105 W. Fifth Ave.
1,900 square feet | 3 bedroom, 2.5 baths | $240,000 | Contact: Donny Singleton, Weichert Realtors, 865-474-7100
"Composite" characters—combining the traits of two or more people into one more memorable persona—are commonplace in literature. But I remember sitting down years ago to read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and realizing that, while its world of flamboyant antique dealers, elegant old houses and older money sounded awfully familiar, the book's celebrated characters (in all senses of the word) struck me as pale imitations of Knoxville's own Kristopher Kendrick. After all, it took two or three Savannah "eccentrics" to cover the same ground Kendrick combined in one fascinating, multi-faceted personality. And, although it's been years since I read the book, I don't recall that any of them ever cut hair.
"Kendrick," as Jack Neely observed in the Metro Pulse Citybeat piece about Kristopher's passing, "created mythologies." And he started with himself, transforming a boy from Rockwood and Oak Ridge into the quintessential Old World gentleman. He became larger than life largely through sheer force of will.
He made his mark as a developer and, before that, a hairdresser. But I like to think his first job, as a theater usher during the last gasp of Hollywood's glamorous studio era, shaped him most. It certainly explains his development ethos. He pursued his eclectic projects not so much to reshape the city into the sort of place he'd want to live in, but to build a fitting backdrop for his extraordinary life.
He sponsored this column for years, yet rarely asked for anything in return: the occasional phone call suggesting a property to feature, a tour or two, and a little gossip, all conveyed in his deep, rich drawl. But even that waned as he became less active and other developers emerged downtown, many inspired by his example. In hindsight, I wish we'd talked more.
I can't add much to what others have said about his passing. But I can at least remind readers that it's possible to own a piece of the Kendrick legacy. Never strictly a preservationist, he approached an old building the way, as a hairdresser, he handled the exclusive (albeit aging) clients he called his "Immortals." Rather than restore, his renovations embraced and enhanced what was already there. The result was a romantic combination of history and whimsy that Kendrick called "magic."
Consider this townhouse on W. Fifth, which Kendrick called home for several years. Originally identical with the other three in the row, Kendrick's touch transformed it into a piece of Hemingway's Paris. I can certainly picture Gertrude Stein ensconced in a shabby-chic armchair next to the spiral stair, holding court in the mezzanine-wrapped salon as Alice hovered somewhere in the background. And, you know, I'm pretty sure Kristopher pictured it, too.