Fort Sanders Regional Medical's Surgical Strike on Historic Homes

Last weekend, while a lot of folks were enjoying the holiday with family, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center was hard at work demolishing two historic homes in Fort Sanders. The hospital—which has been engaged for several years in a dialogue with the community, some of it city-sponsored, like the Cumberland Advisory Task Force—hastily demolished two early 20th-century houses in Fort Sanders, both handsome brick cottages, ca. 1910-25, with unusual brickwork and valuable ornamentation.

Preservationists say FSMRC hadn’t indicated their intentions in recent meetings, and the visible demolition—early Saturday morning, during the Fourth of July weekend—seemed timed to prevent troublesome protest.

The houses, at 1801 and 1929 Laurel Ave., were apparently recent purchases and had been, until a few months ago, owner-occupied. Architect Randall De Ford, who owns a home nearby, is president of the Fort Sanders Community Development Corporation. Citing “years of efforts to try to establish a real and meaningful relationship with Fort Sanders/Covenant Hospital,” he says, he and his neighbors were “surprised, disappointed, and insulted by the Saturday-morning demolition” of the houses. He adds that it came “without any warning, communication, or attempt at dialogue regarding their plans.”

Preservationists weren’t aware the houses were in immediate danger; De Ford says the properties in question were marked “Not For Hospital Expansion” in recent planning maps used by hospital representatives. In a statement Tuesday, FSRMC announced: “The primary reasons for the removal were safety and potential liability....” and that “items of historic significance would be donated to Knox Heritage,” at least in regards to 1801 Laurel.

Here is the complete statement by FSRMC:

"Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center has a long-standing relationship with the Fort Sanders community and the Knoxville region as a whole. Our mission is the development and delivery of excellent health care. We continue to modify and enhance our services to meet the needs of our patients and their families, including adding a new medical office building to better serve Fort Sanders residents and the region.

"City permits were properly obtained to remove two vacant structures located at 1929 and 1801 Laurel Avenue. Each structure is owned by the hospital. Neither was located within the historic NC-1 overlay. The primary reasons for the removal were safety and potential liability, including broken glass, vagrant inhabitancy, and deteriorating structural conditions. Buildings at Fort Sanders Regional completely surround the structure at 1929 Laurel, and Fort Sanders’ property adjoins the 1801 Laurel property. Removal of these structures began on Monday, June 28, and was completed by July 5.

"Prior to the removal and over several weeks, families who had lived in the structures were given the opportunity to remove any items of historical or personal significance. Each took advantage of the opportunity. The purchase agreement for the structure at 1801 Laurel Avenue stated that items of historical significance would be donated to Knox Heritage.

"We take seriously our role as a steward of the community’s resources. In fact, Fort Sanders Regional has been offered up to nine opportunities to purchase residences in Fort Sanders near the hospital that are in the NC-1 overlay. In each case, the hospital has declined the opportunity to purchase the property.

"Our continued involvement in the revitalization of the Cumberland Corridor and our ongoing meetings with the Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association and Knox Heritage are evidence of our commitment to make the Fort Sanders area a better place for families, businesses, patients and employees. Our current approximately $50 million investment in a new building on the Fort Sanders Regional campus, expected to be completed later this year, is a tangible manifestation of our commitment to the stabilization and revitalization of the downtown area and the Fort Sanders neighborhood."

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Comments » 4

KnoxvilleUrbanGuy writes:

It's a shame to see that things like this can still happen. I would have thought the hospital would at least avoid doing something like this simply because of the bad press they would get, but no one seems to have mentioned it but Metropulse. I live downtown and this is the very kind of thoughtless destruction I hope not to see. If you are interested in following happenings downtown and learning about the people there, you can read my blog at http://stuckinsideofknoxville.blogspo...

kimtrent writes:

Knox Heritage was never contacted by Fort Sanders Regional Hospital regarding architectural salvage from these two houses and we will not accept it since we strongly disagree with the hospital's demolition of the houses. We did speak with the daughter of one of the property owners to determine if Knox Heritage could purchase the property to save it from demolition. She indicated that was not possible because her mother had already signed a sales contract with Fort Sanders Hospital. She hated to see the entire house go to the landfill, but that is what will happen now.

Knox Heritage does not accept architectural salvage from historic properties that could have and should have been saved. These houses should have been preserved and the hospital should stop its continuing expansion into the surrounding historic neighborhood. It continues to do so at its peril and the peril of all neighborhood stakeholders. The damage done to the integrity of the neighborhood will cause serious, long-term negative impacts for all residents - the hospitals, the other businesses and the residents.

Kim Trent
Executive Director
Knox Heritage

jdougher#207214 writes:

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the e-article and comments regarding the recent removal of two homes on Laurel Avenue.

First, may I correct some misstatements?
1. The home at 1929 Laurel Avenue has been vacant for a number of years. The sale was completed in February after the passing of the owner who had lived for several years in a nursing home out of state.
2. The purchase agreement for the home at 1801 Laurel Avenue did not name Fort Sanders Regional as the party responsible for contacting Knox Heritage for removal of historic items. This responsibility fell to the owner of the property. We do not know if that contact was made or not made.
3. There have been comments about the timing of the removals. Here are the facts: the removals were completed by a contractor once required permits were obtained; the property at 1929 Laurel was removed on Monday, June 28th; and, the property at 1801 Laurel was removed beginning Thursday, July 1st.

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center has long been in discussions with the neighborhood association and members of our City Council regarding expansion efforts for our facility. We understand the importance of preserving the historic nature of the neighborhood we share but we must balance that with our responsibility as stewards of our community resource to ensure that our patients receive top notch medical care.

With all this said, we regret the breakdown in communication regarding the removal of these structures. We have called the neighborhood association and expressed our regret directly for not informing them in advance of our intent regarding these homes. We obviously underestimated the value of the homes to the neighborhood. We do not have immediate plans to build on either site and are, instead, planning a green space for use by our employees and the neighborhood.

We hope to continue to work with the neighborhood association and members of the historical preservation community to arrive at mutually beneficial agreements for the future of our neighborhood.

Sincerely,

Keith N. Altshuler
President, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

Devilsadvocate writes:

in response to jdougher#207214:

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the e-article and comments regarding the recent removal of two homes on Laurel Avenue.

First, may I correct some misstatements?
1. The home at 1929 Laurel Avenue has been vacant for a number of years. The sale was completed in February after the passing of the owner who had lived for several years in a nursing home out of state.
2. The purchase agreement for the home at 1801 Laurel Avenue did not name Fort Sanders Regional as the party responsible for contacting Knox Heritage for removal of historic items. This responsibility fell to the owner of the property. We do not know if that contact was made or not made.
3. There have been comments about the timing of the removals. Here are the facts: the removals were completed by a contractor once required permits were obtained; the property at 1929 Laurel was removed on Monday, June 28th; and, the property at 1801 Laurel was removed beginning Thursday, July 1st.

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center has long been in discussions with the neighborhood association and members of our City Council regarding expansion efforts for our facility. We understand the importance of preserving the historic nature of the neighborhood we share but we must balance that with our responsibility as stewards of our community resource to ensure that our patients receive top notch medical care.

With all this said, we regret the breakdown in communication regarding the removal of these structures. We have called the neighborhood association and expressed our regret directly for not informing them in advance of our intent regarding these homes. We obviously underestimated the value of the homes to the neighborhood. We do not have immediate plans to build on either site and are, instead, planning a green space for use by our employees and the neighborhood.

We hope to continue to work with the neighborhood association and members of the historical preservation community to arrive at mutually beneficial agreements for the future of our neighborhood.

Sincerely,

Keith N. Altshuler
President, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

With all due respect, the phrase "'Tis better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission" comes to mind.

Enjoy your new vacant lots...er, "green space".

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