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5709 Lyons View Pike - Westcliff

There has been a lot of discussion in the local property blogs about the proposal of a new shopping development located at the intersection of Cumberland Ave. and Alcoa Hwy. Anyone who has played or follows rugby in Knoxville knows this place very well. It's called Fulton bottoms and the reason it is called Fulton bottoms is that just across third creek was once the principal factory of the Fulton Company.

 The Fulton Bellows factory as it appeared in the 1930's. This is looking from the Southeast. Note the train tracks which still exist and Cumberland Ave./Kingston Pk. looking very rural. Most of the background in this picture is taken up by the Alcoa Hwy/Kingston Pike interchange.

 Roughly the same view today. The factory is gone. The foundation pads are all that remain.

The story of the Fulton Co. is an interesting but long one. It's probably a subject for another entry, however if you'd like to read the whole story you can find it here, as told by Jack Neely. In short, the company was founded by Weston M. Fulton.

Weston Fulton

Mr. Fulton was a meteorologist from Alabama, the son of a cotton farmer. He graduated from the University of Mississippi and worked as a meteorologist in Vicksburg and New Orleans before coming to Knoxville in 1898 to manage the weather bureau office. Mr. Fulton's job in Knoxville required him to walk from his office on Barbara Hill ("The Hill" to all the UT folks) down onto the railroad bridge to measure fluctuations in the Tennessee river, which was then very volatile. Mr. Fulton, disliking this part of his profession, invented a device that he called a sylphon, which would measure and record the river levels for him. The device trapped water moisture in a seemless metal accordion cylinder, which was able to expand and contract. Mr. Fulton continued to refine the device. He realized that the bellows device would have several industrial applications, so in 1904 he obtained financing and stared the Fulton Company.

An early ad from the Fulton Company, and an illustration from the company's modern website. These are bellows.

The bellows device has been used on almost every machine produced from the beginning of the 20th century. They are found on everything from refrigerators to modern stealth jet fighters. At one point in time, most of them were manufactured on Third Creek in Knoxville. The Fulton company was sold to RobertShaw, who continued to manufacture bellows, and then to Siebe, a British company that used the plant to make auto parts. The plant was closed in 1998. In an unlikely turn of events, a finance man named Randy Greaves bought the plant and opened the Fulton Bellows Company. The plant manufactured bellows again for a short time in the early 2000's before it ultimately closed and was razed. Today, the site of the plant stands to become an interesting shopping development on an otherwise depressing brown field.

University Commons, proposed for the Fulton Co. factory site.

What does all of this industrial history have to do with Lyons View? Well, as one might expect, the proprietor of a company that makes a part that fits every machine on earth might have a bit of a fortune. Weston Fulton was no exception. He and his family became immensely rich, and in the late 1920's they decided to move from their house on Temple Avenue (still standing, the only remaining Fulton residence) to the luxurious environs of Lyons View. Mr. Fulton's house on Temple (now Volunteer Blvd) is currently sitting on Knox Heritage's Fragile 15 list as the University of Tennessee plans to demolish it. 

The Fulton House on Temple Ave. (Volunteer Blvd).
The house Mr. Fulton built was (and still would be) without peer in all of Knox County.However, prowling aroung Lyons View, one may never even realize that Mr. Fulton's house, which he named Westcliff, ever existed. There are a few clues and pieces left for those in the know. As one travels west down Lyons View Pike, past the Cherokee country club on the left, then the site of the J. Allen Smith house (sadly demolished at twilight of the "bulldoze it" era) on the right, one comes across a building that looks like part of an Italian monastery. This was the gatehouse of the Fulton estate. It looks just as it did when Mr. Fulton lived at Westcliff. One can still travel up the long driveway to the top, but instead of a Biltmore-esque estate, one finds the Cherokee at Westcliff condiminiums. The estate is gone. Demolished in 1967 by a developer from Nashville. Strangely though, if one looks at the complex's clubhouse with focused eyes, something becomes evident. Part of Westcliff survives. The clubhouse is comprised of a portion of the first floor of the Westcliff estate. It really is bizarre.

Any driver having driven down Lyons View Pike will recognize this scene.

The entrance to the Cherokee at Westcliff condominiums.

The Westcliff gatehouse, original to the property and still standing in 2012.

The gatehouse at the bottom of the driveway is the portion of Westcliff with which most people are familiar. It, and the portion of the wall facing the road, is constructed of sandstone. That feature plus the tile capped roof and steeple-like chimney give it a bit of a Mediterranean monasterial look. That look is ironic, since the building it once guarded actually served as a dormitory for nuns in the 1950's and 60's, just after Mr. Fulton died.

The Westcillf gatehouse as it appeared in 1939

That long stately driveway leading up the hill from the pike still exists and still follows the original route. However, what one finds at the top of the driveway is not even a shadow of the former spledor that once loomed high over Bearden.

The clubhouse at Cherokee at Westcliff

On top of the hill, one is greeted by several two or three story apartment buildings which are flanking a simple one room club house. On closer examination, however, this isn't any ordinary 1960's residential housing clubhouse, this building has some interesting details. The most telling sign is right out in front of the place.

Fulton's Mansion, Est. 1928

The sign in front of the club house reads "Fulton's Mansion, Est. 1928." This is without a doubt, a very peculiar thing to have in front of what basically amounts to a pool cabana and a banquet room. But there's more.

A conspicuously placed buttress, buttressing nothing.
An ornate lamp.

Some very fancy arches leading to the pool area.

The grand entrance hall leading to the community room.
An interesting porch (note the windows which have been filled).
If this seems a little grand to be a simple community pool house, it's because it is too grand to be a simple community pool house. This pool house was once Weston Fulton's grand manor on the hill. It was once almost too intricate to be described in words (and strangely I've only been able to unearth one picture of the entire structure). The building you see before you is of course not the entire mansion. When the place was sold to the developer that built the surrounding apartments, the house was scalped of three upper floors, gutted, and simplified. It was once a rambling four story masterpiece of mediterranean architecture with prominent arabic influence.
The house had an elevator that led to a thrid story ballroom. It had towers, balconies, and fountains. It was designed by Charles Barber, but the design was changed many, many times by Mr. Fulton. The house was visible from miles around and, according to local folklore, contained a spotlight in the highest tower so that Mr. Fulton could shine a light onto his son's grave in Highland Memorial Cemetery on Sutherland (killed in a car wreck). Family members deny that the spotlight story is true.
The house reportedly cost over a half of a million dollars to construct in 1928-29. That would be roughly $6.3M today, assuming one could find a contractor to construct it. Historians speculate that Mr. Fulton sold his company in order to build his dream home. He died in 1946 and the property proved too much for his heirs. Most of the manor was torn down in 1967 when the apartments were constructed by a Nashville developer.
Here is the house as it was constructed.
From the side, note the arches that now lead to the pool.
From the rear, you'd now be looking at the pool.
There's that porch.
And now, as it once stood...
Similar views today...
Some of the finer details of the old place...
A fountain

The tower

Finally, the actual house as it stood finished. An irreplaceable masterpiece...

Yes, that once stood in Knoxville, TN. One could safely bet that nothing like it will ever be built again. While there are promising developments on the horizon, the existence of Knox Heritage's Fragile 15 list reminds us that we still haven't learned our lesson and ironically another Fulton house, albeit much less grand, stands in the crosshairs of "progress".
Until next time when we return to downtown Knoxville to see what else we can find...


Anonymous said…
This makes me want to weep. Or it makes me want to chain myself to old houses before the bulldozer arrives. What is UT thinking?
Well, unfortunately UT is thinking "Shiny new student center...drool" and not much else. UT is currently demolishing the parking garage behind the current University Center. Next, they will move to demolish the current UC (which is an interesting exercise in modern architecture and contains an irreplaceable mural), Aconda Court and Temple Court (both early 20th century apartment buildings), the Fulton House and its neighbor. UT generally thinks in terms of "giant capital projects = more money from incoming students". UT never considers the value that historic beauty adds to the campus, which is why UT's campus consistently rates as one of the ugliest in the nation. UT has its own spot on the Fragile 15 list:
Andrea said…
Another great blog! I love to read about the old buildings. That mansion is gorgeous. What an amazing place it would be today. I could see it as an Inn. It makes me sad to see the things we've lost.
Fulton Fam said…
This is most interesting to me! My grandmother was one of Weston's sisters. When I was a teenager, I had the lovely opportunity to tour Westcliff. I believe Barbara, Weston's widow was our tour guide. It was a magical lovely part of history. I took pictures as we made our way through the lingering majesty of Westcliff. I recall going to Aunt Barbara's townhouse later that evening. As I recall, the chandelier that hung in her home was the most beautiful one I had ever seen-I remember that it had once hung in a dressing room of Westcliff. I do pray that the remnants of Westcliff are not also destroyed-such waste of history.

Grand daughter of Weston's baby sister
James C. Wright said…
I do legal work for Cherokee at Westcliff. If you have old pictures we would love to have copies.
Anonymous said…
Just wanted to mention that the house was truly an architechtural paragon. It reminds me of one of the homes you see doing the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI.

By the way, Mr. Wright, if you happen to be the spouse of Kim Wright the realtor, I wanted to mention she is quite possibly the rudest human being I have ever dealt with in my life. She has no concept of customer service, and I hope no one associates her with how Southerners should treat their own.

I warn each person I learn of who is looking for a Realtor, to steer clear of her.
TB said…
I remember seeing my great Uncle Weston's home before it was torn down (he was my grandfather's brother.) The ballroom was amazing!
Ruth Fulton Tiedemann said…
There are a few mistakes in this piece--the writer neglected to check his facts with the family. The building he identifies as the pool house wasn't. It was down the hill on the North side of the house at the Olympic-sized swimming pool, a one-story structure at the East end.

My family lived in the gate house in 1942 between the sale of our home and the purchase of another. My father was Weston Fulton's brother. Dad was production manager at the company when it won the E award during WWII.

When Uncle Weston died, Aunt Barbara sold the house to the Catholic Church and bought the "Blanding's Dream House," built to advertise the movie starring Cary Grant, which was released at that time.
The church intended to use it as a retreat but never did. They sold it to an oil man from Oklahoma, whose wife refused to move to Tennessee. It was he who sold the property to the developer who ruined it.

Ruth, trust me, about a month of fact checking goes into each entry. I believe you may have misread the entry. The pool house that I refer to is not the original pool house that was part of the estate. My piece refers to the current pool house for the condominium complex. The current pool house is a remnant of the original mansion, on top of the hill. I hope that clears up any confusion.

Thanks for the information about the changing of hands after Barbara sold the house. I do know that nuns were housed there for a time, but I did not know that it went through another set of hands before the developer.
Unknown said…
Well, for constant temperature, the use of high temperature bellows is highly viable. No other components can do that without affecting the flow.
Unknown said…
Then I do apologize, John. I tend to get testy when talking about Westcliff. I have vivid memories of life there -- through the eyes of a child, of course. I still quake in fear remembering the dark tunnels under the house and the well house down the hill from the pool. But most memories are happy ones -- of Uncle Weston reassuring me that the scary man on the radio (Hitler) was far away from us and could never hurt us (showing me Germany and the US on his globe in his study), and many, many more.

Thank you for your blog. It is delightful and I really do appreciate the wonderful work you're doing. I hope you'll publish a book someday.
Ruth Fulton Tiedemann
Sadly, I have had little time to work on the blog. I hope to get back to it soon.
Unknown said…
I feel your pain! I, too, have a blog that I find difficult to keep updated!

Good luck. Please know your work is very much appreciated.
Unknown said…
UT owns another piece of property at the end of Lyons View (toward Kington Pike) Own by the Coke Cola family( I think) that was left to them and they are just letting it fall to the ground. They cannot do anything with (I believe according to the will). They could repair the disarray they have let it go to - then open it up as a tourist attraction and charge a fee to tour it. It is a shame to let it just fall down. WAY TO GO UT!
Unknown said…
Tommy, I am trying to figure out what property you mean. Is it at the corner of Lyons View and Northshore, across from the old Eastern State hospital property (which now belongs to the city, I think)? I thought that was being used as a burial ground. (I live in Nebraska so can't pop over to check it out). I just can't think of what property you could be referring to. The Els were across Lyons View from Uncle Weston's. The insurance company was and still is next door going west. There was a grocery store across from the insurance company, then Eastern State.
Ruth Fulton Tiedemann
Tissi Smith said…
Sunnye Tiedeman: Tommy is talking about the Eugenia Williams home on the south side of Lyon's View.
Ruth Fulton Tiedemann said…
Okay, I see. That is east of Cherokee Country Club, I believe. It had a brick wall and the house sat back on the property, towards the river?
Anonymous said…
Yes, that's the Williams estate. Her father was an investor with the Roddy family. His investment helped bring Coca Cola to Knoxville. It's a shame, she willed the property to UT. They cannot sell it nor raze it. So, they are letting it rot away. So sad!!!
My Grandfather worked for Mr. Fulton. My grandparents and mother lived in the gatehouse. Mom and Mary Fulton were playmates.
Unknown said…
Louis Houck
That is really great, Mr. Houck. What years did they live there? I'm sure my Dad must have known your grandfather.
Ruth Tiedemann

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