Skip to main content

The 500 Block of Gay Street, West Side - Krutch Park Extension - The Gaps of Gay Street Part 6

As we continue our tour south down Gay Street, we walk past the 400 block without stopping. The 400 block is one of the few (two) truly unbroken blocks on Knoxville's most important street.

400 Block West then. 
400 Block now, they're all accounted for.
So Bravo 400 Block, though you may look a little different you've weathered the years better than most. No surface parking lots here, so we're uninterested!!!

Let's cross Union Avenue and set foot on the 500 block, under the large porch of the Park National Bank Building (Conley Building, First American Bank Building, 507 S. Gay Tower, Embassy Suites, what have you...). This block has something in common with the 300 block in that it resembles a 7/10 split (for you non-bowlers that means it's missing its middle teeth). The 500 block is probably best known for its two giant bookends, the Park National Bank Building (1974) and the Holston Bank Building (1912). Between the two lies what we now know as "Krutch Park Extension," basically a grassy square with some fountains for the kids.

Looking southwest at the hole in the 500 block.

Looking northwest at the hole in the 500 block.

Before it was a park, this land was owned by Patrick Sullivan, then his estate, and then the Dulin estate. There were seven to nine storefronts here in one configuration or another. Until the late 2000's when Regions Bank moved across Union into the Miller's Building, there had been a bank at 501 S. Gay since at least the 1880's. This block, like many on the west side of Gay, was home to many smaller shops. It was also home to a large, national retailer and was the cradle of the biggest, most scandalous rise and fall in Knoxville history. That saga nearly saw the demolition of the large, beautiful building that we now call the Holston.

Krutch Park Extension (we'll talk about Krutch Park itself some other day) is a nice enough place to enjoy a festival or some sun rays, but as downtown real estate becomes more and more valuable I can't see it remaining a grassy square forever. We're already seeing business beginning to encroach on the space with the announced opening of Clinch River Brewery. I've heard tale of developers murmuring about filling this space in with exciting new developments. Only time will tell. What we do know is that this this space used to be teaming with commercial activity. Shall we dive in?

The 500 Block is situated one block north of the original plat of the city. It is directly across the street from the 1795 expansion.

In 1890, the block was home to thirteen addresses (135-159), the numbers were changed to what we currently know around the turn of the century. At that time, the block looked significantly different. The tallest building on the block was a mere four stories. The Holston Bank building had not yet been built. If you were to visit the corner where we now find that venerable old edifice, you would see this:

The intersection of Clinch and Gay, 1877. The Holston Bank Building would be built where you see the two story structure with the arched windows.
 That corner building housed the Gooding and Allison Drug Company (which became Allison & Moore Drugs, which became Rosenthal Drugs) and then H.W. Curtis Jewelers until 1911 when the property was purchased by Holston National Bank. Holston erected the building we see today in 1912-13.

The Holston as it appeared when constructed. Note it is two stories shorter than at present
The Holston National Bank listing its officers and board. (from Progressive Knoxville, 1904)

The same photo artfully colorized (from

The Holston as we currently recognize it. Note the much more ornate detailing at the top.
The above photo, taken in the 1920's, captures the way the corner has looked to this day. We'll discuss the evolution of the Holston National Bank as it relates to the fate of the rest of this block a little later.

What the opposite corner of the block contained at the time would would feel familiar to now-living Knoxvillians, another bank. In the 1890's, the East Tennessee National Bank occupied the northern corner of the block in a stately four story "high-rise."
East Tennessee National Bank listing its officers and board. (from Progressive Knoxville, 1904)

Circa 1903

 At some point between 1917 and 1925, East Tennessee National Bank modernized the exterior of this building to look more like what we expect a 1920's bank to look like.

East Tennessee National Bank, Corner of Union and Gay in 1925

A look down Union Ave and the side of the Park National Bank (left).
East Tennessee National Bank continued to operate until the great depression. The bank failed in January 1932, spurred by a run on the bank following the recent collapse of Holston-Union Bank just down the block in November of 1931. The building would not reopen as a bank for almost two years when Park National Bank was created on December 22, 1933. Park was headquartered at this location and the bank grew until it was merged with First American Bank (of Nashville) in November, 1983, which was purchased by AmSouth (Birmingham) in 1999, and then Regions (Birmingham) in 2006. The building you see in the above photo stood until 1974, when it and the building next door were torn down for the new 13 story Park Bank which occupies the spot today. Recently it was announced that the "new" Park Bank building, formerly identifiable by its large, digital clock, will become an Embassy suites hotel after an extensive remodeling.

Last known photo of the Park Bank clock before it was removed in 2010. Photo used with permission of
The clock being removed in 2012. Photo used with permission of
That's far more time than we usually devote to currently standing buildings, but it is important because they are the bookends of the block and they are both entangled in the reason why there are no longer buildings in the Krutch Park Extension.

Starting at the Park Bank Building and working our way south, the first spot we come upon is 509 S. Gay and 511. In 1910 they were two separate addresses with 509 housing Gaines Kennedy Shoes and 511 housing Gooding Drug Co. This would change by 1920 with the arrival of the F.W. Woolworth Co. or Woolworth's. You can read all about Woolworth's here but suffice it to say that Woolworth's was a nation chain of five and dime stores. Many Knoxvillians of a certain age likely remember visiting the counter at Woolworth's for lunch.

Woolworth's in 1935. Holston in background.

Woolworth's storefront circa 1928.

A Nehi window display at Woolworth's. Note the counter menu at top.

 Woolworth's would occupy this spot until 1970, having taken in the adjacent address 513, which used to be the queen theater.

The Queen Theater, Woolworth's to the right.
By 1960, though, Woolworth's is no longer listed as occupying 507. Woolworth's on Gay Street had closed its doors by 1970. By 1971, half of the building was demolished to become the first (south) half of the current Park Bank Building (now Embassy Suites). That's right, they built the Park Bank in two halves. The south half went up first, all 13 stories, then the old Park Bank building was torn down and the north half was erected.

It's grainy, but there is the old Park Bank building at Gay and Union with the southern half of the new building being constructed.
So that's the story of the Woolworth's building in Knoxville. We are lucky to still possess our other major 5 & 10, the Kress on the 400 block.

The next address to the south is 515. 515, 517, and 519 all occupied a single, three bay, two story, brick, Victorian era, commercial building.

The building housing 515 (white) 517, and 519 S. Gay St.

In 1900 515 was home to A Greenwood Wallpaper Co. By 1910, this building housed a cinema, the Bonita Motion Pictures. 1920 saw O'neil's Cafe. Four decades of women's clothing stores filled the building after that: Harvey's (1930), Lord's (1940), Good Friend (1950), and "My Shop" (1960). By 1970, the building housed what most probably remember, The Singer Sewing Company. It remained singer until being demolished in 1975. You can still see the building scar on the side of the Park Bank building.

Lord's Clothing in 1935

517 S. Gay was the McCormick Clothing Co. in 1900, Lureton Calloway Kennedy Clothing in 1910, The Luggage Shop in 1920, WJ Heins Jewelers in 1930, before becoming what most Knoxvillians of a certain age will remember as Peggie Hale Ladies Clothes. It remained Peggy Hale until the late 1960's. One last hurrah was had as Capitol Wigs before being demolished in 1975.

The last address in the building is also the most interesting. As early as 1890, but perhaps even earlier, 519 S. Gay St. housed Hope Bros. Jewelers. I say even earlier because the Brothers, John and David, are listed as being jewelers in the "Knoxville Bank Building" in 1880.  The Hope brothers were jewelers by nature. Their grandfather David was listed as a jeweler on "High Street between Cumberland and Clinch" in 1859. John and David  reorganized the business in 1868 after the civil war.

Hope Bros. at 519 S. Gay Street, clock base at right

Hope Bros and the clock in 1927
Many generations of Knoxvillians would know Hope Brothers by the clock that stood so prominently in front of their stores, first on the west side, then on the east side in front of what would become Kimball's Jewelers. That building is what we now know as Sapphire. The iconic Hope Brothers Clock stood on Gay Street for over 100 years until Kimball's relocated it with their business to Bearden hill in 2004.

Hope Bros. moving across the street
 For more information on Hope Brothers and Kimballs jewelers, see their excellent history section on their webpage here. After Hope left, 519 housed several iterations of shoe stores: Brown's Boots 1940, Castle Shoes 1950, Marilyn Shoes 1960. In 1970, the address is listed as "Mill Discout" but by 1974 the Fairco Drug Co had moved in. Unfortunately, Fairco would be the last business to call the place home before it fell to the wrecking ball in 1975.

Moving a step further south, we encounter 521, a three story, brick building of the Victorian commercial style. In 1890, roughly when the building was new, it was occupied by a dry goods store called Mecks & Anders. That became Lambright and Williams Dry Goods by 1900. The Godwin Clothing Co checks in here in 1910, but by 1920 the first of several drug stores appears. Rosenthal Drugs was first. It was followed by Economy Drugs, which brought a massive sign.

521 S. Gay Street.
The Economy Drug sign at 521 S. Gay Street.
By the 1930's Lane Drugs had moved into the space. Lane would move to 527-529 in 1935/36.

Lane Drugs at right.

Upper story window detail.

By 1940 the drug store was a shoe store, Baker's Shoes. In 1960 the building was vacant. By 1970, United Merchandise had moved in and would remain until the building was demolished in 1975. United Merchandise and Singer Sewing were the last two businesses operating between the Holston and the Park Bank.

As evident in the picture above, 523 S. Gay Street was also a three story, brick building of Victorian vernacular. It was owned by the Dulin estate. It had an interesting window arrangement on the upper story, with one offset arched window. In 1890 the building housed WD Drecher Jeweler. 1900 saw SB Newman and Co. Printers, then the well remembered CW Crouch Florist (which still operates at 7200 Kingston Pike) was in the building in 1910. The McClure Clothing Co was there in 1920 followed by Thom McAn shoes in 1930.

Thom McAn shoes, 1930's
Upper floor detail of 523 S. Gay St.
Thom McAn was a national chain of shoe stores named for a golfer. The above photo may depict the grand opening of Knoxville's store (one of 650 stores by 1939). The Thom McAn brand is now owned by Sears and is currently used on shoes.
1935 Lane Drugs in 521 and McLean Photographers in 523. Lane would move down the block very soon.

The next 20 or so years would see Mangel's of East Tennessee clothing store. Mangel's was another national chain. It sold women's apparel. Mangel's was gone in 1960, replaced by ..... Thom McAn Shoes. 1970 saw Arkay's Hallmark Gallery. 1975 found a vacant storefront at 523, having last housed the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1974.

525, 527, and 529 all occupied one building that abutted the Holston. It was a curious looking brick, Victorian building with three bays at street level and two bays on the second floor. The longest existing business there was the Wormser Hat Shop in 525, Knoxvillians of a certain age will remember that as a landmark. 525 housed JA McMillan & Co Drug Store (owned by city comptroller J.A. McMillan) in 1900, then the L&N railroad city ticket office in 1910, the Palace Billiard Parlor in 1920, and by the late 1920's Wormser Hats. Wormser would remain there through the 1960's before Lady Oris Hosiery moved in by 1970. The last business in the spot was Myers Camera, which closed in 1974.

525, 527, 529 S. Gay Street in the 1920's
The middle address, 527, was originally Hazen and Harbison Shoes. That business would occupy that spot until the 1900's. LS Hall Shoes would take over by 1910 and would be followed by John L. Kennedy Shoes by 1920. Bond Brothers Clothing would occupy the spot in the 1920's but by 1930 Rite's clothing would be there. Prior to 1940, 527 S. Gay would be combined with 529 to form the Lane Drug Company. By 1960, Lane's had become Cole Drugs. The Todd Armistead Drugstore would take over by 1970 until the building became vacant in 1972. We will discuss what ultmately became of the building shortly.

529, 527, 525 S. Gay Street, Holston at left, 523 S. Gay Economy Drugs at right.

Just look at those elaborate signs shine!
Close up on 529, 527, and 525 S. Gay St.
Finally, 529 S. Gay Street, the southernmost bay in the building. From the 1880's until the 1910's it housed the H.W. Curtis Jewelry Co. 1920 shows it being occupied by Hamilton National Bank, the big neighbor next door. At some point during the 1920's the Hanover Shoe Company moves in, as pictured above. Hanover would move across the street in the 1930's when the spot was combined with 527 to create Lane Drugs. Lane had moved from 521, the old Economy drugstore. Hamilton National Bank would have the spot by 1970.

1939 showing Lane Drugs at 527 and 529 S. Gay St. Notice the 521 S. Gay (Baker's Shoes) has received an art deco makeover.
Most of the block, between Park national bank and the Holston, was torn down in 1974/75. Why? A January 31, 1974 Knoxville News Sentinel article reveals the answer. A realtor, George Fritts, represented Hamilton National Bank in a deal to lease the addresses between the two banks for 50 years. Mr. Fritts said at the time, "downtown area activities have changed from retailing to business and finance." Hamilton National Bank was feeling strong and wanted to build a shiny new headquarters next to Park National Bank. Park's new building was 13 stories tall. Hamilton's was going to be 30 stories tall. The 30 story building would mean the demolition of the Holston. Much like Park had done, Hamilton intended to tear down the smaller buildings in the middle of the block, build half of their building so they could occupy it, then tear down the Holston and build the other half. Fortunately, those plans never came to fruition.

So what happened to these grand plans? 1975 would usher in the beginning of the wildest ride Knoxville had seen since the frontier days. Jake and C.H. Butcher happened. Jake and C.H. Butcher began buying small banks in 1968. By 1971, they had chartered City and County bank in Powell. That bank grew and by 1975, the Butchers had purchased the controlling share in Hamilton National Bank of Knoxville,which would later be renamed United American Bank or UAB.

The demolitions on the block had already begun, but the Butcher controlled Hamilton Bank scrapped plans to build a 30 story tower where the Hamilton Bank stood. Instead, the bank announced plans to renovate the 529/527/525 building and create a "plaza" where the demolished buildings once stood.

Shortly after these plans were announced, Butcher and UAB turned their sites on another location, the vacant lot that once housed the Staub's Opera House. It was there that Hamilton's grand skyscraper would be realized, though much more in the freewheeling style of Jake Butcher. We got Plaza Tower on the 800 block. Shortly there after, City and County Bank would construct Riverview Tower on the 900 block. Jake would also play the lead role in bringing us the 1982 World's Fair and with it the Sunsphere. So, from a plan to raze humble buildings on the 500 block and the Holston we got three of the most recognizable icons of the Knoxville skyline.

What this meant for the 500 block, though, was that it had been gutted and remained a surface parking lot until the city of Knoxville created Krutch Park extension in 2004. The spot now houses many of our street fairs and the annual Christmas tree.

Here are a few more photos of the block through the years.

1905, looking north. Hope Bros at left, the original East TN National Bank building (Park Bank) and a three bay Miller's department store.
1925, looking south. The new East TN Bank Building is complete and Woolworth's has moved in next door.
1927, looking north. Woolworth's has expanded and the big Economy Drug sign is present. Hope Brother's is still here (even though Kimball's says they moved in 1908).
1935 and business is booming. East TN Bank has become Park National and Holston has become Hamilton National Bank, both results of the banking crash.

1947, looking south. Note that 525, 527, 529 (the two story building) have been modernized.
1960, looking north. The much touted "Gay Way" project has happened bringing covered shopping to downtown. Note that the facades of every building on the 500 block (left) have been modernized by covering them with flat materials.
1965, looking north. The block would only have another decade before the asphalt would replace them.

Looking from above to give an impression of how dense it was. Modern landmarks are noted.
So that's the story of the 500 block, from Hope Brothers and Woolworths to parking lot to park. Next time we're going to jump across the street to hit one little gap and then we will move on down to the 700 block as we continue to fill in the Gaps of Gay Street.


Shannon said…
Wow!!! Well worth the wait. 😎
Unknown said…
I really enjoy your website. I’ve lived here all my life and it’s very interesting to learn about these historic places. Thanks for all your hard work and research!
Unknown said…
Very Good article! I did a small amount of research into this block when I was working on trying to document all the theaters that have existed in Knoxville over the last 150 years. I wanted to share a fun fact about the current Krutch Park Extension. If you go onto Knox GIS Maps and look at the planned zoning map for the future of this site it now shows that this is no longer a park space, but rather mixed-use. How wonderful would it be to have a pedestrian arcade with retail in this location? We could still maintain a connection to Krutch Park while having new potential for economic development.
Anonymous said…
Love this work! I’ve been trying for a long time to get more information on the Cunningham Building on Market Street (previously Prince). I’m not historian, but I scowered the libraries old “phone books” and Thomoson photography’s photo collection. I would love it so much if y’all could find out more about my lovely little building on the 700 block! -Ashleigh Moyer
Have you looked at the wiki article on that particular collection of buildings?
Anonymous said…
Do you happen to have any Knowledge of a Women's Hat store owned by Anna James Harrison Fields who ended up marrying William J Savage?
Thank You Keith Wayland
Anonymous said…
Really, really nice work. Valuable. Thank you.
Kenneth M. Moffett said…
What's gone is gone; at least the madness of tearing down the Holston never happened. Character-filled lower-rise buildings spanned the 500 block on both its Gay Street and Market Street exposures. We've read of the fate of the Gay St. buildings, but when and why did the Market Street buildings go? A study for Market Street that I took part in producing in 1979 showed that a parking lot existed on that half block. Krutch Park originated as a design competition, and entries respectful of the urban milieu were rejected in favor of the kitschy "bit o' the Smokies" installation that prevailed. The appellation of "hole" for the Krutch Park Extension is apt; a design that did a better job of restoring the streetwall, while incorporating a link (as noted above) would have been preferable to doing little more than sodding it and calling it done. Krutch Park and its extension, while certainly preferable to what they replaced, embody the ongoing downtown planning policy of no policy--of letting the chips fall where they may. Lacking as we do an urban design vision for a linked chain of defined urban open spaces, as the axis of the still-never-pedestrianized Market Street so clearly asks for, the advent of such urban amenities in Knoxville's little downtown will continue to be haphazard.
Griff312 said…
I just ran across your page and have been really enjoying all of these reads! I can't remember without looking it up, but didn't Butcher get involved in a huge banking scandal?

Popular posts from this blog

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 Ja

322 S. Gay St. - The Terminal Building - The Gaps of Gay Street Part 1

If you have lived in Knoxville for any length of time, or if you've just eaten at the Downtown Grill and Brewery, then you have without a doubt heard of the "Million Dollar Fire of 1897." That fire destroyed much of the east side of the 300 and 400 blocks of Gay Street. Firefighters came from as far away as Chattanooga to battle the blaze, which threatened to burn down the entire city. With the ruins smoldering, city leaders declared it the greatest loss the city had ever suffered. However, times were optimistic and the business community vowed the next day to rebuild the structures better than before. Most of them were rebuilt, bigger and better, within five years. Fighting the fire of 1897. To the right, the Cowan McClung & Co. (now H.T. Hackney and The Market). Almost everything decimated. (Century Building at left, still standing)   From the ashes of the fire, rose many of the iconic structures we see today on the 300 and 400 blocks. Identifying them b