought about – when you grow up in a place you kind of assume that’s normal. Looking back, its amazing the number of motels that were there in Bearden. I didn’t think about it at the time. But they were just all up and down the Pike. I mean, Bearden Hill was a field of motels. You had the Terrace View on top. Do you remember the McKee Motel?
Paul: I’ve seen a postcard of it. Was that on Bearden Hill as well?
David: Yeah it was. One of my classmates, Bill McKee. His parents owned that. They lived in Westmoreland.
Jack: I knew an old man named Mr. McKee in Westwood who died in the ‘60s. I think the first person I knew who died.
David: There were so many motels. White City Court, corner of Kingston Pike and Westwood. The infamous Vol Motel, or the Volunteer Motel on Bearden Hill and I remember it was closed down in the ‘60s. They had two-way mirrors. That was pretty scandalous. It got closed down.
I was trying to remember if there were other things. The Zesto place in front of the Pike Theater.
Jack: I remember that well. And Bill’s Drive-In – I remember it was a place to get basic grilled cheese and Coke, that sort of thing.
David: In the ‘60s, Shoney’s was the place to be. I can’t emphasize that enough. You think of Beach Boys songs from that era. You think of “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “I Get Around” that was Shoney’s…you have girls taking Daddy’s car to Shoney’s drive-in. You had bad asses driving around in muscle cars, looking for trouble. I mean, pretty much everybody from Bearden High School BHS and West High School hung out there.
Jack: I actually worked there for a short time. The worst job I ever had as fry cook. Horrible. My grandfather went there a lot and by the ‘70s it was an older folks place.
David: But in the ‘60s it was a different kind of establishment. They had a cop there who tried to maintain order. He was a pretty nasty guy.
Paul: So there was a cruising culture there in Bearden?
David: Oh yeah, it was big. Huge. Like I said, it played out like a Beach Boys song in that era. People would go down to Bill’s. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for at Shoney’s you’d go down to Bill’s and Blue Circle had a drive-in too.
Paul: Would the Highland Grill have been part of the scene as well?
David: No. There was another drive-in next to the Highland Grill called…
Jack: The Dixieland?
David: The Dixieland became Pero’s, right? (Pero’s on the Hill is now in Rocky Hill). I do remember when the Dixieland was a drive-in but I don’t think it was a drive-in in the ‘60s. By the ‘60s it had probably become Pero’s. Now there was a Fountain drive-in close to the Highland Grill but I don’t remember much about it. The Blue Circle Drive-in was close to Bill’s. So, you made a loop to Shoney’s to Bill’s, to Blue Circle.
Paul: Where was Bill’s?
Jack: It was on the left going west….beyond Kroger…close to Homberg.
David: It was close to Homberg. Of course, there was two parts to Bill’s, there was the sit-down restaurant and the drive-on.
Jack: I never saw the sit down restaurant, we always did the drive-in. Do you remember when they opened only Long’s?
David: Yeah. I do remember that, when the Kingston Pike Center opened. That was ’56 or ’57.
Jack: Among restaurants in Bearden, because of the tourist trade, were there any in your mind that stood out that were memorable?
David: In my era, to be honest, we didn’t eat out much. I talked to my wife about that. Back then going out to eat was a rare occasion. And it was something that maybe you did after church from time to time. I remember the drive-ins, the Dixieland Drive-inn that became Pero’s.
Jack: Do you remember what you ate there at the Dixieland?
David: Well, I would have been a kid…they had “broasted” chicken.
Jack: That’s not something I would have guessed.
David: That was a big deal back then. The old Hollywood Restaurant on Papermill, I know they specialized in broasted chicken. That was a hot ticket back then. I remember there was a Chinese restaurant on Bearden Hill and that was kind of unique for that era. Alberti’s specialized in Italian.
Jack: We were talking a few weeks ago about Kiddy Land, the tiny amusement park with a swimming pool.
David: Yeah. As I say, Bearden was a great place to grew up. It’s a cliché but it was like Mayberry. It was self-contained back then, and we had all this stuff that was within walking distance for kids who lived there in Bearden. I think what you’re referring to is Kiddy Land, and it’s hard to believe now, but it was there where Everly Brothers Park is now. I mean a tiny little space. They had a concession stand and a few rides. But the thing I remember most was their swimming pool, which was kind of down the hill. It would be where the park is now and the old Knoxville Drive-In was.
Paul: There was a gas station there on the corner at one time wasn’t there? Was that after or before?
David: For a long time…I think before and definitely after. But it didn’t last long, maybe two or three years.
Jack: We looked it up and they were very proud of that pool and bragged it was Olympic size and offered swimming lessons, they felt that had some prestige….
David: I don’t think it was that big. Putt-Putt was around the corner on Newcom Ave where Mercedes Places is now.
Jack: I remember the other Putt-Putt on the west side of Bearden.
David: Exactly. Later on they moved where Papermill intersects with Kingston Pike. There was a Putt-Putt there for a few years on Newcom Ave.
Paul: Was that serving the tourist population or locals?
Jack: Both. They had Putt-Putt’s in Gatlinburg and places like that.
David: I never thought of it that way, whether they built it there to appeal to the tourists but a lot of us kids went there to play. It was one of those popular Friday night activities. I’d go there with my parents to play Putt-putt.
Old Businesses/Drug Stores
Jack: I don’t recall anything older that Long’s on Kingston Pike do you? Is there any other business older that Long’s on Kingston Pike today?
Paul: Calloway’s Lamp & Shade says it has been around since the 50s?
David: I remember when Calloway’s was an electronic shop. It was called The Electronic Shop. And Jack, to answer your question – Long’s may be the only one…I’m not sure there’s anything older than that. I go to the Pike Barber Shop, underneath. Dwight is my Barber. Next to Long’s.
Jack: I’ve had probably 100 haircuts there. You’d go down there with a comic book from Long’s.
David: It’s still there. Then a little later, the Bearden Center opened a few years later than the Kingston Pike Center. I remember when the Bearden Center was built (now where Food City is). There was a hobby shop in it. And it would have been on the side closest to the school. Of course, this was back in the “Western era”. And they had some quick-draw guy that came there. And they had a little stage built up in the parking lot. And he put on a show. He did that for a few days…did his quick-draw routine. I can’t remember the name of the shop (ads in News Sentinel for Duke’s in Bearden Center 1958-1960), they were big into coins. It didn’t last too long.
Jack: There was a place called the Hobby Shop downtown…
David: Yeah…on Clinch…I remember that. I don’t know if that was the same people. I doubt that it was. But that was a big deal when the Bearden Shopping Center opened (formally opened on May 1, in 1958).
Jack: Remember Henderson’s Drug Store when it opened there?
David: Yeah, very well. Mr. Henderson was a great guy. This was decades before cell phones of course, but he would let… it was a big hangout after school. You went to Long’s (Henderson’s) Drug Store. And he would let people come behind the counter. I remember he had a black wall phone. And you could come behind the counter and call your parents. And, I know, he was probably thinking “These are future customers!” Or he might just have wanted to get us out of there. But he was really good about letting us behind the counter. I think at some point that drug store became Long’s-Henderson’s. I’m not sure about that. But eventually it just became Henderson’s.
Jack: In my memory it was very much like Long’s.
David: As a matter of fact, I brought my annual because it’s a snap shot of businesses that were in business in ’67 and it became Henderson’s.
Jack: So there were two Long’s Drug stores?
David: Absolutely. It was Long’s-Henderson’s and then eventually just Henderson’s.
Paul: Talking of a personal memory. I was curious why your mother was in the Royal Cola photograph (from the McClung Historical Collection) in the first place?
David: I wish I knew! I wish I had asked her. It was taken in about 1952 when I was three years old. I think it was a random thing. My Mom never did any modelling or anything like that. She probably just happened to be there and they happened to have that new cooler which was high tech stuff for that era. I wish I knew that guy’s name. Somehow “Roscoe” sticks out in my mind but I can’t say for sure.
Jack: That was the old White Store…there was one in the Bearden Center?
David: Yes. It was the same place. It would have been on the corner of Kingston Pike and Bearden Drive. I’m pretty sure that’s where it was taken.
Jack: That was there before the Bearden Center opened?
David: Yes. Actually, I think it was incorporated into the Bearden Center. I joked with my Mom many times about that photo. If you look close, you’ll notice her eyes are closed. I said, “Mom, if you eye’s had been open they might have gone national with it!” RC might have gone national with it! My Mom looked good. She always did.
Paul: It’s a lovely shot. How old was she?
David: She was in her early ‘20s then. It was a surprise to see that photo hanging in the Bearden Library. About 20 years ago my Mom attended an event with the public library where they invited long-time residents to share stories and she gave them that photo. (Likely during Knox County Public Library’s Two Centuries Photographic program circa 1991 -PJ.) They talked about having a Bearden Festival and trolley tours, but to the best of my knowledge none of that ever happened.
Paul: I’ve talked with Steve Cotham and Nelda Hill from the Library about this and it sounds like that they had high hopes for more stories and photographs but it didn’t quite happen. It kind of petered out. But that’s probably where your Mom shared that photo. And I’m glad she, and others, did.
Jack: Talking of trolley’s…do you have any memory of the streetcar on Lyons View?
David: No, again that was before my time, but I know the circle is still there. That’s where Howard Claiborne (longtime Bearden resident) lives, right?)
Paul: Ah, you’ve read the oral history conversation on the KHP website. The circle was right around the Dalton’s store on Lyons View, right?
David: That’s where there’s a physical therapy place…it kind of circled around that building that’s been everything…
Jack: I’m surprised that it seems to have lasted longer than the city streetcar system. I think it kept running that rubber tire streetcar until the early ‘50s.
David: My earliest memory with public transportation was riding the bus downtown with my grandmother. My grandmother did not drive. And we would catch the bus right where those wooden buildings were across from the Bearden Center where the dentist office was.
Paul: Was there a name for beyond Bearden? Obviously it wasn’t Farragut, but was there a name?
David: Country! (Laughter!) That was what it was. West Hills was built there, mid-‘50s, but honestly, beyond that…
David: I remember in the ‘50s, there was strip next to Cas Walker’s…its still there, a strip shopping center. I remember there was a TV store there. I don’t remember the name. Cas Walker’s was the yellow-brick building…
Jack: On Kingston Pike near Westwood.
David: It was right there in front of the Bearden High School. Most of his stores were yellow brick. This strip shopping center, that’s where Seal Drug Store was. It was a big deal back in that era too. There was a ritual…you went to Seal’s before school started in the morning, that was where people hung out before school started. After school, you went to the old Long’s in Bearden Shopping Center.
Paul: Seal’s was near Cas Walker’s?
David: Yes, right next to it.
Jack: How different was it to any other drug store? It’s surprising that there were three memorable drug stores in a small area. What made Seal’s stand apart?
David: Well, I’m not sure that it was unique. They had a soda fountain at one time. But for some reason, who knows, it just became the morning place to go. That’s where kids hung out. Part of it may be because they had comic books, plus it was right next to the school.
Jack: I’m surprised that the community could sustain three drug stores.
David: There was more than that, I drove by the other day to refresh my memory…there was another drug store…where Cherokee Plaza is now which is in that same general area where Home Federal Bank is. It was probably a little bit east of Home Federal. But there was a drug store there. I don’t recall the name of it but they had a soda fountain. I remember going there as a kid. The building was used for different things after the drug store moved out. So you had Seal’s, two Long’s, LeHardy’s, and you had this other one.
Paul: Back to Long’s next to where Kroger now is. Was Knox Blocks operating?
Paul: So what went on there?
David: I always thought they made cinder blocks.
Jack: We’re trying to sort that out from the legends of the Brick yard. I don’t know when people talk about the brickyard they are talking about Knox Blocks, or something much earlier that had to do with actual clay bricks. I think they did…
Paul: It was the Scott Clay Brick Company. In the 19-teens though. Knox Blocks was there later in the same location I believe.
Jack: It seemed a little out of place. It was a big factory in the middle of this mostly fun area.
David: It was right there where Kroger is.
Jack: They built Kroger in the ‘70s.
David: As far as the brick yard, I have no memory of it but I recall reading about it. Maybe it was located where the Knoxville Drive-In was but I don’t know that for a fact.
Jack: I’ve head different stories about how they got the clay for it. There was a dig place and there was a Brickyard community over in the Homberg area.
Bearden Post Office
Paul: Where was the post office when you were growing up…around in that area somewhere?
David: It was close to where the Bearden Shopping Center is. There was a wooden two-story building. You’ve probably seen pictures of it. It was on the same side of the street as the Bearden Shopping Center It was just a little bit west.
Paul shows picture of it (1950s photo of Bearden at Kingston Pike and S. Weisgarber).
David: Yes, I think that’s it. I know my grandmother used to get mail addressed to “Bearden, Tennessee.” Not “Knoxville”. It would take some research but I think the post office might have been there at one time.
Jack: And you’re pointing to the buildings on the south side of Kingston Pike. It was in the wooden two-story building that we just talked about and then later of course moved to Sutherland Ave.
Jack: We talked a couple of year ago about concerts at the Armory, the Otis Redding show in 1964.
David: That was before I started going to concerts. I didn’t go to that one but I do remember them having concerts and dances at the Armory but I didn’t go to any. I saw Otis at the Coliseum, probably early 1967. It would have been a few months before his death. But it’s hard to emphasize just how big Otis was back then. Otis was huge. I remember seeing him that one time.
Jack: Any other musical remembrances? I‘ve run across some things like the Carter family playing to open a gas station in Bearden.
David: I don’t remember that. This is just a personal memory – some guys I knew had a band called Avantis. Judge Bob McGee. You know the criminal court judge. I think he was it. My good friend Fred Alexander was in it. We were probably juniors or sophomores and they had a little concert in a parking lot that’s now the Alzheimer’s building is there next to Bearden Elementary. That was a big deal for us kids.
Baum’s/Hail Storm of ‘62/Weisgarber Road
Paul: Anything else you wish to say about Baum’s? You said you had a vivid memory of the hail storm. Were there businesses damaged?
David: I do. It was extensive and very comparable to the 2011 hail storm. The difference is that there wasn’t as many people back then. That was 1962, the population was much smaller. One thing I remember about it. I was 13 and too old to play little league baseball, you could play up to age 12, and I was at the Little League baseball field on Weisgarber Road, I think I was keeping score, There was an old chalkboard scoreboard. In right field, and the hail just blew up all of a sudden. And man, when it did people just started running. My friend got hit in the head with one and he had a big knot. Everyone went running to the old Bearden Library which was right next door. Everyone went there to take shelter.
There was extensive damage from that hail storm. And Baum’s did not have insurance. I’ve read that they understood there was little chance of a hailstorm occurring like that in Knoxville and wasn’t covered. It pretty much wiped out Baum’s. They stayed in business a few years after that but I’m not sure that they ever recovered from it.
Paul: Back to the baseball field you were talking about. Obviously it’s changed a bit down there, but was that where the fire station is on Weisgarber? I don’t know how long the station has been there.
David: Honestly, it was down in a hole. You were down below the level of Weisgarber Road. The creek (Fourth) ran behind it. Any sport I played I was a bench warmer. But Little League Baseball, the goal was always to hit a home run over the fence and put it in the creek. But it was right next to the old Bearden Library – back then an A-Frame, right next door to each other. And when the hail came, everyone went running to the library for shelter.
Jack: Did they call it the Bearden Baseball Field…did it have a name?
David: I assume it was the Bearden Baseball Little League Field. And somebody did save that scoreboard. I’m not sure who did. There was a Facebook post on it. That’s the scoreboard I was keeping score on when the hail storm it.
Paul: This is a little obscure, and I know way before your time, but I’m trying to determine where the old Capt. Bearden gravestone once was on the Weisgarber Farm. Did you know about the farm back then?
David: I don’t remember the farm but I remember Old Weisgarber Road, and when I drive down there today, it looks almost identical to what it looked back in the ‘50s. You turn there by the Weigels on Lonas at the intersection and you follow the old Weisgarber Road over to Middlebrook. There’s a traffic light and is where the Acker House is. If you know where the Acker Farm is at Middlebrook?
Jack: I remember it from years ago but I didn’t realize it was still there.
David: They were a very prominent family and still attend Central Baptist Church. Dr. Acker was a heart surgeon and I think his son became a heart surgeon. They owned quite a bit of property on both sides of Middlebrook. And they had horses.
Jack: Do you have any bootlegger stories?
David: I’ve heard all of the stories about Dick Vance. His shop was there on Sutherland, close to where Hollywood intersects with Sutherland. I can remember my dad going there and buying from him. One thing that I would say – everyone that I’ve ever heard that knew him had wonderful things to say about him. He was very respected and generous from what I’ve heard. He was a pretty well respected member of that community. And I’m sure there were a lot of customers that didn’t admit to it. But they were customers. You know where he lived?
Jack: Not exactly.
David: The house is still there. Its on Westland, just a little bit west of where Morrell intersects Westland. It’s now part of the Knox County Baptist Association. Which to me is one of the great ironies of Knoxville! They use that house now. That’s where Dick lived.
Jack: That was out in the country then.
I remember Thunder Road at the Knoxville Drive-Inn. They sold out and added a second showing. We went back and saw it.
Jack: Do you think the fact that the song mentioned Bearden was part of the appeal?
David: Oh yeah, it was huge. Bearden, to be mention, yeah. It really was. I thought it was all fiction, and I know a lot of people saw a lot of stuff, and I’m sure whatever they saw, they saw, but I’m not questioning that, but the big question is what people saw, was that the basis for the movie…I don’t think so. Cos it just didn’t make sense. Someone from Harlan taking liquor to Memphis before the interstate. That just didn’t make sense. Personally, my opinion is it was fiction, but it’s great. You know, when fact becomes legend, print the legend.
Jack: In the song, the movie has the narrative but the song is about coming from Kentucky to Knoxville and the guy’s just flinging the cops out on Kingston Pike and there’s no mention of Memphis or anything else, so who knows. They’re two different stories.
Paul: Is there anything you wish to say about Western Plaza?
David: Lots! (Laughter.) One thing I’d like to bring out is that there was a health club on the lower level of Western Plaza. I think originally it was called Cosmopolitan, and then later on Continental. There was a guy called John Pascal that ran it. He and his wife Julia ran it. I can’t say for sure but it may have been the first health club in Knoxville. I think he had a second one on a strip shopping mall on Magnolia Avenue. But the one in Western Plaza was a small place but there were some pretty well known people who worked out there. They had different days. Men went on certain days and women went on certain days. And it was so small they didn’t have different dressing rooms. So you didn’t have men and women working out together. But John Pascal is a guy who never got the credit that he deserves. To me, this guy was a true pioneer in the health and fitness business in Knoxville. But one thing I remember is that Big Jim Hess (broadcaster and promoter) would work out in the afternoon. John was friends with Ray Mears, basketball coach, and to show you the difference between today and back then, Ray Mears would bring his basketball players in there to work out, and John would develop a plan for him. I don’t think they even had the trainers and the fitness guys on staff. I remember Dick Evie who played football at UT and went on to the Chicago Bears, and he worked out there. It was a very well-known place. John is still alive. I think he lives in old Concord. And there was also the Bowling Alley in the lower level. They had pinball machines and pool tables. They had a bank of pinball machines. For a while there was a slot car track in the lower level. I never really got into that. But I went there one time with a friend and they had miniature cars, you’d put them on a track and race them. And it didn’t last because it kept jumping the track. It was a waste of time.
Jack: That rings a bell. Of course, the Ice Chalet opened about that time too.
David: I didn’t go in there much, but it’s been there a long time. But it was a different world down in the lower level of Western Plaza. Still is (laughter!).
Bearden Field/Athletic Field
Paul: We’re trying to find out more information on the circuses that were staged in Bearden. Any thoughts?
David: I have a very vague memory. I went to Kindergarten in a house on Papermill where it intersects Hollywood Drive. I have a very vague memory of our Kindergarten teacher taking us to that field on Sutherland. And to the best of my memory they were taking down the circus. And I don’t know why she would have taken us down to see the circus being torn down…this would be about 1954, something like that.
Paul: That’s interesting because the Ringling Bros. Circus was there in the late ‘40s and also the Dailey Brothers Circus after that. But you’re talking about the mid-1950s.
Jack: I think in the ‘60s there were small one-ring circuses…
David: My earliest memories of that field are as a driving range. And that’s where the name Golf Range Apartments came from. My Mom got me a construction job when they building those apartments about 1965. I worked for a few days and decided that this wasn’t for me.
Paul: Are they still there?
Jack: No, they’re gone, now part of that athletic field.
David: The Fulton Mansion – I know you guys have a lot of info on that but they had the neon cross on the top when the Catholics bought it.
Jack: Oh, when it was a nunnery, I guess…
David: Yes, exactly. It was well known. It lit up the night at least it seemed to when I was a kid. It was on top of the tower. I don’t know if there are any pictures of it but it was on top of the observation tower.
Ok, something else, where Echo Bistro is now, next to Bearden Elementary that was originally a fire hall. I’m not sure if many people know that but it was built to be a fire hall. I remember it being built, in the ‘50s.
Special thanks to the Aslan Foundation for programmatic support.