urban_renewal (2007-03)

(Potential) diamonds like this are hard to find

In the Rough

by Matt Edens

Once upon a time, there was no shortage of big, two-story Victorian fixer-uppers in Knoxville’s center-city. Eleanor and Luttrell were lousy with them, as was Armstrong or Scott. Over on Washington Avenue they were almost giving them away. Our 2,800-square-foot George Barber design cost a mere $20,000 back in ’92—1992, I should say, not 1892 (although, granted, the house was condemned). 

Nowadays, in Old North, a big old house whose insides you have to rip down to the studs and start over is a rare exception, not the rule.  In Fourth and Gill, a “fixer-upper” is any house whose kitchen lacks granite countertops. Fort Sanders has fewer fixer-uppers than it once did (for a variety of reasons, some bad) and even Parkridge is starting to get a little picked-over.

No wonder that, for higher-end houses, building new ones that blend with the old is the latest trend in many historic neighborhoods. You can already find several in Old North and Fourth and Gill—in theory, at least. In many cases the craftsmanship of these new homes, some costing as much as a quarter-million dollars, has been so good that picking out what’s restored and what’s replicated can be a tricky proposition. The same will soon be true of the three new houses Smee + Busby Architects are currently building in Mechanicsville.  Once finished they’ll fit right in among the 100-year-old homes around them, a seamless segue between old and new.

There are still plenty of fixer-uppers out there, however. It’s just that, as the older neighborhoods near downtown are rediscovered and redeveloped, the search for them is moving into places like Oakwood-Lincoln Park or Belle Morris. But, since these neighborhoods, and others, are often a little newer or originally more working class than either Old North or Fourth and Gill, it’s far more common to see later bungalows and colonials or smaller Queen-Anne cottages for sale than a great big Victorian at a bargain price.

Which makes this house in Mechanicsville a relatively rare find these days.  Just down Deaderick from two of those new quarter-million dollar homes under construction, this is the sort of house you used to see more of in Old North or Fourth and Gill five or 10 years ago. And that, to be honest, is not entirely a good thing.

This house is in rough shape and will take a whole lot of work to be habitable. But, after 20-plus years of preservation and revitalization everywhere from Fourth and Gill to next door in Mechanicsville, it doesn’t take much imagination to see this place’s potential anymore, either.  With original features like hardwood floors, five-panel doors, fireplace mantels and an intact original staircase, this house could someday be a showplace.

213 Deaderick Ave.