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."