Crossing the Rubicon

Neighborhood revitalization on the move

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Wireless Kitchen

by Matt Edens

Downtown is a bit different, owing to the size of the buildings and the investments involved, but in the neighborhoods around it, revitalization tends to be an extremely incremental and, in the beginning, an almost invisible business.

One or two units are renovated on this block one year, one more the next year on the next block over, the next year another house gets fixed up, maybe on the next street over. By the time people from outside the neighborhood start to notice that â“hey, things are changing,â” the truly significant change has often already occurred, one or two houses and homeowners at a time until the numbers start to add up.

Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville certainly followed that pattern, starting way back in the '70s. But at present, Parkridge may be the best place to observe the phenomenon. Two years after moving out of the neighborhood, I'm astounded by the number of people who have recently moved in, fixed up houses and gotten involved (makes me wish we'd held onto our house a little longer).

The mass of renovation and renewal has just begun to â“go critical,â” but the momentum has been decades in the making. We bought our Victorian on Washington way back in 1992 and I know folks who bought their Parkridge fixer-upper when Reagan was president, or even Carter (many of them still call the 'hood home).  

Bringing back a neighborhood isn't flipping a few houses. It's a long haul. And the most important benchmark may be one most people barely notice: As elderly homeowners move away, or simply move on, who is buying their houses? It can be absentee investors looking for cash flow. Or it can be a younger couple or family looking for a home. Parkridge, over the last few years, is trending more and more toward the latter. Things are looking up, leading some to wonder where the revitalization's momentum will move next.

And that brings me to this house on Parkview, just across Magnolia from Parkridge. Parkview, along with Linden Avenue, is the heart of East Knoxville, home to the old guard of Knoxville's African-American middle class. Both are streets of bungalows, colonials and the occasional Victorian, comparable to homes in other older suburbs such as Island Home, Emoriland-Fairmont or even North Hills. Many are still single family, well maintained homes such as this rambling brick bungalow with a mass of original built-ins: china cabinets, bookcases, even an unusual Murphy bed.

Other features include oak floors throughout, two fireplaces and original wainscoting in both the dining room and bath. Outside, the huge front porch extends into an original attached carport (there's also a one-car garage tucked into the basement). All in all, it's a phenomenally well-preserved house for an incredible $45 per square foot.

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