urban_renewal (2006-13)

Look outside the beltway for cool housing options

Suburban Renewal

by Matt Edens

I have to admit I’m biased. Most of the real estate that I’ve featured in this column over the years has been in and around downtown, or at the very least inside the I-640 beltway. But then, the column is called “Urban Renewal,” after all. Rejuvenating Knoxville’s center-city is sort of my whole point. And historic preservation has been my primary focus almost by default, really.

Downtown and the center city are where most of Knoxville’s historic buildings happen to be. And, compared to the massive bulldoze-it-all-and-start-over redevelopment model of days past, preservation’s relatively small-scale, individual, and primarily private-investor-driven dynamic of fixing up a rundown neighborhood over time, one building at a time tends to provide huge dividends to the city for little direct civic investment. 

Because the product that preservation produces is surprisingly marketable, people are now paying more than $100 a square foot for homes in Fourth and Gill—and almost twice that for downtown lofts. And while both neighborhoods are now seeing some high-dollar new construction, and urban living suddenly has cache, that wouldn’t have happened if preservation hadn’t paved the way. Old buildings are, by and large, cool—it’s the bedrock truth behind successful downtown revivals across the country.

But what if you think old buildings are cool but don’t want to live in or near downtown? Well, while your choices are limited compared to the center city, there are still plenty of options.

 If you want to live West, you could consider Old Concord (whose historic core is the county’s only district protected by zoning similar to the city’s H-1 historic designation).

South Knoxville has quite a few historic homes, particularly along Sevierville and Maryville Pikes. There are old homes in Powell, even a handful in Halls, and lots more in Fountain City.

But, you’d have to look pretty hard to find one finer than this lovely bungalow on Inskip. Way out in the country when it was built in 1908, the original owner used to walk down to the whistle stop and catch the train into town. Ninety years later the current owner purchased the house and totally restored it from top to bottom—new roof, new plumbing, HVAC, wiring, the works. And, while the original woodwork has been beautifully restored and the working corner fireplace faithfully rebuilt, the rest of the house has been fitted out for 21st century living. From the corner Jacuzzi tub in the bath to the professional series stainless steel appliances, maple cabinets, and Italian tile countertops in the kitchen, there are plenty of creature comforts.

Outside, the house has a large fenced yard, complete with two wonderful old hemlock trees, a koi pond. And, since you aren’t quite downtown (although it is a short drive down Central), there’s always plenty of parking, too.

917 E. Inskip Dr.