streettalk (2007-47)

Martha Woodward, author of Knoxvilleâ's Sunsphere: Biography of a Landmark

Street Talk

Why did you devote yourself to writing a book about the Sunsphere?

I decided to write a book about the Sunsphere after having researched the building for several years, off and on, because it seemed to me that there had been a ton of money spent on a building which was not doing anybody any good, except as a photo op. Also, I have a weekly show on community television called Homespun Hobbies. I filmed the Sunsphere for three of my programs, and this fired up my interest in its history. The writing process from beginning to ending took me about seven months. Much of that time was spent at the East Tennessee History Center reading hundreds of documents. I also visited the Sunsphere numerous times and interviewed 53 people.

In the book you mention a group that treats the structure as a religious icon. Whatâ’s your opinion of these alleged Sunsphere zealots?

While I was doing research for my book, I did find a website of a religious cult that claims to worship the Sunsphere; however, I could never get any answers from numerous emails. I visited the Sunsphere on special nights which had been described on the website as nights when the group was going to be at the Sunsphere doing some sort of worship service, and no one ever showed up. I decided the group was just a hoax, or a joke. If anyone knows anything about the group I would love to learn more.

Other than its value to the Knoxville skyline, itâ’s a very impractical building. Will businesses ever be able to succeed there?

I agree that the Sunsphere is impractical. As I explained (in the book), I did massive amounts of research about the usage and life of this building. I learned that no matter what kind of business thinks it can make a go of it in the Sunsphere, the same negative issues arise. It takes time to wait for the elevators, the square footage of the Sunsphere does not allow for expansion, and, like most other activities downtown, the main reason people give as a complaint to visiting the Sunsphere is lack of up-close parking. Everything that needs to be used in that building has to be hauled up the elevators. This can be a nightmare and requires planning and numerous employees which, ultimately, adds to the costs. It remains to be seen if a business can be successful in the Sunsphere. As we know, the best prediction of future behavior is to look at the pattern of prior behavior. The Sunsphere is an amazing structure, and I love it. I hope part of it will be used again as a Welcome Center for visitors. According to my research, the Welcome Center was one of the most successful agencies to ever use the building.

Where can people buy the book? Whatâ’s next on your book writing scheduleâ"Neyland Stadium perhaps?

People can buy the book by sending an email to me at or phoning, (865) 951-0319, or Carpe Librium, East Tennessee History Center, or . My next writing venture will probably be a true crime story. I am looking into the possibility of writing about one of the recent murders which occurred in Knoxville. â" Greg Wilkerson


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