published Monday, March 10th, 2014

Push on to save historic buildings in Tennessee

The historic Alexander Inn, in Oak Ridge, is shown in this file photo. Since its 1990 closure the inn had fallen into disrepair, but now it is being renovated into a 60-room home for seniors.  (Bob Fowler/Knoxville News Sentinel)
The historic Alexander Inn, in Oak Ridge, is shown in this file photo. Since its 1990 closure the inn had fallen into disrepair, but now it is being renovated into a 60-room home for seniors. (Bob Fowler/Knoxville News Sentinel)
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Saving a historic building or property that is threatened with demolition or significant change is usually never easy for preservationists.

So when a structure is preserved, it's often cause for genuine celebration among those who care about it.

As the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance today announces its fifth annual Endangered Heritage List of threatened properties in the 16-county region around Knoxville, it will have not one, but two, reasons to celebrate.

That's because both the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg have been taken off this year's list of endangered properties.

"ETPA was excited to remove the Alexander Inn from the list this year as construction continues in earnest on the new Guest House Alexander Inn Assisted Living Facility," said Scott Brooks, president of the ETPA board of directors.

"And after years of uncertainty, Arrowmont is very close to reaching their fundraising goal that will allow them to purchase and protect the historic campus, thanks in large part to private and public donations."

Brooks goes so far as to compare the Alexander Inn to a preservation project that helped put the affiliated Knox Heritage nonprofit historic preservation group on the map in the 1970s.

"The Alexander Inn is hopefully what the Bijou Theatre was to Knox Heritage 40 years ago," he said. "It kind of says, 'Here we are, and here is what we are doing.' "

The inn -- where a number of visiting scientists and other notables stayed while in Oak Ridge during World War II's Manhattan Project -- was purchased by Family Pride Corp. of Loudon County.

Renovation work began last November to convert the structure into a 60-room assisted living facility for seniors.

While the Alexander Inn's preservation was finalized in part with outside help, Arrowmont's preservation push began from within.

After the Pi Beta Phi sorority -- which started the national art education center as a settlement school in 1912 -- announced plans in recent years to look at selling the land and historic structures, Arrowmont began studying its options.

It eventually decided it wanted to stay at the historic campus and has been trying to raise funds to buy the land from Pi Beta Phi.

Bill May, Arrowmont's executive director, said Sunday the group is still raising the final dollars and is not yet ready to declare total victory. However, he is optimistic the facility's historic structures, if likely saved and maintained properly, can remain viable parts of the Gatlinburg community for many years.

"Owning our campus will make it possible for Arrowmont to plan a future that ensures our mission, and programs will continue to be relevant and valued for the next hundred years," he said. "This is real preservation."

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