Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Homes in Fort Sanders, Part One

Home in Fort Sanders, Knoxville
There are many great homes in and around Fort Sanders. Some of them are lovingly cared for by single-owner occupants. Some of them are sub-divided into as many apartments as could be carved from their insides. In many cases these, or others that are rented as a whole are falling apart. Stories of absentee landlords allowing their property to fall apart, crumble and generally degenerate are probably as old as the neighborhood itself.

Home in Fort Sanders, Knoxville

Home in Fort Sanders, Knoxville
Still, even with the obvious decay, it isn't hard to imagine how grand this part of Knoxville once was and wish it could attain that same grandeur once more. The difficulty in such a proposition is that to renovate, restore and rescue a home of this age, and in the case of many of them, of this size is enormous. It really takes someone with access to large amounts of money and a willingness to continue expending it through the coming years.

Once Grand, Now Falling Apart, Home in Fort Sanders, Knoxville
Most of us couldn't consider doing it and I really appreciate the people who do. As for the people who could do better, but choose to allow these once elegant homes to fall apart while they milk the last pennies from hapless UT students they possibly can, I don't know how they sleep at night.
Smaller Homes with Character, Fort Sanders, Knoxville

Home with alternating colors of siding, Fort Sanders, Knoxville
I'll post another round in part two. I'm sure that there are many more that deserve attention, but I'll at least share a few that caught my eye.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Knoxville's Mini-Rainbow Row?

Residential demolition was so thorough in downtown Knoxville, that in the main part of the city proper there are very few structures standing that were originally intended as homes. Some of those have suffered "improvements" over the years and have been diminished in their claims to original construction. Remarkably, some that have survived are among the oldest built on the site: The James White home, the Blount Mansion and a handful of others. Row homes, which were once common downtown are now only represented in their historic form by Kendrick Place.

Rainbow Row, Charleston, S.C., photo by Sasha Azevedo
Charleston has, of course, done a much better job at preserving historical structures. The famous "Rainbow Row" pictured above, features historic homes of alternating colors.

Knoxville's Rainbow Row? Eleventh Street, Knoxville, February 2011
We don't have anything that can quite compare, but we do have a row of Victorian homes, currently under repair and renovation by Knox Heritage, that remind me a little of that famous row. They are located on Eleventh Street in the Fort Sanders neighborhood, just a few yards from the Green House featured previously.

Fire Damage, Victorian home, Eleventh Street, Knoxville
Sadly, a closer look reveals the damage from an early morning fire last spring. The middle home appears to have repairs to the fire damage underway, but the one most damaged doesn't seem to have repairs underway. I know the damage was extensive, but I hope the home can be saved. Two homes don't make a very good rainbow.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 25, 2011

Knox Heritage (ca 1888) Home Recieves LEED Certification

Knox Heritage Green House, Fort Sanders, Knoxville, February 2011
This will be the first in a series of posts centered in the Fort Sanders area. The densest populated area in east Tennessee, the neighborhood is known for its student housing and its proximity to the University of Tennessee campus. It is also home to many Victorian era structures in various states of beauty and decay. James Agee lived in this neighborhood, though sadly the home he remembered as he wrote A Death in the Family was destroyed in favor of bland apartments for students.

View of the Knoxville Museum of Art from the Green House
That was the old way of doing business in Knoxville. In this new era (I'm feeling optimistic today) we preserve homes and even make them better. Such is the case with the Victorian Home restored by Knox Heritage, located at 1011 Victorian Way (formerly 1011 Laurel Avenue, just off Eleventh Street) and dubbed the Green House. Not only was it returned to its original grandeur, it was built with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind, demonstrating that you can have old without the sins of the fathers. In this case, the home comes equipped with two solar power devices, one for heating water and one for generating electricity. The home is now being offered for sale.

View of the former Eleventh Street Coffee House (great coffee!) from the Green House
Other homes in the area are also in various states of restoration, while many languish and as recently as this past year, some are still being destroyed. If you are interested in older homes, I'd encourage you to take a stroll through Fort Sanders. Maybe you'll be inspired to take on a (large and expensive, but very loving) project. If that is out of your means or capabilities, maybe you'd like to join Knox Heritage and support their work. In the meantime, over the next few days, I'll give you a peak at some of the sites in the neighborhood.
Knox Heritage "Green House," Fort Sanders, Knoxville, February 2011

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Opening Night: Not Your Mama's Nama

Urban Woman enters Nama on Opening Night, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
I realize it was more like a four block move, but this Nama is not your mama's Nama. It has probably three times the space of the old location and the interior is pretty cool with the lights behind the sushi bar and the reflective tiles. The seats are comfortable leather, though we took a booth for opening night. The booths, by the way are several inches more generous on each side of the table than most of the booth seating downtown and that was nice.

I was a bit disappointed with the crowd. We called ahead anticipating a full house and a wait and found that it was busy, but not crowded. Part of that has to do with the size. I realized as I looked around that the 75% capacity crowd would have completely overwhelmed the original site. There is also considerable seating outside on the front and the side of the restaurant, though the temperature was a few degrees shy of making that a tempting option on this night.

Good crowd on opening night, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
The menu has been expanded and includes far more than sushi, with a hot foods section, vegetarian section and salads. I would call it fairly pricey. For two of us to eat average priced dishes, our bill came to $45 with taxes and tip. Not horrible, but certainly not something we could do every night. There are ways to beat the cost just a bit. For starters, they are having half-price night tomorrow night in honor of their opening. (Typical for my luck.) Also, each day from 4:00 - 6:00 they have two different sushi rolls for half price as well as a variety of reduced price drinks.

Orange Shrimp, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
The food was excellent and the service was pleasant. We had the orange shrimp and the Soy Joy. The orange shrimp was different from that we've had in other restaurants in that it wasn't fried, which was nice.

By the way, I'm including food pictures for the first time. One of my faithful readers and a very dear old friend commented recently that he just can't get enough of photographs of food. So, these are for him. I learned that it isn't as easy to photograph food as I thought it might be. If you like great pictures of food, I have two great blogs you should check out: Newlywed in New Orleans and Dale Mackey's blog. I enjoy them both and I promise: they have great pictues of food.

Soy Joy, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
The Soy Joy is a sushi roll which was developed at Nama and it consists of nori, sushi rice, albacore tataki, cucumber and three sauces including a sake-flavored sauce, wasabi sauce and an eel sauce all wrapped in soy paper which gives the exterior a little crunch. I'm not sure what half of those ingredients are, but it doesn't matter: It's fantastic. I also found that I've retained my chops with the sticks pretty well: I made it through the entire meal without the use of a western utensil!

Be sure to give them some business soon. They'll appreciate it and you'll enjoy it. You'll probably be more likely to run in to me between 4:00 and 6:00 getting the low-priced goods. See you there.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Civil Wars Erupts in Knoxville

Not the Civil War - the Civil Wars. Never heard of them? You must be really old. Like maybe twenty-six or seven. Judging from the audience assembled for their performance, the demographic definitely skews young. If that's the case how does an over-thirty bloggaman find out about them? From his friend's twenty-something, much-cooler-than-we-are daughter, that's how. She encouraged her father to catch the 9:00 show at the Pilot Light, but he found that there was a 6:00 show at Disc Exchange, which is much better for aging working men.

The duo, comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White have enjoyed a couple of very big breaks. First, their song "Poison and Wine," was featured in its full version on Gray's Anatomy which resulted in a surge of itunes sales. Next, Taylor Swift called them her "favorite duo" and they were on their way. Their first full length CD, Barton Hollow, just came out and debuted at number twelve on the Billboard Charts and sat at number one on itunes for a week.

I listened to them on itunes and I wasn't that taken. I could hear the good harmonies, but I didn't hear enough of the edginess that I like in my music. Their sound definitely tilts in the direction of Americana, with a sort of alternative twist on folk music. At first it hit me as the Peter, Paul and Mary end of the folk spectrum as opposed to the Dylan extreme.

There were probably a hundred or more people gathered at the Disc Exchange for the live WFIV broadcast, which is a pretty big crowd for a space not built for crowds. The couple arrived at showtime and after a brief sound check and an extended guitar tuning adventure (it looked like a very old Martin - maybe a classical model similar to Willie Nelson's famous guitar), they moved into the music.

Both their mannerisms and their vocal styling is more than a little quirky. In turns belting out harmonies and then, quickly shifting to delicate falsetto harmonies their music virtually demands intense concentration. And they got it. Throughout their set, hardly a stir was heard until the final, often very soft note. They seemed like a warmly genuine young couple (as in a couple in a group, not in a romantic couple - they are each married to someone else), staying in the store to smile for pictures and sign copies of their CD.

I'll leave you with the video for "Poison and Wine" so you can form your own opinion. Sometimes for reasons I cannot control, blogger does not display video properly. If that happens when you are viewing the video, you can see it properly here.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shortwave Society Delivers a blog to My Doorstep

Shortwave Society Video, Locust Street, Knoxville, February 2011
Sometimes I go about begging the muse for a small tidbit, some simple morsel of an idea to write about in the middle of winter. The muse can be such a cruel taskmaster. Other times I'm doing just fine without Mr. Muse when a blog lands on my doorstep and practically writes itself.
Plaster Woman and Shortwave Society, Locust Street, Knoxville, February 2011

Action, Vocals, Plaster Woman! Shortwave Society Video, Knoxville, February 2011
I saw this collection of people from my window. Don't you just hate it when that happens . . . you look out your window and see a long-clawed, plaster-covered woman writhing about in a parking lot? Well, not me. I think: Blog Jackpot!

Shortwave Society Video Shoot, Locust Street, Knoxville, February 2011

Just keep singing - Don't Look Back!
I walked into the parking lot to meet some very nice people who turned out to be Shortwave Society whose most recent album Voyeur is currently on sale, as I learned, for less than eight dollars on Amazon (follow that link). The music is apparently a mix of electronic, pop and chamber sounds.

Look out buddy! Love and Compassion is behind you!
I also remembered that they are the band whose van got stolen last fall. I also recognized one of the members who I've mentioned on this blog before, Alexia Pantanizopoulos, who I discussed as she backed up Maggie Longmire and played with her other group, Norwegian Wood.

Large Claws are helpful if you talk with your hands.

Large claws make your fellow conversants more open to your views.
So, the band was on a site that I've described as urban blight. I guess one man's blight is another man's perfect set for a video. The concept of this video is a bit lost on me, but I did talk to the woman wearing the incredible plaster suit who danced behind the band for this segment of the video. She was very patient and sweet and accepted my business card into her claws. She is the wife of one of the band members (I know, a really good blogger would have gotten her name) and she explained to me that she was portraying the embodiment of love and compassion. Love and compassion which is rejected.

How does she look so sweet (and she was) with twelve-inch claws?
Scary, but nice. Loving, but potentially painful.
I can totally see that. I mean, I always pictured love and compassion as being a plaster dancing woman - who doesn't? I have to say I didn't imagine love and compassion having claws like that, but then I have heard that love hurts. I guess it's all falling into place, now.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Introducing the New Nama: Grand Opening Wednesday, February 23

Nama, 500 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
It is now official: Nama on the 100 block is closed. Practically an institution on that block, it began a migration up Gay Street during the extended renovations of the 100 block. According to S. Carpenter - a reader of this blog - the old location will be converted to a Cru Bistro and Wine Bar, which is owned by the same company that owns Nama. There is currently a location in Turkey Creek and others are scattered about the country. That sounds like a good fit for the 100 block.

Outdoor seating, Nama, 500 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville
At the same time, the new location looks great and was officially making sushi as of Sunday evening. Only open for a private event, to which, of course, I was not invited, it opens for us regular people this Wednesday. When will local restaurateurs learn that inviting a blogger for free food at these events is just good for business? What do they think, they don't need me? I guess Nama's brand may be bigger than mine, but if any of you guys open a restaurant, give me a call!

Pretty Hostess, Sushi Bar, Nama, 500 Block Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
I was able to charm my way in the door: Me - "Can I take a couple of pictures?" Good Looking Hostess: "Two." She was actually pretty nice.

Happy People invited to the private Nama Party, February 2011
I love the decor and the chairs look comfortable. The added space will be a real asset. The location - right beside the Riviera - seems perfect. So what do you think - meet you there Wednesday night?

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dale Mackey Presents Seminar on Social Media: A Blog about Blogging

Dale Mackey discusses Social Media, Redeemer Church, Knoxville, February 2011
It had to happen eventually: I finally got some training in this blogging thing. Actually, the workshop, sponsored by the Knoxville Writer's Guild and presented by Dale Mackey at the Redeemer Church in Fort Sanders was about more than blogging. It was about the changes in the ways that people connect in 2011. Facebook, blogging, Twitter and issues like work flow, content, photographs, building networks and on the list goes. Somewhere around forty people crammed into a room at Redeemer Church at Highland and 17th for the two-and-a-half-hour session.

I attended because I want my blog to do as well as possible. How do you know when a blog is doing well? As of today, thirty-one people are notified about new posts via the registration form in the right-hand column. Another forty-one are followers, meaning they have subscribed to the blog, also available to the right of this post, so they can read it via RSS feeds.

Participants discuss their interest in Social Media.
On average, I have about a hundred people read the blog each day. Many of them are repeat visitors. Of the hundred, five will be from other countries. Twenty will be from out of state. Fifteen will be from Tennessee towns outside of Knoxville. Breaking it down like that says there are about sixty Knoxvillians reading each day and it seems that could be better. There are about two thousand who live downtown alone.

Dale Mackey, Social Media Workshop, Knoxville, February 2011
I learned that I'm doing some things pretty well and I could definitely do some things better. On the positive side of the ledger, I've got a focused topic that I stick to pretty well, I'm posting often, I'm writing as well as I know how and I respond to people pretty quickly. On the other side of the ledger, my photographs could be better, so I'm going to continue working on that. Also, I should probably start producing some video, but that will have to wait for a while. I'm still pondering some of the other pieces we discussed today. I doubt I'll ever twitter. I probably do, however, need some sort of Facebook presence.

So, there will be some changes. Some will not be obvious, but others may be. If you have suggestions for me, I'd love to read them - either in a comment below, or in a private e-mail here. I want to make this blog the best I can make it. In the meantime, check out this video we viewed in our conference today regarding the explosion of social media. It is a couple of years old, so things have changed a bit, but it is pretty amazing.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Keeping the Bees Employed: Poetry by R.B. Morris

I recently read Keeping the Bees Employed, a book of poetry, by R. B. Morris. By turns beautiful and painful, it is a book that I highly recommend. Most of you know that R.B. is a local musician, playwright, poet and provocateur. I've spoken of his music often in this space and I've mentioned his poetry. I'd like to give it a few moments of focus and encourage you to pick up a copy of this gripping book. R.B.'s gift is in finding beauty in the simple elements of life - a conversation, a phrase, a half thought. His openness and honesty about his life is sometimes difficult to read, feeling somewhat like the reader is offered a voyeur's perspective on moments and events that most of us would hold close as private.

When he read from his works recently at the Laurel Theater, I was particularly moved by his poem "The Can Man," in which he finds the noble inside that which most of us would see as base. He draws a word-portrait of a broken man who still retains his dignity in a way that confounds those with whom he is forced to interact. As is true with the best of our poets, songwriters and visionaries, R.B. also finds the universal inside the ordinary, elevating his subjects to sometimes epic proportions.

R.B. reads from Keeping the Bees Employed
With his permission, I'm printing his "Can Man" poem below. I hope you like it as much as I did and I hope you will support this local artist. You can follow either of the links above to further explore or purchase the book. He very much deserves your support and encouragement. He has certainly given greatly to our city and has probably championed it more than any other person in recent memory. He loves this city and it shows.

"The Can Man"

The Can Man goes by ragged and black
A great bag over his shoulder
Full of aluminum cans and other
Assorted treasures
A scraggly patch of beard hiding
Most of his face
And a tortured old hat pulled
Low to his eyes
But those eyes will find you
He's steady in his walk but
With a long limp
Winding him sideways like a crab
Dragging half his world
Behind the other
Making the morning rounds
To the dumpsters and garbage cans
Sometimes he talks to himself
Arguing with someone who's not there
And you hear him coming
Before he walks by the window
Or when you go to your car
Or pass him on the street
If his gaze crosses yours
You'd think he cursed you point blank
For bringing it all down on him
Gowldom moollycoogin blushet
Goin dog cone fugg
Dong no sagg goowl
Tonk Shiblit muh blah asss

I think they should let him give this
Speech to the assembled luminaries of the city
The fathers and mothers who grace
The great offices overlooking
The river and downtown
I think they should let him limp
To the gilded podium and unload
His mighty poetry upon them
For he is the greater man
His work is pure and selfless
He's the one who cleans up the mess
The trash the waste the excess
Of a bloated culture
Spilling out into the streets
Come rain or shine he's there
He knows every crack
Every cloud every face
He sees right through you
To that other place where
We all are but can't quite admit
He holds the city together
He's the cog that makes it click
He's the glue
He's your better
A true volunteer

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

STEM Comes to the City

L and N Station, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, February 2011
I attended the open house at the L and N Station for the new Science Technology Engineering and Math school Tuesday night. I must have seen the L and N for the first time in early 1982, but my first memories of the building are of going to the Ruby Tuesday's and the L and N Seafood restaurants in the mid to late 1980's. More recently, I attended a catered event there.
Sign Greeting Visitors to the Open House, Tile in Main Area
When the announcement was made that the school system intended to convert the building into a school, I was immediately skeptical. I really didn't think they would do it. It appeared no feasibility study had been done, funding is tight and the announcement itself fell during a political season making it even more suspect.
A Very Nice Administrative Office, L and N Station, Knoxville
Fast forward a few months and a principal has been named, new (inflated) costs have been announced and the building appears headed for a massive conversion. The idea has been met with negativity, if not downright derisiveness, in the comments on Knoxnews. Some of the questions seem legitimate, such as where will students and staff park, while others seem more spurious, such as the comments citing the homeless shelters blocks away as somehow a danger.
View from top of the stairwell. A long fall for students and other hurled objects.

Still, many of the criticisms seem to have some validity. Some people have asked why we need this school. I certainly had not heard a large public outcry for a new STEM program. They exist at other schools already and some have wondered if this program won't weaken the others. Money is tight enough that positions - particularly librarians - were eliminated from last year's budget, yet the millions for this new project, we are told, are readily available on short notice. A number of area schools are in dire need of repair, yet they will go wanting while this renovation moves forward.

"Classroom #8" I'm guessing this wall has to go.
The other part of the plan that bothers me has to do with the choice of this particular building. I'm not completely sure why it feels like an inappropriate use of a fine historical building, but I have to admit it does. The building is filled with leaded glass, stain glass, gorgeous tile work and rich woods that seem more appropriate to a boutique hotel or a very nice condominium development or some sort of visitor's center. I think of schools as more practical or utilitarian.

Obviously, if these ideas were economically appealing, someone would have taken the opportunity to make the money involved. The building has, apparently, been under-utilized for a long time and, perhaps, with a large tenant, it will be preserved. I hope it's character isn't damaged by the internal reconfiguration that will be required.

Upstairs hallway. Again, notice the exquisite tile.
The only sign on this particular Tuesday night that the building will become a school were the plain, large placards placed in various areas denoting uses for each are such as administrative offices, counseling offices, a library or classrooms. A woman handed out applications and talked to people who were interested. Many of those touring were families with middle school age children.

Just your average garden-variety library.

Plenty of room for computers. Do rooms have souls? Can they be violated?
When I walked into the area labeled "Library," I immediately wondered where the books would be placed. The walls are dominated by opulent windows and other architectural ornamentation. It turns out I wasn't the only one who wondered. A father and two teenagers surveyed the room as I took photographs. The young girl said, "Where will they put the books?" The boy, who appeared to be slightly older said with a very serious expression, "We won't need books, we'll have computers." The girl curled her lip revealing a large set of braces and let out a long, loud moan. I thanked her for librarians everywhere. Her brother looked disgusted and her father offered helpfully, "I think they'll have some free-standing shelves." I wanted to take the girl home and adopt her. 

Beautiful outside entrance to the "library."
So, my visit didn't change my perspective. I wish a better proposal had presented itself. I wish my tax money was going elsewhere. I wish books were valued, though they seem to be less so with each passing year. In the end, what can you do? Have faith that old buildings will outlast our folly and that young girls in braces will still carry a passion for books after I'm dead and gone.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Labels: , ,