Bridging the Gap Between Downtown and North Knoxville

The Lucerne offers renovated quarters on an urban border

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Sad to hear Regas is closing after almost a century in existence—though I thought it was interesting that the announcement came within weeks of the Public House opening just around the corner on Magnolia Avenue. Don’t get me wrong. The timing was coincidence. But there’s a certain serendipity to it that illustrates how downtown’s evolving.

Regas, curiously, is no stranger to evolution. It started out as a coffee shop in what was once a busy corner of downtown, bustling with travelers passing through the Southern Railway Depot. A denser corner, too. The Regas Brothers’ original Astor Café occupied a storefront in the five-story Watauga Hotel. And the even more massive Hotel Atkin stood next door, on top of what’s now Regas’ parking lot.

Eventually, the trains stopped running, replaced by the interstate that blew through town, all but atop the building. (The upper floors of the old Watauga went away around the same time.) Regas, by then, had transitioned from diner to fine dining and grown to fill the old hotel’s entire first floor.

But the changes kept coming. And the addition of the casual “Gathering Place” couldn’t counter the fact that, after people “gathered,” they went home to someplace far, far away from what had become, for much of Knoxville’s mainstream, a forgotten corner of the city.

It took awhile, but as the center city emptied out, new people appeared to fill the vacuum. Some settled in downtown lofts, others in Old North and Fourth and Gill. And when it comes to gathering places, they were looking for something a little more original than your ordinary suburban fern bar.

That’s where the Public House comes in, offering an eclectic hangout for the greater downtown community and, perhaps as important, helping bridge the gap between downtown and the neighborhoods to the north. Because reclaiming some of the real estate surrounding Regas and expanding into Emory Place and what’s become known as “Downtown North” is an important step in downtown’s ongoing evolution.

And, while Interstate 40 has done considerable damage, a surprising amount of infrastructure remains, reminders of the days when this area wasn’t “Downtown North,” but simply the north end of downtown.

Take the Lucerne Building, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and King Street. One of a trio of charming apartment houses built in the ’20s by the Sterchi family (immigrants from Lucerne, Switzerland) and rescued in the ’80s by the late Kristopher Kendrick, the recently renovated and updated space is an excellent example of how swanky the neighborhood once was—and could soon be again. After all, the area’s got a lot going for it: great architecture, proximity to downtown, and a great new gathering space.

The Lucerne

units from 772 to 759 sq. ft.

2bdrm/2 bath to 1 bdrm/1 bath

$144,900 to $134,900

Contact: Jon Clark

Coldwell Banker:

584-4000

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