Structure: Joseph Koprowski House Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee Architect: James A. Embrey Date: 1970 Tidbit: In the mid 1960s, violinist Joseph Boleslav Koprowski moved to Gatlinburg to become the concert master for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. He had Gatlinburg architect James Embrey design him a house up on the one of the tallest hills in Gatlinburg. Unfortunately, the 2016 fires burned this house down. Also, I apologize for the tiny photos but they’re all that’s left 😞
Last week we explored the Timberlake area, a secluded enclave of modernism tucked just below the Tennessee River. However, there is one mid-century house from that area that I left off out of the blog. The oversight was intentional, don’t worry. I wanted to talk about the three modernist houses designed in East Tennessee by Herbert Millkey Sr, and I wanted to do it all at once.
Millkey was an Atlanta-based architect who studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati (BA), and at Yale University (M.Arch). There he had his was a principal in two firms (Moscowitz, Willner & Millkey and Millkey & Associates) and was a regional director at the AIA. Interestingly, his son, Herbert Millkey Jr was also an architect, one who co-founded the first interracial architecture firm in Georgia (called Millkey & Brown).
Now, Herbert Millkey Sr’s practice was mostly focused on commercial architecture, with the two notable exceptions. The first was a house he designed for cartoonist Ed Dodd in Atlanta, Georgia.
The other notable exception to Herbert Millkey Sr’s commercial heavy practice was his own residence in Nancy Creek, Georgia (now demolished).
But enough about Georgia. Let’s dive into the Tennessee connection, shall we?
Structure: Frederick Fisher House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Herbert Millkey Sr. Date: 1957
Structure: Robert Fiddler House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Herbert Millkey Sr. Date: 1956 Tidbit: Mr. Fiddler worked at Rich’s, which was headquartered in Atlanta. He and hsi wife fell in love with mid-century modern style architecture after seeing Mr. Millkey’s personal residence featured in a magazine. Unfortunately, the Fiiddler house was eventually remodeled into oblivion (turned into a McMansion).
Structure: William Way House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Herbert Millkey Sr. Date: 1955 Story: Now we come to the part of the story left out of the Timberlake blog. The house was designed for William Way, the head of the Transportation Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Unfortunately for the Way’s, William died of a heart attack a year after the house was built.
Over time, new owners added on + remodeled the house, while still retaining a lot of its original character.
Structure: Harry Daniel House Location: Bristol, Tennessee Architect: A.L. Aydelott & Associates Associate architect: Chia-Yi (Charles) Jen Date: 1953 Tidbit: As best as I can tell, Harry Daniel’s parents were East Tennessee royalty. They owned a massive historical residence called “Almathea” which they used to hold their vast collection of art and regularly host dinners and events. At some point, Harry became the owner of the property, sold it, and commissioned the firm A.L. Aydelott & Associates (out of Memphis) to design him a new, contemporary residence.
The principle architect for the house was an architect named Chia-Yi (Charles) Jen. Jen was born in Tianjin, China in 1925. He graduated with a BA there and then immigrated to the US in 1948 to study at Yale. He received his MArch in 1951 and promptly began working in AL Aydelott’s Memphis office. You can see Jen’s keen eye for modernism all throughout this house.
The house’s central living area was specially divided up into 10 areas, each designed for a particular purpose. The house is ~10,900 sq ft, and features 5 bedrooms, 7.5 baths, and sits on 7 acres. The house was arranged on a long, in-line plane in order to give everybody in the house maximum views with maximum privacy.
The house made a huge splash, getting a feature in House & Home (July 1954). Its exterior still seems to be in pretty decent condition (judging by the 2015 listing photos), but there aren’t any interior pictures of the place and interiors are often a casualty of modernity.
In 1947, a group called Maloney Heights Inc. purchased a large, forested lot right off of Alcoa Highway with a singular goal: turn the area (dubbed Timberlake) into a subdivision designed for the group members to live in.
Maloney Heights Inc. was made up of architects, engineers and construction professionals, which meant that their skills were exactly what was needed to design, plan, and build a neighborhood from the bottom up. Of note, architects Charles I. Barber (of Barber & McMurry) and D. West Barber (his cousin) were shareholders in Maloney Heights Inc.
The group created an architectural standard for how the homes should look. The provision said each building should conform and be in harmony both with the “external design with existing structures in the subdivision” and also “with respect to topography.” The result was beautifully designed homes, each one sited on a wooded lot that gave them a wonderful view.
By 1953, 27 homes had been built. In 1962, the remaining lots had been filled with unique and beautiful houses. Alright. Enough back story. Let’s dive into the architecture, shall we?
Structure: Dr. Hefley House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Raymond Guay Date: 1962
Structure: Robert C. Brown House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Robert C. Brown (with assistance by an architect friend of his, one who worked at the TVA) Date: 1952
Structure: A.W. Cain House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Barber & McMurry Date: 1952 Tidbit: When it was finished, this house was described as being “built like a TVA dam using steel beams and concrete.”
Structure: Millard Warren Residence II Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Millard Warren Date: 1950 Tidbit: Back in the day, houses were often built to showcase products. Case in point: Millard Warren designed and built his house to showcase “Southern Cast lightweight stone.” Warren was a VP at the Southern Cast Stone Company, so the house served as a sort of living advertisement.
Structure: Millard Warren Residence I Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Millard Warren Date: 1938 Tidbit: I know I’m straying from the legacy of the Timberlake area for a minute but stick with me. The Timberlake house Warren designed + built for himself wasn’t the only house he’d created to showcase his sturdy stone wares. Back in the late 1930s, Warren designed an extremely modern house right off of the newly-created Alcoa Highway. The house was modern in its design, and it caused quite a stir. The insurance folks were extremely happy that it was made of stone and concrete, and it was dubbed un-burn-down-able. But its most unique invention? A pool on the roof that theoretically was supposed to keep the house cool in the summer and freeze in the winter (allowing the kids to ice skate on it, no joke).
The house still stands, although its white concrete has been painted brown and a huge addition was added. The updates, however, are solid. It looks like they added a wing onto either side, along with a pitched roof. I guess the water-as-a-roof wasn’t so great after all.
End note 1: this blog owes its existence (and extensive detail) to the hard work of the Timberlake Community. They took the time to interview, collect, write, and save their history down and if you want to browse through the immense amounts of work they’ve done, head here: https://www.timberlakeknox.com/
End note 2: there is a very notable house in the Timberlake area that I left out of this post. I’ll be detailing it at another time, don’t @ me.
Structure: Highlander Folk School, Allardt Campus Location: Allardt, Tennessee Architect: Stanley C. Reese Date: 1933 Tidbit: You may know of the Highlander Folk School (now called the Highlander Research & Education center). But you may not know about the time that ambitious school tried to create a new headquarters.
In December of 1933, after having been gifted 200 acres of land near Allardt, Tennessee, the Highlander Folk School decided to create a new, more prominent campus to function as their headquarters. The goal was to transition by 1934. The co-founder (and director) of the school, Myles Horton, took to the newspaper to proudly proclaim this new goal.
The school commissioned architect Stanley C. Reese to design the new headquarters. Reese was a Chattanooga-based architect at the TVA, although its unclear if he worked at the TVA when he was commissioned. Reese was tasked with making a structure that would awe those who beheld it, and Reese delivered. His plans were hefty and stunning, receiving praise in Pencil Points (June 1936), specifically for their detail. The plans included a dorm large enough for 15 students, a furniture-making shop, and a teacher’s cottage. What the plans lacked, however, was practicality.
In February of 1934, the school wrangled some volunteers to help build the structure. In order to keep costs down, they were instructed to use only wood and sandstone found on the property. Every day, in the bitter cold, the ragtag 15-person crew of college students and employed factory workers attempted to cut + haul 85 tons of sandstone from the quarry. It proved to be an extremely slow process, one which took until September of 1934. In October, with no money left to support the new build, the school called the Allardt project quits.
Structure: Bill Davison Cabin Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee Architect: Allen Lape “Davy” Davison Date: 1968 Story: Before Frank Lloyd Wright passed away (in 1959), he founded Taliesin Associated Architects, an architectural firm comprised of his apprentices. Led by architect William Wesley Peters, the firm’s goal was to advance Wright’s vision and complete any in-process projects that FLLW left when he passed.
William Wesley Peters’ right hand man was a gentleman named Allen Lape Davison (Davy to his friends). Although Davy was never actually licensed as an architect, he was a skilled architect nonetheless.
Oh and he was also a helluva a painter.
Davy had a brother named Bill who lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. When Davy and Bill were kids, they built many a happy memory at their family’s mountain house in Lake Mohonk, New York. Now that he was grown, Bill wanted to create mountain memories for him and his family. And for that, he would need a mountain home. So around 1969, Bill asked Davy to design him that mountain house, and Davy readily agreed.
The brothers selected a spot high on a mountain in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one with views of Cove Mountain on one side and Mt. Leconte on the other. Using the 4’4″ square unit system that Taliesin was known for, Davy designed a 1,338 sq. ft. mountain cabin complete with a winged roof (painted Taliesin red), orange shag carpet (offset by blue leather chair coverings), and built-in furniture throughout.
The soul of the house, as the local newspaper put it, was the “mammoth fireplace wall that [rose] from the conversation area to the rooftop.” It was both “prominent” and “hospitable.” Looking out towards the view, the glass came to a peak, almost seeming to float (due to the lack of structural support near the glass). Bill and his family dubbed the house “Piney Woods”, which was what their childhood cabin in New York had been called.
The house is currently a vacation rental, and the property management company has taken great care of it (despite a few changes in the fabrics).
PS (do blogs have PS’s?): A special thanks to the magnificent mid-century detective Tim Hills (of Trystcraft) for re-discovering this place. This house sat under the radar for ~50 years before I unearthed the old newspaper article about it which then prompted Tim to go hunting for (and find) it. Also, another thanks to Bill Scott for putting me in touch with Davy’s daughter Celeste Davison. Oh, and a very humble thank you to Celeste Davison for sharing her father’s work.
Structure: Burlington Branch Library Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Prototype architect: Mario Bianculli Library architect: Bealer & Wilhoit Date: 1947 Story: In 1945, the librarians of Tennessee came up with a brilliant idea to have TVA Chief Architect Mario Bianculli design a modern library prototype design that could be easily recreated whenever the state needed a new library.
In 1947, two years after Bianculli finished his prototype, Tennessee’s librarians were ready to test this prototype out. Knoxville, Tennessee was in need of a new library brach, so, with support from local businessmen, a garden club, the PTA, and several churches, they worked worked with local architectural firm Bealer & Wilhout to actualize the first iteration of the library.
The design was very well received, so much so that Architectural Forum did a write-up of the building (in May of 1947). The building still stands and although its been less-than-sensitively modified, the original core is still in decent shape. The extension isn’t half bad, but the removal of the full glass windows is a bummer.
The National Park Service (NPS) had a problem. When the NPS was created (in 1916), travel was primarily done by train. In fact, some railroad companies were responsible for the building and operation of national park visitor centers. But with the rise in popularity of the car (and the advent of the US highway system), travelers could now access parks that previously weren’t accessible. This brought about a need for new visitor centers in new places.
So, in 1955, NPS Director Conrad Wirth proposed a program (funded by the federal government) to create new visitor centers (among other facilities) all across the national parks. The goal was to have the various structures and improvements done by 1966 (the 50th anniversary of the NPS). The program was dubbed Mission 66.
A decision was made by Thomas Chalmers Vint (the director of design and construction) to design these new structures in the modernist style, reflecting the modernity of not only the NPS but also the park visitors.
Let’s take a whirlwind tour of some of the amazing visitor centers that were built all across the US.
Painted Desert Community by Richard Neutra & Robert Alexander (Apache County, Arizona)
Alright. Enough non Tennessee structures, let’s talk about the two Mission 66 structures here in the Volunteer state.
Structure: Sugarlands Visitor Center Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee Architect: Eastern Office of Design and Construction (EODC) Date: 1960 Tidbit: The structure was just restored in 2013 and is in really great shape. That’s it. That’s the tidbit.
Structure: Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Location: Sevier County, Tennessee (35°33′46″N 83°29′55″W) Architect: Bebb & Olsen Date: 1959 Tidbit: Built as a part of Mission 66, the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower caused quite a stir when its design was revealed in 1958. Apparently Hubert Bebb and Raymond Olsen’s design was a bit too modern for the national audience. However, it was very popular with locals and, a year later the tower was built.
Of note, the Shark Valley Observation Tower (designed by architect Edward M. Ghezzi in 1964) bears a striking resemblance to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. Great artists, I suppose?
Structure: R.F. Graf House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Herbert Graf Date: 1923 Tidbit: In the early 1900s, Knoxville had an architectural firm called R.F. Graf & Sons, a firm comprised of architect R.F. Graf working alongside his architect sons (a family business, you know?). At some point, one of the sons (Herbert) left the firm to strike out on his own. The local Knoxville newspaper claims that Herbert studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright, although I have not been able to corroborate this statement. Regardless, Herbert was clearly influenced by the prairie modern style of architectural design.
Herbert didn’t make it out on his own, however, so he returned to Knoxville and rejoined his dad’s firm. In the mid 1920s, Herbert served helped design a house for his father, the R.F. Graf House (Herbert was chief designer).
The Graf family lived in this house until 1961, when they sold it to Dr. J.P. Cullum. I’ve never seen an interior shot, but the house is still extant and in perfect condition so maybe the owners will open the place up for a tour at some point.
Structure: Dr. Robert Daniel House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: James Fitzgibbon Date: 1947 Story: In the early 1940s, the University of Oklahoma had two professors, Dr. Daniel and Prof. James Fitzgibbon. Dr. Daniel was a rockstar English professor in his mid 20s. Prof. Fitzgibbon was in charge of campus planning, and taught at the architecture school. Eventually, in the mid 1940s, they parted ways, and Dr. Daniel travelled to Knoxville, Tennessee to teach English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Soon after he arrived, Dr. Daniel decided it was time to build his family a house. So he called up his old friend Prof. Fitzgibbon (who was now teaching at the NCSU School of Design) and asked him to design something for him that was out of the box. “I think most existing dwellings are old-fashioned,” mused Dr. Daniel. “There was [oddly] more freedom of design before the war.”
At that moment in time, framing timber for houses was scarce. So Fitzgibbon got creative: taking inspiration from WWII quonset huts, he designed a structure that was essentially a double-wide quonset hut, with 18 ribs forming the (literal) skeleton of the house.
The construction of the house was a cost-cutting, classroom-esque environment. Fitzgibbon’s student George Qualls supervised the build, UTK students (including a football player, a band member, and a grad student) provided the labor, and input was given by UTK Faculty (namely, art department professor Buck Ewing). Dr. Daniel’s stepson, who was studying architecture under Fitzgibbon, also contributed.
Upon completion, the house was a hit. Architectural Forum covered it in August of 1950, however Dr. Daniel still had one main frustration: guests kept asking him when the quonset hut ribs were going to be covered!
Over time, the house fell into disrepair. But then, in the mid 80s, architect Peter Calandruccio bought + renovated the house. Shortly before he passed away, Fitzgibbon stopped by the house, visiting Calandruccio and looking over the restoration. Calandruccio documented his extensive restoration in a 1986 article of Fine Homebuilding magazine.