“Salvage,” in preservationist parlance, tends to be a fall-back position. Renovation and restoration are the preferred approaches when it comes to reusing old buildings. But when that’s not possible, the only alternative is often a quick raid with crowbars and reciprocating saws to save certain elements—doors, mantels, trim—so they can be reused in other restoration projects. Think of it as the architectural equivalent of organ donation.
And in Knoxville, it wasn’t that long ago when preservationists were lucky to even get salvage rights. Knox Heritage’s first foray into salvage, for instance, came around a decade ago during the knock-down drag-out fight over an out-of-town developer’s plan to flatten big chunks of Fort Sanders to make way for a massive new complex of student apartments/privatized dorms. The effort to save some two-dozen houses in the Fort failed, but the developer did grudgingly give Knox Heritage salvage rights, resulting in a mad scramble by preservation enthusiasts to remove what they could before demolition began.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that summer of 1999 may well have been the nadir of preservation in Knoxville. Eleven years later, the preservation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings has become the cornerstone of downtown redevelopment. And, while there have certainly been some regrettable loses since, nothing quite compares to the scale of leveling several highly visible blocks within the Fort.
The intervening decade has also seen Knox Heritage grow into an organization with several full-time staffers and an ever-growing track record of achievements. The nonprofit is still in the salvage business, though, as items continue to trickle in. But that’s changed, too. These days, the salvage sitting in Knox Heritage’s carriage house behind Greystone may be the result of renovation, not demolition. Just the other day, they posted a notice on Craigslist announcing the arrival of several antique doors displaced by the renovation of the Glencoe and Elliot buildings downtown. Handsome ladder-back doors, most still in the original varnish and featuring century-old Arts and Crafts hardware, they had to be removed due to fire-code considerations. (Renovating the buildings to meet modern codes proved more challenging than many loft conversions.)
Now, rather than go to the landfill, they join Knox Heritage’s existing inventory of doors, windows, staircases, hardware, sinks, trim, and light fixtures. So, if you’re in the middle of your own renovation project, check out what they’ve got (or add to it—all donations are tax deductible). m
Salvage from the Glencoe and Elliot:
Doors starting at $30
Contact: Beth Meadows
Knox Heritage: 523-8008