History can happen hundreds of years ago. Or it can be what happened yesterday. That was more or less the point of my last column promoting the recent Fourth and Gill home tour. The neighborhood’s homes, most built a decade before or after 1900, obviously exemplify an important era in the city’s history.
But what of the city’s recent history? The guidebook for last week’s Fourth and Gill tour tried to provide a little context, highlighting individual houses and the larger “back to the city” trend that led to their restoration and the neighborhood’s revitalization. Step back a bit, and it’s obvious that Knoxville’s historic core has witnessed quite a bit of change in the last 20 years or so. And so has Fourth and Gill, right down to the individual houses. We don’t necessarily think of those changes as history, though, intertwined as they are with our day-to-day lives.
Take this house at the corner of Gratz and Gill. It was split into three apartments during the two years I lived there—circa 1992-1994. In that regard, it wasn’t much different from most in the neighborhood. Back then, while restoration had started to take hold, renters still outnumbered homeowners by a high margin.
Even today, there are still a fair number of renters in Fourth and Gill. But it’s a very different neighborhood, just as downtown Knoxville and its immediate environs are a vastly different place. Both are livelier, better maintained, and more central to how the city sees itself than they were 18 years ago. And there are considerably more middle- and upper-income homeowners, too.
Maybe that’s gentrification. But which is worse: that this house has been restored back to a single unit, or that it once housed three with barely a nod to modern code requirements such as fire-separation? We lived in the back unit upstairs. The only thing separating us from our downstairs neighbors was a locked door at the top of the old service stair. Come to think of it, there may have been another door in the bathroom closet that connected to the front unit—either way, the landlord had the only key.
Still, such a casual approach to subdividing the place did have its advantages—for the eventual homeowner, that is. Consisting mostly of the former maid’s room and a sleeping porch, our apartment didn’t have much in the way of fancy fixtures, but the front apartment retained an incredible amount of original trim: an ornate staircase with square pillars, more pillars and pocket-doors in the parlors, a built-in china cabinet, and another built-in that graced the old butler’s pantry.
It’s all still there, too, refinished to its original shine. The restoration also ripped off the asphalt siding that wrapped the house when we lived there and added updates like a new kitchen loaded with stainless and granite. I certainly don’t begrudge the new owners doing it, either. We just lived there. They made it a home—again.
900 Gratz St.
3,255 sq. ft.
4 bdrms/3 bath
Contact: Jennifer Montgomery
Coldwell Banker: 693-1111