Structure: Tennessee Valley Bank, Chapman Highway Branch Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty Date: 1955 Tidbit: In 1956, Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture held an exhibit called A Half Century of Architectural Education. The exhibit featured 72 buildings (selected from over 500 entries) designed by school alumni. Three Tennessee buildings were featured in the exhibit, one of them was this building: the Chapman Highway branch of the Tennessee Valley Bank. The bank was designed by the Knoxville, Tennessee firm Painter, Weeks & McCarty. Two of the firm’s principals, Francis Painter Jr and Felder Weeks, graduated from Georgia Tech, hence the submission.
Over time, the all-glass look fell out of favor with banks (probably due to break-ins), and the bank was remodeled (see below). The bank is currently undergoing a third renovation which probably won’t do it any aesthetic favors. This third remodel gave us a glimpse of the original teller counter and a bit of the original floors as well.
Tidbit: I mentioned that three Tennessee buildings were selected for the exhibit, right? Well I’ve only been able to find photos of two of them, one is the bank (above) and the other is this gorgeous structure. Like many buildings, you’ll see, it eventually got, uh, reused and its new use doesn’t retain much of its former beauty. Structure: American Legion Post #1 Location: Memphis, Tennessee Architect: Thomas F. Faires Date: 1955
Structure: Dr. Sam Hunter House Location: Memphis, Tennessee Architect: E. Fay Jones Date: 1964 Story: In Memphis, Tennessee there lived a couple, Dr. Sam Hunter and his wife Jody. “Hunter” seems an ironic name for a doctor, one would think he’d be a park ranger or something, but I digress. In the late 1950’s, Jody was flipping through an architectural magazine when she spotted a black-and-white photo of a house architect E. Fay Jones had designed.
Now, let’s talk about architect E. Fay Jones for a minute. Jones was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He got an architecture degree at the University of Arkansas, obtained a master’s degree in architecture from Rice University, and then took a job teaching at the University of Oklahoma. He returned to Arkansas a few years later and ran his own architectural practice while also teaching at his alma mater (UofA). Jones was a close friend and protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, and their relationship would prove fertile ground for Jones, it would propel him towards a strong organic modernist streak, which would eventually cement his place as one of the most prolific modernist architects in Arkansas. But all of that fame n’ fortune hadn’t happened yet. So let’s get back to the Hunters.
In the early 1960s, the Hunters went to Fayetteville, Arkansas to meet with Jones and ask him to design them a house. Jones was reticent. He preferred to supervise his builds, but given that Memphis was roughly ~320 miles away, that would be impossible. After some discussion, the Hunters convinced Jones to design them a house in Memphis by promising him they’d “get a fine, conscientious builder so [Jones] could show [the builder] how he drew on a grid system.” Jones recalled, “It gave me a little confidence to do work farther from home.”
But before he would draw any plans, Jones asked the Hunters to keep journals about how they lived and what they did every day, so he could discover what was important to them. Dr. Hunter put it this way, “[Jones] said ‘I don’t want to know how many bathrooms you want.’ He wanted a philosophy of [our] life.” Chief among the Hunter’s desire were unrestricted vision to the outdoors, the ability to watch the weather change, and a house that brought the outside inside.
The house itself was constructed of heartwood tidewater cypress (a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright’s due to its warm red tone and natural resistance to water). The woodwork (including 300 cabinets, lighting, seating, and tables) were built on site. The floor was made of flagstones, and Jones had a designated “stone hunter” whose job it was to artfully find-and-place the stones in such a way that they (1) looked aesthetically good and (2) used as little mortar as possible.
And thus it was that E. Fay Jones, notable Arkansas architect, designed a house in Memphis.
Structure: Fiser House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Hubert Bebb Date: 1961 Tidbit: In the early 1960s, Knoxville, Tennessee had a prominent home builder named John Fiser. Joe had always wanted a lake house, so when the time came, he turned to notable Gatlinburg architect Hubert Bebb and had him design a gargantuan 4,600, tri-level, hexagonal-shaped house overlooking Fort Loudon Lake (later additions would bring the house’s square footage up to around 10,000 sq ft). Sparing no expense, John hired Jim Cleveland (an architect-designer) to design + decorate the interior with imported fixtures from Spain, wool carpets, and a Robert R. Bushong screenprint (for the focal point of the main room). The ink wasn’t even dry on Bebb + Cleveland’s plans before John began building the house (he was a builder, after all). The stonework alone took 6 months! Unfortunately, the house didn’t transition well into the modern era. The house itself was neat but, according to the Fisers, didn’t have all of the amenities one would want from a modern house. Although they put time and energy into seeing whether a rehab was feasible, they decided that it would have been too costly, and the house was demolished in 2012. The good news, though, is that much of the original house’s materials were used in a new build on the site. That said, we bid you RIP, hexagonal house.
Structure: ALCOA Care-Free Home Location: Maryville, Tennessee Architect: Charles M. Goodman Date: 1957 Story: The year is 1957, and ALCOA (the Aluminum Company of America, now called Arconic) decided that more people should live in homes made out of aluminum. It was as much of a sales pitch as anything else…but it be quite the experiment.
ALCOA hired architect Charles M. Goodman to design what they called the “Care-Free” home. The houses were 3 bed, 3 bath, 1,900 sq. ft. and were filled with colorful aluminum (used both as the structure of the house and as decoration). These pictures from the brochure show just how ALCOA was planning to market the houses.
This Care-Free house (in Portland, Oregon) gives you a look at the house in real life, and showcases the prominent use of aluminum throughout.
To get folks interested in these unique houses, ALCOA decided to pay for + build the first batch. They planned to build 50, but only 24 were ever built. As it turns out, building a house out of aluminum is quite expensive. The houses were intended to cost around $25,000 ($230k today), but they ended up costing double that price — and thus weren’t affordable for the middle class market ALCOA was aiming for.
Luckily for us here in the Volunteer State, one of the the 24 constructed houses was built in Maryville, Tennessee. It’s been unsympathetically remodeled however the bones still look to be in pretty good shape (probably due to the sturdiness of all that aluminum).
Structure: Gerhardt Nimmer Cabin Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee Architect: Gerhardt Nimmer Date: 1960 Story: Are you ready for a story of travel, love, and architecture? In 1908, Gerhardt Nimmer was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to August and Ida Nimmer. August, Gerhardt’s father, was a carpenter and a house builder.
In 1934, Gerhardt fell in love and married a woman named Hazel. Gerhardt became a CPA, and the couple spent their lives working + building a family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In order to get away from the hustle n’ bustle, they began taking vacations to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the 50s.
Now, although Gerhardt was a CPA by trade, he had acquired a love of woodworking and carpentry from his father. Thus it should come as little surprise that, in the late 1950s, he picked out an 8-acre plot of land on a high bluff overlooking the Great Smokey Mountains and determined to build him and his family a cabin.
Recruiting some skilled laborer friends from back home in Minneapolis, Gerhardt designed + built a glass-filled mountaintop cabin for him and Hazel. The simple, Miesian-style house still sits atop that hill: a simple 1,120 sq. ft. monument to what hard work, love, and resilience can achieve.
Maryville College was founded in 1819 as a Presbyterian school geared towards training local ministers. But by the 1940s, the college was growing more diverse, and the old buildings were growing crowded. When a small fire burned down the chapel where music classes were being held, the school began an ambitious plan to update its campus architecture. With an eye towards the future, and hoping to reflect the contemporary nature of its new student body, the university understood that mid-century modern architecture would be a natural fit for the look of the new buildings.
Alright, let’s take a look at the various modernist structures built on campus.
Structure: Fine Arts Building at Maryville College Location: Maryville, Tennessee Architect: Schweikher & Elting Date: 1950 Story: The building placed a heavy emphasis on musical performance space because, at that time, roughly 2/3 of Maryville College’s students took at least one or more music courses. The funding came from a Chicago couple, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Alfred Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd, who had attended Maryville College, was the brother of the current president. Mr. Lloyd had gone on to become a successful lawyer in Chicago. Paul Schweikher & Winston Elting’s firm (Schweikher & Elting) were also based out of Chicago, so this may have been how an East Tennessee school connected with that particular architectural firm.
The building itself received national acclaim, with Architectural Record running articles on both the building’s construction (in June of 1950) and the final product (Dec of 1951). Let’s have a look at a panoply of photos from when the building was created all the way up to the modern day.
Of note, the organ inside of the building’s auditorium was designed by the notable organ builder Walter Holtkamp (out of Ohio) in concert with architects Schweikher & Elting
Structure: Samuel Tyndale Wilson Chapel Location: Maryville, Tennessee Architect: Schweikher & Elting, Barber & McMurry (associates) Date: 1954 Tidbit: To replace the old chapel (which had burned down), the college built a complex right next to the Fine Arts Building which contained a new small chapel, a 1,150-person auditorium, a 450-person theatre stage, along with classrooms and offices.
Structure: Margaret Bell Lloyd Residence for Women Location: Maryville, Tennessee Architect: Schweikher & Elting, Barber & McMurry (associates) Date: 1959 Tidbit: Pictures of this modernist dorm are hard to come by, but the structure was made of light gray brick, gray concrete, aluminum and gray-tinted glass. The dorm rooms featured built-in furniture (a desk, a dresser, and shelving) — all trimmed in brown ash wood. The lobby had floor-to-ceiling glass, while the non-glass walls were clad in tangerine, teal blue, turquoise, gold, green, black, and white. The lobby opened onto a small garden as well.
In 1960, a Maryville College bulletin claimed the college was looking to fund-and-build a new science hall. Designed by Knoxville firm Barber & McMurry, it’s not clear whether this was ever built.
Eventually Maryville College decided it wanted its campus architecture to go back to everyone’s favorite university style: collegiate gothic. In 2007, the Fine Arts Building and Samuel Tyndale Wilson Chapel were demolished to make room for new buildings. I could not bring myself to post a photo of the demolition but if you’re interested, there’s a Flickr album that contains photos of the razing.
Structure: Joseph Goodstein Residence Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Joseph S. Goodstein Date: 1964 Tidbit: The Sequoyah Hills neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee is known for large traditional style houses. But peppered in among them are a handful of interesting mid-century modern style residences. This, is one of those houses. The strikingly modern home was designed by architect Joseph S. Goodstein as his personal residence. Joseph’s father (Ben) was a local kosher grocer (say that five times fast) in Knoxville, so after Joseph finished his architectural studies at the University of Cincinnati he came back to town, got married, and started his own architectural firm with Sam Good. The firm was called Good & Goodstein, although if you ask me, they could have called it Good+Stein.
In any event, Joseph lived in this house for 42 years until the current owners purchased it. The exterior (which is in excellent shape) features a slight butterfly roof reminiscent of Mario Bianculli’s modernist home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s wonderful to see this house still proudly sitting in stark contrast to the more traditional style homes surrounding it.
Structure: Fountain City Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Ralph Donaldson Date: March, 1960 Tidbit: This is one ambitious congregation! Not only did they design + build the church themselves, they put a hyperparaboloid roof on it.
Editor’s note: This post only features very tiny photos, and for that I apologize. Just imagine they were taken with a little flip phone, that’ll give them a nostalgic quality.
Long ago, weather was forecasted out of weather stations. These weather stations were run by the federal government. The U.S. had a weather station located at McGhee Tyson Airport, which was run from 1941-1960 by a man named William “Ted” Kleinsasser Sr. Ted was well-liked, partially because he was a good weatherman, but also because he introduced and taught Western-style square dancing to East Tennessee.
In 1960, Ted’s car slammed headfirst into the railing of a bridge. Shortly thereafter, he was let go from his weatherman job. In an effort to improve his condition, Ted checked himself into a psychiatric treatment center up in Asheville, North Carolina. Upon finishing his treatment, the doctors told him to get interested in something that would keep him physically fit and also keep him interested.
Ted went back home to Alcoa, Tennessee, and became an enthusiastic gardener. Now Ted owned four lots, two had regular houses on them, and on the other two, he gardened. Let’s pause Ted’s story and talk about his son Bill.
William “Bill” Kleinsasser Jr was raised in Alcoa by Ted and his wife Mabel. Bill was an athletic fellow, and ended up going to Princeton (and getting an All-American mention despite being there on an academic scholarship). He took a break from Princeton to serve in the Korean War, but returned to get his MFA in architecture.
It is during this point (around 1956) that Bill did two awesome things. First, he met-and-married Ann Biester. Secondly, he designed a house for Knoxville businessman Oliver Wright Sr., the owner of a local hardware + appliance store. The house is a marvelous post and beam house that sits high atop a hill. Its views are spectacular.
Structure: Oliver Wright Sr House Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: Bill Kleinsasser Date: 1956
Man, what a house. Ok let’s finish up Bill’s bio. During his time at Princeton, Bill crossed paths with many notable architects including Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, Hugh Hardy, and William Turnbull. After he graduated Princeton, he was a busy man. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in France, had a private practice (in Doylestown, Pennsylvania), worked with Marc-Joseph Saugey (in Geneva, Switzerland), and did a stint in the office of Louis Kahn (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In 1965 he became professor of architecture at the University of Oregon where he would teach for 34 years.
Ok, back to Ted! In the late 1960s, Bill was on sabbatical from UO, and he was in Alcoa, Tennessee, visiting home. Bill took a look at the large limestone ledge that ran through his dad’s property and said “Pop, why don’t you build a house here?”
Ted thought it over, then said “If you design it, I’ll build it.”
The house was made out of Western red cedar, stained and weathered until it was gray. The interior was mostly made out of pecan paneling. The ceiling was made of Douglas fir, topped with insulation, over which a tar roof was poured, capped by a layer of limestone chips.
Interestingly, none of the stones on the rocky property were moved to make way for the house, the house was engineered around the stones. This was in keeping with one of Bill’s architectural tenants: that architecture should respond to place.
Structure: Ted Kleinsasser House Location: Alcoa, Tennessee Architect: Bill Kleinsasser Date: 1969
As I finish writing, it occurs to me that I should have called this blog entry Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (in modernism)
Structure: Glass House // Bill Shell Residence Location: Knoxville, Tennessee Architect: William “Bill” Starke Shell Date: 2002 Story: Although we rarely venture this far outside of the mid-century era, this house deserves an honorable mention. Inspired by his time spent working with Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, University of Tennessee Professor Bill Shell bought a wooded parcel of land in 1978. Then, over the next 22 years, he designed and built this house, paying cash as he went. It’s ability to sit in both an old paradigm while being built recently is a testament to its timeless (if sterile) shape.