Tennessee Modernism: House by (and for) Thomas Faires

Structure: Thomas F. Faires Residence
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Architect: Thomas F. Faires
Date: 1960
Tidbit: The houses architects design for themselves are always interesting to observe. Today, we’re looking at the house of a prominent Memphis architect named Thomas F. Faires.

The literature is pretty sparse on Faires. What we do know, is this: Faires was born in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee and got his architecture degree from Georgia Tech in 1928. Shortly thereafter, he founded his own firm (Thomas F. Faires & Associates) and did architecture and engineering as a contractor for the military. I’d imagine he helped design armories and the like. During World War II, he served in the military and, upon retiring (and being given the Purple Heart), he went right back to doing architecture around Memphis and for the military.

Hopefully we’ll find out more about this talented architect as time passes, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the residence he designed for him and his family. It just recently sold and they did a nice job staging + photographing it.

Tennessee Modernism: Bramlett Motor Hotel by Frank Lloyd Wright

Structure: Bramlett Enterprises Motor Hotel (unbuilt)
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Date: 1956
Story: Tennessee Motor Hotels (aka motels) in the 1950s were a fantastic thing. The recently bourgeoning middle class (fueled by the return of WWII troops) led to an increase in cars, car travel, and car recreation such as trekking to national parks. Motels provided simple, inexpensive lodging for these types of overnight trips.

McKay’s Motel & Restaurant in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Motels tended to be much smaller and simpler than hotels. They were often long, single-story buildings that allowed travelers to just drive their car right up to the door of their room.

Ledwell Motel (left) and Alto Congress Motel (right), both in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

For example, when a Taliesin apprentice named JC Caraway was asked in 1952 to design a motel in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the resulting structure (first called the Rest Haven Motel, now called the Usonian Inn) came out exactly as you’d imagine. Long, flat, easily accessible by car.

Now, you wouldn’t expect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a motel. After all, his lodging designs tended to be a lot, uh, larger. One of his most famous lodgings, the Imperial Hotel (in Tokyo), was a massive structure, large 250-room complex that was one of Japan’s premier hotels during its heyday.

But during the 1950s, Frank Lloyd Wright did in fact design a few motels. Often, they looked very much like a Wrightian take on a motor hotel. Single story, accessible by car, with a bit of a twist: circular versus the more “modern” square look that was popular at the time.

Left: Marshall Erdman Motel & Restaurant, 1957. Right: Zeckendorf Motel, 1958 (© Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

A particular favorite of mine is the Daniel Wieland Motor Hotel (1955)

(© Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

It was during this motel designing mid 1950s period when a company called Bramlett Enterprises asked Wright to design a motor hotel for them in Memphis, Tennessee. Wright obliged in a very Wrightian way: by delivering them a “motel” that really shared none of the characteristics of motels.

The plans were more hotel than motel. Designed around three towers (each with three elevators in them), the structures were seven stories tall and one featured a different rooftop attraction. Tower one featured a restaurant, tower two a lounge, and tower three a swimming pool.

Unfortunately, this structure was never built, and until just recently, only lived on scraps of paper.

Recently, however, two insanely talented fellows (Steve Virzani and Razin Kahn) spent time creating a digital model and a 3-D visualization of what the project would have looked like, have a look.

Even if it had been built, though, you’e gotta wonder how it would have fared as time went on. You could easily see it taking on new life a lot like Price Tower (in Bartlesville, Oklahoma) potentially getting turned into affordable apartments.

Price Tower, left, and the architect’s original sketch, right (© Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

PS: if you’re into Frank Lloyd Wright drawings, I cannot recommend the blog Visions of Wright enough!

Tennessee Modernism: Garlinghouse Plan #8160

Structure: Garlinghouse Plan #8160
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Date: 1957
Tidbit: In the mid-century era, a house didn’t have to be custom to be architect designed. You see, architects would often design and submit their house plans to house plan books / catalogues. Sometimes, the plan book companies would send employees out across the country to find, measure, and draw house plans they thought would have sell well (and have popular appeal).

This “second house for leisure living” was a vacation house designed by architect Henrik Bull

All a potential homeowner would have to do would be to acquire a catalog, find a house plan they liked, call up the house plan company, pay for the house plan… and voilà! They’d be well on their way to having a (semi) custom house built. If you want to look through lots of old house plan books, Internet Archive has a great collection of digitized catalogs.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, is a great illustration of this house plan phenomenon. Built in 1947, this is a cute, rather unique looking house.

The house’s plan comes from a very popular house plan publication called Garlinghouse. The house’s plan, #8160, cost $22.50, and was described as a “contemporary flat roof type home” with a “practical and roomy floor plan.”

Tennessee Modernism: Newton House by Robert Judd

Structure: Donald Newton house
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Robert Judd
Date: 1968
Story: Today’s story starts (as many of them do) with a real estate listing.

As I was perusing old Zillow listings, I came across a beautiful house made of glass, wood, and natural stone. Down below the photos, the listing contained this funny little line: “This Frank Lloyd Wright style property was designed by the same architect that did the Kentucky Lake Lodge.” First, I had a laugh. As the photos below will illustrate, there was nothing Wrightian about this house.

The other part of the sentence did not make me laugh, but it piqued my curiosity. It was the first clue to figuring out who this mysterious architect might be… so into the historical records I went.

First, the lodge. In the early 1960s, the TVA worked with the state of Kentucky to take a bunch of lakeside land and turn it into a place that tourists would want to vacation. The resulting park (Kentucky Dam Village) featured a restaurant, lots of lodging, a marina, and endless walking trails.

The highlight of the park was the Kentucky Dam Village Lodge, a marvelous structure overlooking the Kentucky Lake, a place replete with motel rooms, a pool, and this incredible floating copper fireplace.

Now, back in Knoxville, there was a civil engineer who worked at the TVA. His name was Donald Newton. Newton was not just a civil engineer, he was also a leaders at the Knoxville Society of Friends (Quakers). When the society was in need of a new meeting house (in 1961), Newton helped them find a nice wooded spot of land to build on. What a helpful fellow!

Some years later, Newton would build himself a home just down the road from the meeting house. Newton reached out to the architect who had designed the Kentucky Dam Village Lodge, an architect named Robert Judd (based out of Louisville, Kentucky). My hunch is that Newton knew Judd from his days helping the TVA design the Kentucky Dam Village project.

How solid is my theory? Let us examine the evidence by comparing pictures from the Kentucky Dam Village Lodge against the Newton house, see if we can’t spot the similarities.

First, here’s a historical and modern-day picture of what was called the “Executive Cottage”:

And here is the living wing of the Netwon house:

Next, here’s a modern day photo of the Kentucky Dam Village Lodge:

And here’s the main room of the Newton house:

I’m sold, and we’re gonna mark this case solved so I can add the rest of the house photos for your viewing pleasure.

Tennessee Modernism: The Modernist Fraternities of University of Knoxville, Tennessee

In 1965, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) decided that it was time to upgrade their Greek life. The school proposed a Fraternity Park, complete with 13 new frat houses…all designed by local architects.

The frat houses were designed around a common property that included streets, sidewalks, parking, and recreation areas. Not all of them were mid-century modern, so I’m leaving off the traditional houses.

The frats were all located in Knoxville, Tennessee, and they were all built in 1965, so I’ll leave that out of the building details. And you know, speaking of brevity, I won’t waste too much more time with the background: it’s a block of frat houses, you get the idea. Let’s jump into the architecture!

Structure: Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Architect: Barber & McMurry
Tidbit: The tree in the center of the courtyard was called the “make-believe tree.” Design wise, looks like those windows never materialized and the tree ended up on the outside of the exterior wall. Also, did those arches not get built either?

Structure: Kappa Alpha
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Tidbit: This eventually became Phi Kappa Psi

Structure: Sigmi Phi Epsilon
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Tidbit: This mildly interesting frat got a huge remodel in 2011 and is now, uh, not so interesting

Structure: Pi Kappa Alpha
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty

What’s interesting about Pi Kappa Alpha is nine years earlier, in 1956, Painter, Weeks & McCarty had done a rendering for a new building that I don’t think was ever built

Structure: Zeta Beta Tau
Architect: Good & Goodstein
Tidbit: This house is now Pi Kappa Phi

Structure: Sigma Nu
Architect: Abernethy & Robinson
Tidbit: the only non-Knoxville architects, Abernethy & Robinson were located in Johnson City, Tennessee. The original building might have implemented a curved front, possibly modified after the original structure was built. It could also be that my black and white rendering is just not showing that detail. The building, despite its uniqueness, was torn down and replaced with a super generic building sometime in the 2010s.

Structure: Lamda Chi Alpha
Architect: Lindsay & Maples
Tidbit: this house is now Alpha Epsilon Pi

Structure: Delta Tau Delta
Architect: W. Glenn Bullock
Tidbit: this house is still in fantastic condition, which is awesome because it draws some strong design inspiration from the famous architect Louis Kahn

First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York (1961) by Louis Kahn

Structure: Alpha Tau Omega
Architect: Morton & Sweetser
Tidbit: This structure was essentially remodeled into oblivion. Sometime around 2007, a pitched roof was added along with a new foyer which kind of ruined the whole effect.