It doesn’t have quite the panache of a former U.S. post office, Victorian mansion or retired schoolhouse, but Sam Furrow is in the process of saving another Knoxville landmark from the wrecking ball.
Furrow is an auctioneer, real-estate developer and owner of Knoxville’s Mercedes and Land Rover dealerships, but still finds time to enjoy turning Knoxville eyesores into architectural eye candy.
His latest project is a down-at-the-heel Art Deco-style building, originally a gas station at the intersection of Kingston Pike and Lyons View Pike, one of Bearden’s busiest intersections. The building had become a target for graffiti vandals in recent times, but Furrow thought it had “possibilities.”
In addition to the Bearden project, he’s adding yet more style to his offices at Oakwood Mansion, a Victorian-style home at Concord Street and Kingston Pike. Furrow bought Oakwood and converted it for his offices about eight years ago.
In the meantime, Furrow has been overseeing the restoration of the aging former gas station. He paid about $325,000 for the structure, which he hopes to lease as an art gallery, jewelry store or upscale offices. The restoration will bring the building up to better-than-original Art Deco style, with some extra-special touches, he said.
“I just always thought it was an interesting Art Deco-style structure in a key place. It was being underutilized as it was. I bought it and have proceeded to restore it, as accurately as possible, to its Art Deco style,” Furrow said. There are about 2,200 square feet on the structure’s two levels. Furrow is adding a staircase to connect the top and bottom floors and adding quite a bit of glass to the lower level, clearly once used as the service bay.
Now stripped to its cinder-block skeleton, it will soon be clad in pristine white porcelain tile and embellished with chromelike polished aluminum accents, Furrow said. The horseshoe shaped plate glass windows on the upper story, clearly the structure’s focal point, will remain in place.
Just a mile east of the Art Deco “station,” Furrow’s office had fallen on hard times before its benefactor restored it for his main business office.
Furrow purchased the Oakwood Mansion from Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tennessee Valley in 1999, following his restoration of the former Tyson Junior High School, which he saved from the wrecking ball. He and several business partners bought the burnt-out hull in the 1990s and converted it into the upscale Tyson Place office building. They’ve since restored the former U.S. post office on Main Street.
“I just like old stuff,” Furrow said. Though his businesses include nearly new, architecturally impressive automobile dealerships on Parkside Drive, Furrow prefers to keep his main offices at Oakwood.
According to historians at the McClung Museum and archives, Oakwood was built by Charles J. McClung for his son, Matthew McClung, during the 1870s. The McClungs were probably Knoxville’s most prominent merchants at the time, according to material from the McClung Collection at the McClung Museum.
The existing Oakwood Mansion bears little resemblance to the original wood-frame house. Railroad Contractor Henry Thrasher purchased it in 1905 or 1906, adding the brick exterior, columns and wraparound front porch.
By the late 1920s, the house had been purchased by a group of physicians and renamed the Howard-Henderson Hospital. It was operated by James Victor Henderson, maternal grandfather of former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who said he was born there on Jan. 1, 1945.
In the late ’50s, the building became the Kingston Pike Motel, a popular stopping place for UT sports fans. When chain motels began to spring up, the building was converted, expanded and reopened as the Kingston Pike Nursing Home. That was around 1960 or ’61, according to the McClung archives.
The nursing home remained in business for about 20 years. From the mid-1980s to 1990s, the building changed hands frequently. Among other things, it served as a beauty salon, a restaurant and offices for various other enterprises. Big Brothers/Big Sisters purchased the property in the mid-1990s.
About two years ago, Furrow purchased an unsightly 1960s-era former insurance building that marred what was once the front lawn of Oakwood Mansion. He had it razed, along with an ugly asphalt parking lot and cinderblock retaining wall and is still proceeding on the removal of a low brick wall, which has proved troublesome because it hid various electrical conduits, Furrow said.
The front lawn has been restored to a carpet of green grass.
Furrow recently purchased a street clock that used to hang on a bank building in Hobe Sound, Fla., to install on the site. Furrow noted that Hobe Sound was the winter home of the late Martha Ashe, Victor Ashe’s mother.
Knox Heritage named Furrow Preservationist of the Year in 2003.
Source: Marti Davis, Knoxville News Sentinel, April 25, 2007