An out-of-state developer's proposal to tear down a building on Market Square was startling, even moreso that it was announced on Wednesday with bland city permission.
Market Square is our historic district, and no building has been completely demolished on Market Square since we began thinking of it as Historic. That in itself makes this news hard to swallow.
The last building ever demolished on the Square, at No. 10, was torn down more than 25 years ago, during the benighted Mall era, when we didn't like Victorian buildings, and much of the Square was still covered with peeling faux-modernist facades. I'm not sure anybody was paying much attention then. That building at 10 Market Square had, after all, been vacant for years, and the businesses that occupied that space are hard for old-timers to remember.
That's not the case with 37 Market Square. It's been occupied throughout its 130-year history, and occupied with especially well-known businesses. More than a century ago, it was a wholesale liquor store run by "General" J.F. Horne. If you want an image of what General Horne looked like, see his grave at Old Gray; it's a statue of a short, slight man in a cavalier's beard and a Confederate uniform. But after the city banned liquor sales in 1907, 37 Market Square became better known as a restaurant.
No space in Knox County has served as a restaurant for fully 100 years, but 37 Market Square has: as home, most famously, of the Gold Sun, the prodigious Greek-owned restaurant which, 75 years ago, may have been the most famous eatery in town, a 24-hour place known for its versatile menu. Not only was it central to Knoxville's lively eastern-Mediterranean community, but for several decades in the 20th century, a celebrity's visit to Knoxville wasn't complete--whether that celebrity was a prize fighter, a jazz musician, or a national politician--without paying homage to the Gold Sun. It has served as headquarters for several successful congressional campaigns, and that building played a role in the rise of one particular national show-business character. That building, and not any other that might replace it.
We'll write about its lively history more in weeks to come. Hardly any place in town has been visited by more human beings, and quite a few of them are fond of these old brick walls. You can't blame some of us for believing there must be an alternative. Other buildings on the Square have been in worse shape, abandoned for years with leaky roofs, and survived with at least their outside walls intact. Fortunately, it's in a historic-preservation district, subject to Historic Zoning Commission approval; we can hope they find a solution.