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Black History Month: City Continues to Help Preserve Cal Johnson's Legacy 
The City of Knoxville has long been involved in preserving the legacy of one of its most notable sons: Caldonia Fackler Johnson. 

Born into slavery in a room at the Farragut Hotel in 1844, and freed at the age of 21, this pioneering African-American entrepreneur became Knoxville’s first black millionaire, a business owner, civic leader and philanthropist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He died in 1925. You can read more about Johnson’s amazing life success in this additional City Blog post

"Cal Johnson was completely self-made," Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said in 2017, when a privately-funded plaque honoring Johnson was unveiled at Marble Alley Lofts, across State Street from the Cal Johnson Building. "You can't read his history and not be impressed by his relentless drive. Nor can you name anyone who came so far after starting with so little."

Cal Johnson

Here are some of the ways the City supports programs that keep Johnson’s legacy alive and enhance the history and diversity of our community:


Cal Johnson Family Recreation Center

Built in 1957, the 10,760-square-foot Cal Johnson Family Recreation Center (507 Hall of Fame Drive) offers after-school and camp youth programs, adult and youth basketball leagues and an open weight room. 

The popular Parks and Recreation center is getting a $550,000 upgrade beginning summer 2019. New electrical, HVAC and mechanical systems will be installed, and architectural renovations will result in an impressive redesign of the center’s kitchen, including new cabinets and work spaces. The center's doors and hardware will be replaced, the office relocated, restrooms upgraded and smaller rooms throughout opened up to create a roomy gathering space in the lobby. 


Cal Johnson Building

The 121-year-old warehouse at 301 State Street that was built and owned by Cal Johnson bears his name. It's one of the last uniquely historic buildings associated with the City’s black community and made even more remarkable by the fact it was built by a man who was raised to be a slave. 

The warehouse is also the only original building associated with Cal Johnson still standing in Knoxville. In past years, preservation group Knox Heritage identified it as an endangered structure and listed it on its annual Fragile Fifteen list.

In 2016, City Council approved the Metropolitan Planning Commission's proposal to change the building's zoning to H-1. In a significant move to assure preservation of the building, Mayor Rogero was a champion of establishing the historic overlay status to the site to preserve its integrity. 

The long-vacant building is coming back into reuse. The City provided $807,929 through a 15-year financing assistance plan called a PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes. The building also received $100,000 in funding from the Community Development Department's Historic Preservation Fund.

Conversion Properties Inc. is planning a mix of apartments and retail space for the three-story, 14,868-square-foot building. The renovation process is tentatively expected to be completed this year.


Marble Alley Lofts plaque

Cal Johnson's rags-to-riches story and his legacy as a successful Knoxville businessman is acknowledged by a plaque posted on the front of Marble Alley Lofts, located just east of Johnson's warehouse on the 300 block of State Street. The plaque was installed by Marble Alley Lofts' owners, with support from the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. Mayor Rogero spoke at the unveiling of the plaque in 2017.

The City's Marble Alley Streetscapes project invested $1.1 million into utility upgrades, landscaping and sidewalk improvements - bridging the gap between old and new and setting the scene for future public and private investments. 

Posted by ptravis On 18 February, 2019 at 12:21 PM