Tennessee Modernism: Wert House by Robert Anderson

Structure: James Wert House
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Architect: Robert Anderson
Date: 1969
Story: James and Jane Wert had just moved from the forested lands of of Northern Wisconsin to Nashville, Tennessee. James, a metallurgist by trade, had just accepted a teaching job at Vanderbilt University.

The family longed for the feel of the forest, so they commissioned Nashville architect Robert Anderson to design them a house that was, according to Jane Wert, “lodge and woodsy.” The resulting house had a lodge-y feel to it, with an exterior made out of western cedar and a roof made of cedar shingles. The house is sited on a forested lot filled with maple, locust, and hackberry trees.

Anderson’s goal, he said in an interview, was to make the house “be humble to its surroundings.”

The original steps up to the house were concrete framed by redwood. Photos from 2017 show they’ve since been replaced.

PS: this blog owes its existence to the intrepid soul that found, scanned, and uploaded these vintage images… Collyn Wainright!

Tennessee Modernism: The 3 projects which sought to modernize Downtown Knoxville

Downtown Knoxville has always been an important part of East Tennessee. But Downtown Knoxville wasn’t always on the cutting edge of modern design. So, in 1957, a group of local business owners created the Downtown Knoxville Alliance (DKA), an advocacy group whose goal was to “promote the downtown district as a major attraction for shoppers throughout East Tennessee and other parts of other states.” Headed up by Aubrey C. Couch (the longtime manager of the Tennessee Theater), the DKA executed three unique projects to revitalize downtown Knoxville, each one featuring local Knoxville architects. Let’s have a look at the three projects.

Structure: The Promenade
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Date: 1958
Story: Gay St (the main street running through Downtown Knoxville) shops had a problem. After you parked your car one block off of Gay St, you had to walk up to Gay St before you could even begin perusing the downtown shopping.

So the DKA tasked the minds at architectural firm Painter, Weeks & McCarty to come up with a solution for this inconvenient shopping experience.

Their solution was “The Promenade,” a platform on the backside of the Gay Street stores. This created what the architects called “back fronts,” and allowed shoppers an attractive look at all of the stores (despite the fact they were looking at the back of the stores). The platform was held up by concrete “spider leg” supports, and enabled downtown shoppers to park their cars, walk up onto the platform, and straight into the store of their choosing.

Shoppers could then move through the store and exit directly onto Gay St, no roundabout route required.

Although it would later be torn down to make way for more parking, The Promenade was a big success, a success which led the DKA to pursue their next project…

Structure: Market Square Mall
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Ben McMurry Jr (representing the AIA East Tennessee)
Date: 1962
Story: One block off Gay Street is Market Square.

In the olden days, Knoxville, Tennessee’s Market Square was a circular street that ran around the Market House . The Market House was where citizens of all types (fisherman, farmers, flower vendors, etc.) bought and sold their wares.

In 1960, the building was torn down, making space for an area that was a lot more flat (and a bit more like the Market Square that exists today).

The new Market Square Mall emulated traditional malls (think: the National Mall in Washington D.C.).

But McMurry didn’t just replicate other malls, he brought his modernist sensibilities to the table and gave the project a contemporary twist: concrete canopies to give shoppers and leisure-seekers respite from the sun.

The concrete canopies featured screens (of every color) that businesses could lower when the sun sunk lower in the sky. The project was very well received, even getting a feature in Architectural Forum (April 1962).

I wish these photos were color!

There’s no doubt these screens took a lot of inspiration from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Johnson Wax Building.

Image of the Johnson Wax Building by Frank Lloyd Wright

There was some talk of building out Market Square Mall to be more department store focused, but that idea never came to fruition (see the renderings below).

Alright, let’s check out the third project

Structure: Gay/Way
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Ben McMurry Jr (of Barber & McMurry) and Bruce McCarty (of Painter, Weeks & McCarty)
Date: 1964
Tidbit: In early 1962, DKA decided that since the Market Square Mall was such a success, they wanted to revitalize Gay St itself.

Calling the revitalization “Gay/Way,” DKA retained the services of the two architects who’d worked on on the previous two projects.

Although it would take a few years to fully manifest, Gay/Way essentially added a large, covered walkway above the Downtown Knoxville sidewalk.

The Gay/Way awnings are clearly visible in this Veterans Day picture from 1977
The Gay/Way awnings can be seen adjoining what is now the Embassy Suites

Gay/Way also gave the downtown shops a chance to remodel their storefronts, updating them with more mid-century look and feel.

Eventually, Knoxville decided that mid 1950s design wasn’t really it’s jam. The city then spent then next 50 years or so removing the modernist projects and turning the downtown back into a more traditional looking downtown (see below)

Tennessee Modernism: Davis House by Bruce McCarty

Structure: Charles Davis House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Bruce McCarty
Date: 1960
Tidbit: Charles B. Davis was a co-founder of a Knoxville advertising firm called Lavidge & Davis. There’s also a potential that he worked at the ad agency Davis Newman Payne.

Newspaper portrait of Charles B. Davis

At some point, he contracted architect Bruce McCarty to design a modernist house for him high atop a hill, overlooking the Tennessee River and the Smoky Mountains. That’s about all I know on this house which is good news for you, dear reader, because it gets you into the photos faster!

First, some historical photos!

And now for some pictures of how it looks today.

Tennessee Modernism: Hamilton National Bank by Robert B. Church III

Structure: Hamilton National Bank, Bearden Branch
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Robert B. Church III
Date: 1974
Story: Banking, as we know it, has been around for centuries. In the early days of what we might call “modern banking” (think the 1800s), banks wanted to project stability and safety. Their architecture reflected that goal (see, for example, the East Tennessee National Bank building below).

As the 20th century rolled around (and as money movement got safer and more streamlined), banks began modernizing their business practices and, along with it, their architecture. Hamilton National Bank was an East Tennessee bank that went full in on architectural modernity.

Created around 1930 as the Hamilton National Bank of Knoxville, the bank began an ambitious project in the 1950s to build new branches throughout East Tennessee. The branches were designed by architects from the community in which the branch was built.

Since it was their main hub of operation, Knoxville was special to Hamilton National Bank. Throughout the 1950s, they constructed a handful of tasteful mid-century banks, each one unique.

But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that Hamilton National Bank designed what this humble architecture blogger considers their best work. They hired Knoxville firm McCarty Bullock Church Holsaple (now McCartyHolsapleMcCarty) to design them a bank. The firm tapped their principal Robert B. (Bob) Church III to helm the project.

Photo courtesy of Doug McCarty (of MHM)

Church designed a stunning building which featured a precast concrete fascia (with the bank’s name etched into it) and four brick pillars at each corner which, due to the fact they weren’t structural, gave the roof a bit of a floating appearance.

According to architectural historian George Dodds, the bank was “remarkably civic-minded”: Hamilton National Bank asked the architect to design a “basement meeting room… that could also be used by local community groups and operate separately from the bank, even when the bank was not open.” Imagine that!

The bank received much praise, including a feature in Architectural Record (August 1974).

Church’s talent was on full display inside the bank, where cool slate floors contrasted sharply with a warm wood ceiling.

Photo courtesy of Doug McCarty (of MHM)

Today’s tale, however, ends with architectural tragedy. As time went on, the structure would change hands many times. In its last iteration, the building held First Tennessee Bank’s financial advisors. And while those advisors probably offered good advice on money matters, they had no good advice to give when First Tennessee Bank (the entity) decided to tear the building down and replace it with a building as generic as the strip mall within which it is located. Let us watch the progression happen.

!!

2016

😦

2019

I’m not crying, you’re crying.