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 any more time with the background: t’s a block of frat houses, you get. Let’s get into the design!

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

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 is essentially was remodeled into oblivion. Sometime around 2007, a pitched roof was added along with a new foyer which kind of ruined the whole effect.

Tennessee Modernism: The Modernist Houses of Timberlake

In 1947, a group called Maloney Heights Inc. purchased a large, forested lot right off of Alcoa Highway with a singular goal: turn the area (dubbed Timberlake) into a subdivision designed for the group members to live in.

Maloney Heights Lot Reservation Map (1948) (© Maloney Heights, Inc.)

Maloney Heights Inc. was made up of architects, engineers and construction professionals, which meant that their skills were exactly what was needed to design, plan, and build a neighborhood from the bottom up. Of note, architects Charles I. Barber (of Barber & McMurry) and D. West Barber (his cousin) were shareholders in Maloney Heights Inc.

The group created an architectural standard for how the homes should look. The provision said each building should conform and be in harmony both with the “external design with existing structures in the subdivision” and also “with respect to topography.” The result was beautifully designed homes, each one sited on a wooded lot that gave them a wonderful view.

View from the A.W. Cain House

By 1953, 27 homes had been built. In 1962, the remaining lots had been filled with unique and beautiful houses. Alright. Enough back story. Let’s dive into the architecture, shall we?

Structure: Dr. Hefley House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Raymond Guay
Date: 1962

Structure: Robert C. Brown House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Robert C. Brown (with assistance by an architect friend of his, one who worked at the TVA)
Date: 1952

Photo of the house circa 1953

Structure: A.W. Cain House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Barber & McMurry
Date: 1952
Tidbit: When it was finished, this house was described as being “built like a TVA dam using steel beams and concrete.”

Structure: Millard Warren Residence II
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Millard Warren
Date: 1950
Tidbit: Back in the day, houses were often built to showcase products. Case in point: Millard Warren designed and built his house to showcase “Southern Cast lightweight stone.” Warren was a VP at the Southern Cast Stone Company, so the house served as a sort of living advertisement.

Photo of the house circa 1959

Structure: Millard Warren Residence I
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Millard Warren
Date: 1938
Tidbit: I know I’m straying from the legacy of the Timberlake area for a minute but stick with me. The Timberlake house Warren designed + built for himself wasn’t the only house he’d created to showcase his sturdy stone wares. Back in the late 1930s, Warren designed an extremely modern house right off of the newly-created Alcoa Highway. The house was modern in its design, and it caused quite a stir. The insurance folks were extremely happy that it was made of stone and concrete, and it was dubbed un-burn-down-able. But its most unique invention? A pool on the roof that theoretically was supposed to keep the house cool in the summer and freeze in the winter (allowing the kids to ice skate on it, no joke).

The house still stands, although its white concrete has been painted brown and a huge addition was added. The updates, however, are solid. It looks like they added a wing onto either side, along with a pitched roof. I guess the water-as-a-roof wasn’t so great after all.

End note 1: this blog owes its existence (and extensive detail) to the hard work of the Timberlake Community. They took the time to interview, collect, write, and save their history down and if you want to browse through the immense amounts of work they’ve done, head here: https://www.timberlakeknox.com/

End note 2: there is a very notable house in the Timberlake area that I left out of this post. I’ll be detailing it at another time, don’t @ me.

Tennessee Modernism: The Modernism of Maryville College

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

Organ designed by the Holtkamp Organ Company of Ohio

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.

Frances Massey, dean of women, stands in front of the new women’s dorm

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.

Rendering of Maryville College Science Hall by Barber & McMurry (circa 1960)

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.