Here's the latest on our efforts to rescue the Eugenia Williams House from demolition by neglect. We're sending out this press release statewide in the hopes of moving the proposal forward with the UT Board of Trustees.
Knoxville, TN - Knox Heritage has delivered a proposal to the University of Tennessee's interim president and Board of Trustees to protect the historic Eugenia Williams House in Knoxville from further deterioration. The proposal from the Knoxville-based non-profit preservation advocacy organization includes a three-year preservation plan based on National Park Service standards and up to $200,000 in funding from its J. Allen Smith Endangered Properties Fund to stabilize the residence, which was designed by John Fanz Staub and donated to the University by Coca-Cola heiress Eugenia Williams in 1998.
"We are aware of the financial challenges facing the University," said Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, "so we are offering to help the UT administration and the Trustees carry out their obligations to keep this State-owned property in good condition and repair."
Knox Heritage approached the University administration with an informal offer almost four months ago, after hearing the University had spent only $1,645 in the last fiscal year to maintain the 10,800 square foot Regency-style mansion - $1,439 for utilities and $206 to board up the windows. The University never responded to the initial offer, which led to submission of the formal offer to the Board of Trustees. Knox Heritage is now awaiting a response to its formal offer.
The house has been included for two years on Knox Heritage's annual Fragile 15 list of the most endangered historic places in Knox County. Knox Heritage has attempted to work with two administrations at the University to insure the protection of the house and surrounding 24 acres as required of the University under the terms of Miss Williams' last will and testament. Miss Williams stipulated that the property by preserved in memory of her father, David Hitt Williams, that the land not be subdivided and that any use retain the natural beauty of the land and maintain the architectural integrity of the house in a way that benefits the University of Tennessee.
Since the University accepted the gift of property, the circa 1940 home has deteriorated significantly and been the target of vandalism. A fundraising campaign was initiated in 2000 to restore the home and use it as the residence for the president of the University of Tennessee. The funds raised for that effort were later redirected and used for the existing president's residence on Cherokee Boulevard while John Shumaker served as president of the University.
Knox Heritage and its consultants believe the University must act soon to save the house, after 12 years of demolition by neglect under University ownership. The proposal is for interim stabilization of the residence while the University determines an appropriate and affordable use, consistent with the wishes of its donor and the conditions of the gift.
"If the University can't use the property, it should find a way to put the property into private hands with appropriate restrictions to ensure the house and property are maintained as Miss Williams intended," Trent said. "We would be happy to support that effort."
John Fanz Staub (September 12, 1892 - April 13, 1981) was a nationally recognized residential architect who designed numerous traditionally-styled homes and mansions, mostly in Houston, Texas, from the 1920s to 1960s. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Staub received a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1916. Staub was noted for his ability to combine selected elements from historical styles into unique creations that expressed the architect's own sensibilities and the demands of his commissions. His houses are prized for their attention to detail and the thoughtful consideration given to site location. Staub's homes are generally large, though most eschew ostentation and instead reveal the architect's preference for understated elegance. Staub designed many homes in the prestigious Houston neighborhood of River Oaks. His most famous work is Bayou Bend, a mansion built in 1927 for a Houston oil heiress.
Staub also designed Hopecote on the University of Tennessee campus. Built in 1924, for Mr. and Mrs. Albert Hope, it was inspired by 17th century English cottages. Staub was Mrs. Hope's nephew. After Mrs. Hope's death in 1977, the house was sold to the University of Tennessee. It was restored and now serves as an official guest house and instructional laboratory.
Knox Heritage, Inc. is a Tennessee non-profit corporation whose mission is to support and promote the preservation of historic buildings, neighborhoods and spaces within Knox County and the surrounding area. Knox Heritage was formed in 1974 as part of the effort to save the historic Bijou Theatre and other buildings in Knoxville, and it has taken an active role in many other historic preservation projects over the last 35 years.