urban_renewal (2007-04)

Vintage is as vintage does

Get Your 'Fix'

Last column, when I wrote about the diminishing number of fixer-uppers to be found in the neighborhoods around downtown, I may have inadvertently implied that was a bad thing. It isn't, by any means. First off, that means that more and more of those former fixer-uppers have been, well, fixed. The result has been a vast improvement to a multitude of inner-city neighborhoods, not to mention the city's tax base.

It hasn't been easy, or overnight. It's hard to sell a place that looks to be on its last legs. Despite the romantic appeal of rescuing a rundown house à la It's a Wonderful Life, the market for major, gut-it-down-to-the-studs-and-start-over fixer-uppers remains rather small. Few people are prepared to invest the sort of sweat equity required (trust me, it's more than you can imagine). And that's assuming they can even look past the crumbling plaster, collapsed ceilings and kitchens full of cast-off appliances and envision what could be.

Luckily, there are some folks out there who can see the potential in a house that might otherwise get pushed over by the bulldozers. Many of them become addicted. Serial Renovators, they're termed in old-house circles, people who buy a rundown house, move in and restore it and, as soon as they're done, it's off to the next "fix." There are folks in Fourth and Gill and Old North busily restoring their third or fourth houses (giving new meaning to the term "crack-house").

Lately, though, the number of people fishing for fixer-uppers has taken a professional wrinkle, in part because the growing investment and interest in downtown and its environs have increased the market for the finished product. Developers, if I dare use the word, have arrived in Knoxville's historic neighborhoods. Some, such as Old North's Daniel Schuh and Sean Bolen, are neighborhood-based, investing in the areas they call home. Others, such as Kent Kendrick's investments in Parkridge and Fourth and Gill, are carrying on a family legacy. And then there's John Craig, whose investments in Fort Sanders and Old North are a natural progression on the first-rate renovation work he's done downtown, most notably on Market Square. His company, Segundo Properties, is also involved in the S&W Cafeteria redevelopment that complements the new cinema.

Now this house on Grainger, as fixer-uppers go, is nowhere near as gargantuan an undertaking as the S&W, but that doesn't mean Craig's giving it short shrift. When the work is finished, this house will soon be a showplace befitting its prominent position on a corner lot overlooking the First Creek Greenway.

The plans call for a full restoration, retaining the vintage home's distinctive decorative elements while updating with all new systems, spacious new kitchens and baths, even a home office. But the best part about this fixer-upper is that you can get your old-house "fix" without lifting a finger.

1430 Grainger Avenue