R.C. Smith Jr was a young city councilman. So young, in fact, that when he ran (at the age of 26) the local paper ran a piece discussing just how young he actually was. After being elected as a councilman, he was appointed as Knoxville’s law director. His particular area of focus was cracking down on homebuliders who built homes without the proper permits.
Being heavily involved with building codes is probably how he came to know architect Carl F. Maples, principal at a Knoxville architectural firm named Lindsay & Maples. One article I read said that R.C. succeeded Maples as president of their local Sertoma Club chapter in 1952. I’ve gotta assume that at some point, Smith just said “how about it, Carl, wanna design me a house?”
Structure: R.C. Smith House I Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Carl Maples Date: 1953 Tidbit: I could find very little in the way of photos of this house, which is a bummer because it’s so beautiful. The exterior sports a redwood / crab orchard stone combination that sits quite nicely on the site. All of those windows serve a great purpose: overlooking the Tennessee River.
In mid 1955, R.C.’s wife asked him for (and received) a divorce. However, shortly after that (in 1956), he remarried and used his new marital status as an opportunity to move his new family into a new neighborhood.
Structure: R.C. Smith House II Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Lindsay & Maples Date: 1960 Tidbit: I stumbled across this house because its listing told me it was designed by architect Hubert Bebb. That, however, turned out to be fake news. Instead, an ad in the local paper (by the home’s builder) revealed that it was designed by Knoxville architectural firm Lindsay & Maples. My gut says R.C. went and asked Carl Maples to design him a second house. The house sports quite a unique interior and is located in a neighborhood that features a lot of architect-designed homes.
Not to end today’s blog on a dour note but in 1962, shortly after his second house was finished. R.C.’s wife asked for (and received) a divorce. 😞 Think he had a third house built for himself?
Alright. Where to even start. Alfred Clauss was a German architect. Born in 1906 (in Munich), he started his architectural career working for KarlSchneider. Alfred then did a short stint in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s studio (helping to design the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition). He immigrated to the US later that same year.
Alfred then immigrated to New York, working in the New York office of the Philadelphia-based firm Howe & Lescaze (a firm known for being a hotbed of modernist architects). While at Howe & Lescaze, Alfred helped work on the PSFS Building, now the Loews Philadelphia Hotel). He also met fellow architect George Daub, and the two of them formed a partnership called, aptly, Clauss & Daub.
Now for some controversy. In 1931, the Architectural League of New York was gearing up to hold their annual exhibition on architecture. Clauss & Daub submitted some of their designs to the show, however they were rejected. The league claimed they were “dangerously radical.” Seizing upon this moment, Alfred (with a little help from Philip Johnson, Alfred Barr and Henry-Russell Hitchcock) planned a counter exhibition, the cheekily-named Rejected Architects. This exhibition was bold, brash, and unapologetically modern. It sought to introduce modernist architecture to a more traditionally minded nation. The pamphlet (pictured below) featured Clauss & Daub’s design for a house in Pinehurst, North Carolina on the cover. In total, five of Clauss & Daub’s designs were exhibited during the show.
In 1933, after helping plan the Chicago World’s Fair, Alfred was hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a move which brought him to East Tennessee. In 1934, Alfred married Jane West and the two of them relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee.
A word must be said about Jane West Clauss. From this point on, It is almost impossible to disentangle Alfred’s designs from Jane West’s design. Jane West was a talented architect in her own right, having spent time working the office of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. The Clausses were a team who designed and created together, true partners. If you’ve got a moment or two, I highly recommend reading Pioneering Women of Architecture’s write-up on Jane West Clauss.
Ok. Back to Alfred. According to historian Lawrence Wodehouse (in his 1985 essay on Alfred Clauss in Knoxville), Alfred spent his time working at the TVA as an “associate architect in the public relations department, designing visitor’s centers at dam sites and TVA exhibits for local and state fairs”. He also designed some fantastic wartime propaganda posters for the TVA as well.
I need to emphasize this: Alfred and Jane West Clauss’s impact on the modernism of East Tennessee cannot be overstated. I will be the first to admit that this humble blog is just the broad strokes of their life. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll either write or link to a more in-depth look at his life and work.
Alright, it’s about time for some architectural photos, wouldn’t you say? While working for the TVA (from 1934-1945), Alfred and Jane West designed seven houses in the Knoxville area. Five of them are in a their own little community, and I’ll do a write-up on that later. The other two structures were one-off house commissions, so let’s take a look at those.
Structure: Joseph Mengel House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Alfred Clauss & Jane West Clauss Date: 1938 Tidbit: Joseph Mengel’s father owned a lumber manufacturing company based out of Louisville, Kentucky called Foreign & Domestic Veneers Inc. The company turned mahogany, walnut, and other lumber into wood that could be used furniture (such as phonograph cabinets). Joseph was one of the vice presidents of the company and, at some point, he and his wife Susan moved to Knoxville to run the Knoxville branch of Foreign & Domestic Veneers.
Interestingly, Foreign & Domestic Veneers Inc was a bit of a local hub, often holding twice-a-week religious services during the workers’ lunch breaks. The company would engage pastors, laymen, and out-of-town visitors to speak to the plant workers.
In 1934, Joseph Mengel’s father (C.C. Mengel) died of a heart attack. When he passed, he left a small fortune to the family, valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. It was shortly thereafter that the Joseph Mengel decided he was ready to build a custom house. And he didn’t just want any old custom house, he wanted a modernist house. Friends from the TVA introduced him to the Clausses, so he had the couple design him and his family an exceedingly attractive house. Surprising no one, Joseph supplied all of the woods for the house (using a bevy of expensive woods such as pecan for the floors and redwood for the exterior).
Unfortunately, the Mengel house has been, well, mangled through years of renovations.
Structure: Henry Hart House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Alfred Clauss & Jane West Clauss Date: 1943 Tidbit: One of the most spectacular examples of modernism in East Tennessee, this house was designed for Henry C. Hart and his wife Virginia. In 1936, Henry graduated from Vanderbilt, and came to work for the TVA (in the personnel department).
At some point, Henry and his wife became friends with Alfred and Jane West, so it makes a lot of sense that they would design them a house. One local paper noted that the Hart’s “live[d] of eccentric design.” How eccentric was it? Let’s have a look.
Shortly after the house was finished, the Dies Committee discovered that Henry had, at one time, been a member of the Communist Party. Having been exposed, Henry sold his house, was drafted into the army, and only ever came back to Knoxville to visit Alfred and Jane West.
After his army service, Henry moved to Madison, Wisconsin and taught at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Henry’s dad was a professor at Columbia University so that transition was probably a pretty natural one. Virginia Hart went on to become Wisconsin’s first female cabinet member.
2015 listing photos (above) and 2019 listing photos (below). As you can see, the original screened-in porch was converted into a room, and the house is slowly being HGTV’d (especially in the kitchen area). Here’s hoping the new owners will restore it back to its original beauty…word on the street is they will!
Structure: Henry Neuhoff House Location: Nashville, Tennessee Architect: Unknown Date: 1939 Tidbit: We haven’t yet featured a house where the architect is unknown, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Out in Nashville, Tennessee sits this striking house. More International Style than traditional mid-century, the house was designed for Henry Neuhoff. Neuhoff was the founder of a Nashville-area meatpacking company called (aptly) the Neuhoff Meatpacking Company.
Speaking of John H. Dubuisson, architectural historian Robbie Jones has this hunch that the house may have been designed by John H. Dubuisson. Although Dubuisson was not an architect, he may have selected the house’s plan out of an architectural plan book and overseen its build. Regardless of the ownership, let’s have a look at this gorgeous house, shall we?
In the mid-century era, there were a lot of partnerships between homebuilders wanting to sell houses and companies wanting to sell products. Often, a homebuilder would come up with a gimmick (kitchen cabinets that opened with the wave of a hand, a car that “talked” to you in the driveway, etc.) as a method to sell the houses they’d built. This is the tale of two such houses.
Structure: “Mrs. America” All-Gas Home Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Robert (Bob) Carroll Date: 1959 Story: The Worsham Brothers were local Knoxville homebuilders, and they had an epic collaboration in mind that they thought would really get sales of their houses going. Partnering with the Knoxville Gas Association and Whirlpool, they dreamed up a house that was billed as the “only truly modern all-gas home in Knoxville.” The house would feature all sorts of gas-powered amenities: a gas-powered A/C, a gas stove, and a fireplace with a gas starter.
To design the house, the Worsham Brothers commissioned Knoxville architect Bob Carroll (an architect at the Knoxville architectural firm Lindsay & Maples) to design the house. Carroll did not disappoint. He designed a house clad in Douglas fir, supported by stone pillars made of rocks from nearby Gatlinburg.
However the architectural design was not the standout feature of the house. At that time, Whirlpool was the national sponsor for the Mrs. America pageant. To make sure the house got press, the brothers brought the 1960 Mrs. America (Mrs. Margaret Priebe) to welcome the guests who visited the house. Mrs. Priebe was there to exemplify an ideal “hostess and housewife,” a symbol of what good homemaking in 1960 could be.
After her house-welcoming duties were over, Mrs. Priebe would be whisked away to star in fashion shows (at the Knoxville department store Miller’s) and record radio + TV promos (for the Mrs. America pageant, I assume).
Alright. Let’s talk about the next all-gas home!
Structure: All-Gas Home Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Good & Goodstein Date: 1962 Story: The Mrs. America All-Gas house had been a great success, and local homebuilder Ted Daffer wanted in on the idea. Daffer was in the midst of concepting a new subdivision, and he needed a model home (the first house built in the subdivision) that would stand out and draw attention to his development.
Imitating the Mrs. America All-Gas house idea, Daffer commissioned the architectural firm Good & Goodstein to design a modernist all-gas house. Ted Daffer’s construction company (the aptly-named Ted Daffer Construction Company) built the house. The resulting creation is one of the most modernist houses in Knoxville. And, as luck would have it, it was (later on) bought by an architect who lives there to this day and has taken immaculate care of it.
One other thing to note. Although the old papers that I looked through didn’t mention it, architectural historian Mason Toms (founder of Arkansas Modernism) has suggested that one (or both) of these houses may have been part of the Blue-Star Homes promotion, a promotion which paralleled the Gold Medallion All-Electric Home program created by electric companies.
Essentially, gas companies would create houses with certain specifications (namely, they would have all of their key systems powered by gas) and then they’d give the house an easy-to-identify emblem so that potential customers would know about the under-the-hood features of the house.
We’re stepping outside the mid-century modern period to detail two really unique houses designed by TVA architects. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta live on the edge, you know?
Speaking of living on the edge…
Structure: Marvin Johnston residence Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Marvin Johnston Date: 1985 Tidbit: In the mid 1980s, there existed a small, triangular lot sat on the edge of the Holston River, a lot that was generally considered unbuildable.
A TVA architect named Marvin Johnston spotted the parcel, fell in love with the parcel and, after negotiation with the land’s owner for a year, purchased the land.
Bucking the conventional wisdom, Johnston designed a 2.5 story house, situating it at a bend in the river so his family could observe both the sunrise and the sunset. In 1985, when the house was completed, it won an award of excellence from the Tennessee Society of Architects.
Speaking of award winning…
Structure: Thomas Worden residence Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Thomas Worden Date: 1979 Tidbit: Another TVA architect, Thomas Worden, designed himself a house on a hill. Since it was up on a hill, he dubbed it the “Hill House”. It too won won an award of excellence from the Tennessee Society of Architects. The house sold recently so instead of just old newspaper scans, we have color photos, have a look.
Since we’ve mentioned the Tennessee Society of Architects a few times, here’s a fun fact about them. In the 1980s, that organization opened a bookstore in Nashville (on Sixth Ave). The building has since been demolished.
Structure: Levi Strauss & Company, Manufacturing and Administration Facility Location: Powell, Tennessee Architect: Howard A. Friedman Date: 1977 Story: Levi’s was looking for architectural modernity. The famous clothier had made a name for itself designing jeans, now it wanted to take its design and build facilities which reflected the impact they were making in the world.
Since Levi’s was headquartered in San Francisco, they began their search for modernity by commissioning a San Francisco based architect named Howard A. Friedman. A graduate of the UC Berkley’s architecture school, Friedman’s initial task was to design + revamp Levi’s San Francisco factory on Valencia (below).
Once they were finished with their HQ revamp, Levi’s was ready for modernity. Working with Friedman again, the jean maker constructed modern facilities throughout the southern portion of the United States. His design for a HQ + computer building in Little Rock, Arkansas (below) is a sight to behold.
Although the Little Rock Levi’s plant closed in 2006, the structure itself seems to still be hanging around.
And now for the pièce de résistance. In Powell, Tennessee, Friedman designed a manufacturing and administration facility for Levi’s that sported a very Miesian look and feel.
Judging by this second photo, the main building seems to have sported a large LED screen across the front.
In 1991, the facility was purchased by The Crown College and most of it was remodeled. Today it sports everyone’s favorite architectural style: collegiate gothic 😐
However, the small building (which you can see on the right hand side of the first black and white photo above) still stands. It somehow miraculously survived the collegiate gothic-pocalypse of Crown College’s takeover and it’s actually in pretty great shape.
Structure: Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Margaret Pinkston Date: 1967 Tidbit: Margaret Pinkston was not your ordinary architect. For starters, she was maybe one of the smartest minds in Knoxville. She studied at the International Correspondence School in Scranton, PA, and graduated with four diplomas (one was in architecture, one was in interior design). When she came to Knoxville, Albert Baumann (of Baumann & Baumann) encouraged her to pursue a career as an architect. She eventually wound up working at the Knoxville firm Morton & Sweetser.
It was during this time at Morton & Sweetser that Pinkston designed a church for a 150 member congregation of baptists who worshipped out in East Knoxville. Pinkston was a member at the church, so it was natural that the pastor of the church (Dr. Bob Bevington) asked her to design something that was “conservative modern.”
Her design still stands, proudly featuring a 1,000-person sanctuary (sporting a unique v-shaped sloping roof), breeze blocks, and myriad of stained glass.
I will say, the shape of the sanctuary’s roof reminds me of another Knoxville church (pictured below) whose architect is currently unknown.
Structure: Walk C. Jones III Residence Location: Memphis, Tennessee Architect: Walk C. Jones III Date: 1969 Tidbit: Can architectural ability be passed down from father to son? In the case of the Jones family, it appears that it can. Walk Claridge Jones Sr (born 1875) was a noted architect in Memphis who started his own firm in 1904.
His son, Walk C. Jones Jr joined the firm in 1934. Junior studied at Yale, had travelled in Europe, and embraced modernism in architecture. Senior retired in 1940, and at some point, Senior’s grandson Walk C. Jones III joined the firm.
In 1968, shortly before he became a principal in the firm, Jones III designed his own house in a very traditional Memphis neighborhood. Inspired heavily by the architecture of Louis Kahn (think of his design for the Indian Institute Of Management In Ahmedabad), Jones III designed himself a brutalist two-story house out of Memphis red brick. The house was featured in the mid-May issue of Architectural Record (1971).
The house still stands, and although it supposedly sold in 2019, I cannot find any pictures of it anywhere. Maybe one day!
Structure: Dr. Kenneth Knickerbocker House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Edgar Shelton Date: 1955 Tidbit: In 1946, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville hired an English professor named Dr. Kenneth Knickerbocker. Whilst Dr. Knickerbocker was traipsing about the campus (dressed in a tweed jacket and horn-rimmed spectacles, I’d imagine), Dr. Knickerbocker met an associate professor of mechanics named Edgar Shelton. Shelton would eventually start his own architectural firm (Edgar G. Shelton & Associates) and so, in 1955, when Dr. Knickerbocker was ready to have a custom house designed, he looked up his old pal. Bringing his mechanical engineering chops to bear, Shelton designed him a solid house that featured a cinder block structure and tons of windows.
In fact, the house’s indoor/outdoor vibe was so notable that it was used in an ad for a local window dealer, the ad proudly proclaiming, “Plan now for window beauty like this!”