Saving Downtown by Buying in the Suburbs

Help further the revitalization of downtown Knoxville; buy this house in the suburbs.

Now, before you think I've lost my mind, let me explain. This stunningly renovated rancher in South Knoxville belongs to Brian Pittman, the architect and artist currently restoring the Mary Boyce Temple house. The renovation (which interested readers can follow at maryboycetemplehouse.com) is a labor of love for Pittman, not to mention something Knoxville should be proud of. The fabulous old Victorian at the corner of Hill Avenue and Henley Street on downtown's southern edge is one of the last survivors of the original "West Knoxville." Downtown, west of Market Street, was once mostly residential, home to many Knoxville elites like Mary Boyce Temple. The descendent of judges and something of an impromptu diplomat, Temple could also be considered Knoxville's first preservationist: She wrote the check that saved Blount Mansion from the wrecking ball. Today, most of the downtown's other old mansions are gone. But Pittman is working to restore what will hopefully become downtown's only historic detached home that's still a single-family residence (a handful of others remain as offices, museums, and Masonic Temples).

Don't go grumbling about the government handing out money to those crazy historic preservationists, however. Pittman, like most of the folks who've restored homes in Fourth and Gill, Old North, or Parkridge—or Temple, when she bought Blount Mansion—is financing the project out of his own pocket (including proceeds from the sale of his stunning cathedral sketches, available at Bliss Home).

And, like most people who acquire a new house, he also needs to sell his old one. That's obviously a tricky thing in today's market. Indeed, the main way the downturn has affected downtown isn't reduced demand, it's that empty nesters looking to downsize to downtown are having trouble unloading the big house out in the 'burbs.

I doubt Pittman will face a similar predicament. Situated in the quirky South Knoxville enclave of Colonial Village, the fit and finish inside this exquisitely renovated rancher make it look like it leapt from the pages of Dwell. There are original hardwood floors, Tennessee marble and wood countertops, custom cabinetry, slate tile, and sandblasted glass pocket doors. Other updates include a Jenn-Air cooktop with downdraft vent, griddle and grill, a KitchenAid stainless steel refrigerator and a convection oven in the kitchen, and a Jacuzzi tub in the main bath. In short, it's probably as close to loft living as South Knoxville gets, with the added bonus of a large, level, landscaped lot.