Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Other Side of Depot (East of James White Parkway)

I recently wrote a post about the possibility for a development corridor along Depot Avenue which would effectively extend the footprint of what we consider the downtown area. An alert reader (Katie, I think) noted the unfortunate fact that Depot is interrupted by James White Parkway, one of the self-imposed boundaries to the city. In fact, just east of the White Lily building, which was my starting point for considering development to the west toward Broadway, the road ends as it hits the embankment which leads up to the Parkway.

Shaft and I decided to investigate. I smelled mystery and perhaps adventure. I think he smelled a cold beverage, but more of that later.

To follow the street further to the east, one has to turn south and walk a long block across the railroad tracks to Jackson. Left for two blocks on Jackson takes you under the Parkway and to Humes. Take that northward back across the tracks and you find yourself on Depot once again and standing next to the Fireproof Storage Building with its graffiti project which I discussed here and followed up in another post with great pictures from Caroline Carter (are you still out there? An update?). As I probably stated then, this spot does not feel like a safe place on a weekend as it is pretty much abandoned. Footsteps echo from the sides of warehouses. Sidewalks are crumbled.

Knoxville Opera Company, 612 E. Depot, Knoxville
Our first surprise as we walked was to find one of the most sophisticated organizations in the city housed on what seems like a desolate block. An attractive awning in front of the building just to the east of the Fireproof Building was emblazoned with elaborate lettering announcing "Knoxville Opera." I understand that an opera company doesn't have a large budget and that the rent on a building in this section of town must be modest. Still, I was surprised to find them in such rough surroundings.

Marble City Brewing Company, 708 East Depot, Knoxville

Knox Bike Co-op, 708 East Depot, Knoxville
 The next block offered even more in the way of refuge for weary travelers: Marble City Brewing Company's headquarters and their tasting room, The Quary. Housed in a humble, though not unattractive, brick building, and situated next to an alley which announced the "Knox Bike Co-op." It is located in the basement of Marble City Brewing Company. Apparently they are open two days a week to teach people to repair bicycles and they accept bicycle-related donations. To what end, I'm not sure. They were closed, so the only logical next step was to investigate The Quary.

Shaft laughs with the bartender, Marble City Brewing, Knoxville
Immediately upon passing through the front door everyone at the bar greeted us. They assured us they had just decided that the next person through the door would buy a round for everyone. A bit of nervous laughter and patter later we decided it was a running gag. We heard them play it out on the next several people to enter.
The Quary at Marble City Brewing Company, Knoxville
The gathered crowd was a friendly bunch and we sat with them as Shaft tried a sample and got his bratwurst fix. A football game played on a television suspended from the wall behind the bar. It could be heard intermittently as the laughter and good-natured bickering died down. The back wall was designed to duplicate the photograph displayed of the original Marble City Brewing Company located in the Old City over one hundred years ago.

Laughter and good wishes followed us out the door as dusk arrived and we felt the need to begin the walk back into the center city. A final surprise awaited behind the building as we caught sight of a large garage with a boat inside, a truck parked outside and other signs of domestic life such as a grill perched on a second floor landing. It wouldn't be my first choice of a homestead, but obviously it suits someone's domestic needs.
Home behind Marble City Brewing Company, Knoxville
That's as far as we made it down the other side of Depot. It's hard to imagine that section being a vibrant part of the city but, even there, small slivers of life have burst through the concrete. Of course, there is plenty of economic activity of other sorts, such as storage and Lay's Market which I've also written about previously. It's an interesting walk. I'd suggest daytime and with company as the best approach.

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At December 20, 2011 at 11:15 AM , Blogger John in Knoxville said...

Urban Guy, spot on again. I just recently made my first visit to the tasting room (shame on me for waiting so long). I've been looking at this area to become something of a funky complement to the Old City. You mentioned that it is hard to imagine it being vibrant, I would however point you to that city across the mountains that Knoxville seems to try to emulate at times, Asheville. On a small road called Buxton Ave., in a warehouse district, is the Green Man Brewing Company tasting room. It's brilliant. The entire, unassuming, neighborhood turns out to be teaming with commerce, from bike shops, to beer, to food co-ops. It really is an exciting place. That is what I see for our warehouse district.

On another note, you asked me to keep you posted on my Knoxville lost history blog. Well, I finally completed my first post of substance. It focuses on 417 W. Clinch Ave. now a parking lot, formerly the Hotel Vendome. Check it out:


At December 20, 2011 at 12:28 PM , Anonymous Michael Torano said...

Nice read!
Knoxville Opera has been in this building since 1995 after moving from our original location in the Burwell Bldg on Clinch & Gay Street. We started on the 3rd floor and years later, moved up the 7th floor before the Conley Brothers bought the building. The choice to relocate came from a Board decision to find a home where offices and rehearsals could live together. 612 E. Depot Avenue is approx 7,500 square feet and was previously the home of Johnstone Supply. Knoxville Opera used to scrounge all over the city for rehearsal space in schools, churches, old/new grocery store retail space and even an empty furniture store before locating at the Depot.

The attractive awning you reference was a very generous contribution last year by one of our avid supporters, Camel Custom Canvas and Awning. In fact, they recently won an International Achievement Award for this custom designed awning for our building. More here: http://ow.ly/843F3

At December 20, 2011 at 4:23 PM , Anonymous Johnathan Borsodi said...

Nice write up. Give us a head's up, and we'd be happy to show you around the brewing side of our building as well. We've been pretty pleased with our little corner of East Depot--we recently hosted a fundraiser for our friends & neighbors at the Knoxville Opera. Also--the "homestead" is actually the studio of local artist Jamie Jensen (who did the signs and murals at the Quarry, and shows his work there as well). We think that with time, this little corner will in fact become a logical extension of the Old City's general funkiness. Look forward to seeing you again!

At December 20, 2011 at 4:50 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Thank you, each and every one for the comments. I'm looking forward to your blog, John. I sooo hope you guys are right about this area of downtown continuing to develop. I'd love to see that happen. Michael, I'm happy you guys found a great home. I guess I know a nice awning when I see one! Johnathan, I'll try to take you up on that some time.

At December 20, 2011 at 7:29 PM , Anonymous Kim Trent said...

I have no doubt this area will continue to develop and thrive. It is a new redevelopment area designated by the City of Knoxville as The Warehouse District. I hope our new mayor will continue to push for redevelopment that will connect downtown with the Magnolia Avenue redevelopment area. Great buildings and a lot of potential for new investment to expand our downtown.

At December 20, 2011 at 8:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good gawd! I kinda look like Bruce Pearl! I'll never be as cool as the real Shaft... Anyway, I gotta give a shout out to Marble City's brews. I've enjoyed every one, and the Quarry was worth the walk.

Shaft (the watered-down version)


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