Mary Boyce Temple House Saved

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email

Mary Boyce Temple House Saved

Posted: 09/28/2006
The first time Brian Pittman laid eyes on the Mary Boyce Temple House he was sitting in the back seat of his parents' car stopped at a Henley Street red light.

Brian Pittman was a 10-year-old boy that day when his family arrived in Knoxville from Texas to make their home here, but he decided that instant where he would one day make his. "I decided a long time ago," he said, "that I was going to live there."

Thirty years later Brian Pittman, now a Knoxville architect, is the owner of the 100-year-old house that greets motorists at the north end of the Henley Street Bridge as they drive into downtown Knoxville. He's in the process of renovating the 5,000-square-foot home back into its original condition after years of neglect as the home of hundreds of students and, lately, vagrants.

The house, named for its most famous owner, was long ago carved into apartments and loaded with unsightly additions. Pittman closed on the house in late June but this effort wasn't as simple a process as making an offer, writing a check and pouring work and money into a restoration. Instead it took the City of Knoxville; Shailesh Patel, the developer of the new Hampton Inn & Suites; the historic preservation group Knox Heritage, and other property owners working together to pull the house back from the brink of demolition and make the entire block a better place.

"This shows what we can do when we are willing to work together to create economic development while preserving a part of our past, to make the city and downtown a better place to live and work," Mayor Bill Haslam said.

A few years ago there were doubts that the Mary Boyce Temple House would survive. It was targeted for demolition as part of a plan to develop a hotel on the block. That didn't happen. Instead the city, Patel and others worked together to find a way to have the new development and keep the house. After learning of the historical significance of the house, "We thought it would be great to figure out a way to have that house restored," Patel said. The city offered an enhanced tax abatement package to Patel while he also worked with Knox Heritage and other property owners on the block to revise the project's design. The nearby First Baptist Church for instance, with the help of member Joe Petre, sold part of one of its parking lots to the Hampton to make the new configuration work and other neighbors also had input into the final design.

The changes caused increased expense for Patel, and a delay of several months, but in the end allowed for a new Hampton with an enhanced façade and the Temple House to co-exist as part of a plan that pleased everyone involved. It preserved the house that has stood at that has greeted people entering Knoxville from the south for nearly 100 years.

"We think it's (the preservation of the Temple House) vitally important to downtown," said Kim Trent, Knox Heritage's executive director, "because it's one of the last remaining structures downtown originally designed as a residence."

Patel has also made a $100,000 grant to go toward the costs of renovation of the house.

The house was built in 1907 but was named for, Mary Boyce Temple, who lived there from 1917 to 1929. At the time it was one of many family homes in downtown Knoxville. When Pittman moves in it will be the only free standing private residence in Downtown Knoxville

Mary Boyce was an early preservationist writing the check in 1925 that saved Blount Mansion from being demolished. Sometime after her death in 1929 the three-story home at 623 W. Hill Avenue began a slow deterioration. In recent years vagrants repeately vandalized it. Pittman, who closed on the house in June, spent three years trying to negotiate the purchase. Pittman plans to restore the home returning it to the layout and look it had 100 years ago. He will live on the first floor, his mother will live on the second floor and Pittman's office and studio will be on the top floor. He said it will take, "at least a year," to get the work done.

A South Knoxville resident who went to the University of Tennessee and works downtown, Pittman has probably passed the house thousands of times in his life. He wasn't sure what kind of shape it would be in when he finally got it. Despite all the decades of mistreatment Pittman said the structure of the home was still strong and beautiful.

"When I did go into it, it was awful," he said. "But I could still see its bones. It has great bones."