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).
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.”
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: 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!”
Muchinkhasbeenspilled about Knoxville architect Bruce McCarty. Bruce was born in Indiana, studied architecture at Princeton, and left school to serve as a P-38 pilot in World War II. After finishing up his undergrad at Princeton, he did a stint as a draftsman in the Knoxville office of Barber & McMurry. He eventually left to attend the University of Michigan and received his MArch there.
In 1949, once he decided to put roots down Bruce took a job as a draftsman at a Knoxville firm called Rutherford & Painter. In 1955, after Rutherford had retired, Bruce became a partner in the firm of Painter, Weeks & McCarty which eventually morphed into McCarty Holsaple McCarty (a firm which continues to this day).
The early parts of Bruce’s career were characterized by imaginative modernist homes scattered all around the city (although there’s a large concentration of them in West Knoxville). However, we’ll save these various interesting structures for another blog. Today’s focus is on the two houses Bruce designed as his own personal residences.
Structure: Bruce McCarty Residence I Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Bruce McCarty Date: 1950 Tidbit: I wish I had a ton of photos, information, really anything about Bruce’s first house, but I’ve got nothing. It used to reside in the posh Sequoyah Hills neighborhood but was torn down recently. Maybe, at some point, we’ll uncover some archival photos of it. 😞
Structure: Bruce McCarty Residence II Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Bruce McCarty Date: 1959 Story: If you were disappointed at how few photos there were for Bruce’s first house, don’t worry. Bruce’s second house hit the market in 2017 and thankfully the sellers (Bruce’s children) took the time to take lots of beautiful photos of it.
The house is arguably Bruce’s masterpiece. It’s perched on a wooded lot and overlooks the Tennessee River. The structure is a tri-level house with a T-shaped floor plan. It’s built on a 10-foot structural grid and all of the columns and beams are set on a 10-foot module. Bruce and his wife Elizabeth (whom he met on a blind date) lived there for over 40 years and raised their children there.
When Elizabeth passed away in 2016, the children decided to sell the place. The house itself is a time-capsule. Just about every aspect of the space is original, including the parquet, brick, and cork flooring, the jalousie windows, and the wood + brick exterior. I’ve included some of my favorite photos of the house below but if you want even more photos Curbed and the Knoxville News-Sentinel have got you covered.
Structure: Seamour Shavin House Location: Chattanooga, Tennesse Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright Date: 1951 Story: I can’t believe I’ve not yet profiled the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Tennessee! Ok. First things first, this blog owes a lot to the work of the late Gavin Townsend along with the intrepid work of passionate Wright fans from all over the globe.
In the mid 1940s, Seamour and Gertrude (Gerte) Shavin bought a hillside lot high on a ridge above Chattanooga’s central downtown. There’s a bit of vaguery about how exactly the couple came to work with Wright. John Shearer claims that the couple had planned to use a local architect who ended up moving out of town. A Wall Street Journal interview with Gerte Shavin tells the story a bit differently. According to her account, the couple wrote a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright asking him to recommend them a good architect. He wrote back saying “The best one I know is myself” (a comment which would be very much in character for FLLW1).
In any event, the Shavin’s desired to live in a nontraditional house which is how, in 1949, they ended up visiting Taliesin (East) to discuss their desires with Frank Lloyd Wright in person. The couple received their final plans a year later when they visited Taliesin West — maybe FLLW didn’t trust sending his plans by mail?
Frank Lloyd Wright never did visit Tennessee, instead assigning Taliesin apprentice Marvin Bachman (who was killed in a car crash before the house was finished) to oversee the construction. In my own, very biased opinion, Mr. Wright not visiting Tennessee this was a missed opportunity for him, as I think he would have enjoyed it here very much. He may even have become a Volunteer fan.
The house is a Usonian style house, a term Frank Lloyd Wright coined to describe a house that embodied the ideas of a well-designed, simple, small house of moderate cost built for the American middle class. Usonian houses were designed with local materials, which is why the Shavin House’s exterior is build out of crab orchard stone and Louisiana cypress wood.
As with many of his other houses (and probably as another cost-saving measure), the Shavin House is full of Wright-designed furniture which was probably built on site.
Here’s just a few more photos because the place is so dang photogenic.
1A note on Frank Lloyd Wright’s initials. All around the web, you’ll see Frank Lloyd Wright abbreviate as FLLW. This perplexed me, so I went in search of why that is the case. Here and there, someone will erroneously suggest that it’s because he was christened “Frank Lincoln Wright” so, when he changed his name to “Loyd”, he kept the two L’s to represent both names. In actuality, however, the double L is a Welsh way of of spelling, it’s a letter in and of itself. Frank Lloyd Wright often wrote his initials this way in the red squares that he sometimes placed in homes he’d completed.
Structure: Stapleton Long Residence Location: Morristown, Tennessee Architect: Stapleton Long Date: 1964 Story: Today’s house is something you don’t quite expect to discover in a small down in East Tennessee.
I’ll save the wonderful story for after the photos, let’s look at this incredible space!
The year is 1944. The place is central Virginia. A young man named Stapleton “Stape” Long was on leave from the navy. Stopping off at a soda shop, Stape was introduced to a college student named Jane. Two years later, they were married.
I’ve gotta say, no one meets their true love in soda shops anymore and I think the world is worse off because of that fact. Bring back soda shops!
After she graduated with a teaching degree, Jane taught elementary school while Stape finished up his architecture degree at the University of Virginia (UVA).
The couple (now with two daughters in tow) moved to Morristown in 1964. Stape had been offered the position of chief designer at the Berkline Furniture company, a chair manufacturer headquartered in Morristown, Tennessee. It was later that year that Stape got to work designing the family’s house (pictured above).
While getting his degree at UVA, Stape was mesmerized by the serpentine walls which were present on the campus. You can see his homage to the serpentine walls in the construction of his own house (below).
Stape was quite a creative fellow. While at Berkline he designed a couple of unique chair prototypes that were out of this world. One of the chairs was called the “Year 2000 Chair”, and it featured a telephone, a sun lamp, a television, a massager and a a hair dryer (among other “features”). The other chair I found reference to was called the “Futurama Chair”, a space-blue recliner with an automated switch on the arm that would bring up a glass “bubble” (like an astronaut helmet) and place it over the chair’s occupant.
One interesting anecdote about Long, though, is that he at one point he helped Fowler Bros (a furniture store in Knoxville, Tennessee) design its street-facing furniture showroom…apparently the man could design both chairs and architecture.
In 1989, after 35 years at Berkline, Stape retired, spending his free time sketching, painting, and woodworking.
Editor’s note: the current owners of the home seem to think that Stape got an assist designing his house. They seem to recall him working with a Knoxville firm on the design, however the firm is unknown. If that ends up being the case, have no fear, I’ll track down who it was at some point.
Structure: Liesje Ketchel Residence Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee Architect: Liesje Ketchel Date: 1970 Tidbit: In 1970, Dr. Melvin Ketchel (a biologist with a PhD from Harvard) was hired to head up the Oak Ridge Population Research Institute. His wife, Liesje Ketchel, had a BA in psychology and an MArch from Harvard. So, while Dr. Ketchel was off working, Liesje set about designing her family a house, one that blended her knowledge of how humans lived with her knowledge of design and construction.
One of her most interesting inclusions was an indoor pool placed right next to the master bedroom, a feature the Ketchels had experienced at their previous residence back east.
The house sold in 2017 and, thankfully, the listing agent had lots of beautiful photos taken of this unique house. Let’s have a look:
The house seems to have changed very little since it was built, which is marvelous to see.
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.