The Knox County Public Library’s new Knoxville history calendar, “Knoxville Remembered,” is out, featuring one rare photo for every month of the next year. Even in 2015, which at this writing is the Future, we can never escape our past.
It’s all fun to look at, including a rare photo of the UT Rats, the jazz-age freshman basketball team, and an agreeably Pagan-looking springtime dance celebration.
A couple of the pictures demonstrate Knoxville spectacles that are sometimes hard to describe and harder to believe. They open with a period photo of Clinton Highway’s landmark Airplane Filling Station, built in 1929, when Lindbergh mania was still high. The building, perhaps unique in the world, was never more esteemed than it is now, recently restored and celebrated.
Where some bloggers would merely post the calendar’s photos, ridiculing copyright issues and stealing the impact of beholding the actual library calendar, which is a fundraiser for the staff association, I will describe them with words. It’s not just because I don’t have a camera.
More unbelievable may be February’s pin-up. I tell people that the Regas building used to be a very large building, the big Hotel Watauga, a ca. 1900 building of five stories and change, with multiple businesses on the sidewalk level, including a drugstore that was bigger than the original Regas restaurant.
When I tell that story at that site today, I’m never quite sure people believe me. The February picture proves it.
Take the calendar down under the highway, at the northwest corner of Magnolia and North Gay, say howdy the regulars down there—and don’t worry, this is one part of town where nobody minds if you do something peculiar—turn to February, and have a look for yourself. The top of the old arched grand entrance is still visible there, if not much else.
Over the years, Regas got bigger and bigger, and everything else shrank. As the passenger-train business atrophied, the hotel closed (it had been among many other things, the longtime home of Knoxville’s most eccentric bachelor, legendary attorney John R. Neal, defense attorney at the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the early 1960s, the three upper levels of the Watauga were demolished, leaving something like a ranch-style version of the building. Regas, which was originally just about one percent of the Watauga building, was eventually the whole thing. In fact, Regas eventually covered the space of two big hotels, considering its parking lot was the site another hotel altogether, the once-famous Atkin, which is also visible in the picture.
June offers a great shot of the old Knoxville Brewing Co., at McGhee and Chamberlain, which if I’m not mistaken was founded about the same week as Lawson McGhee Library. In this case, there’s nothing left of the brewery at all. It’s in an area half-obliterated by the highway, between downtown and Mechanicsville, that was recently known as the Spaghetti Bowl, a sort of secret arts community that launched the First Friday concept here. But the old brewery lives in this photo, which shows an extremely ornate mule-drawn parade float attended by brewers wearing Prussian-style helmets, under the banner of “King Gambrinus.” It all looks very Old World, and old-fashioned, except for a modern sentiment: “DRINK KNOXVILLE BEER / IT’S A HOME PRODUCT / HOME MANUFACTURE IS BEST AND CHEAPEST.” Even in the 1890s, there was a buy-local movement, and the KBC was counting on the city’s locovores.
When I was a kid, Chilhowee Park hosted a permanent roller coaster called the Mad Mouse. It wasn’t the first one there. September brings us a 1935 photo showing “the Twister,” a roller coaster erected there on the shores of the little lake in 1927, plus a small Ferris wheel and another circular-swing ride.
You can get the “Knoxville Remembered” calendars at Union Avenue Books, Mast General Store, the History Center’s gift shop, and most of the cooler retail outlets.