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KUB, Historians Restore Unique Downtown Streetlights 
KUB and others have restored the unique, historic streetlights along Union Avenue downtown.

Walking along Union Avenue, you'll take in a lot of history and local flavor - Pete's Coffee Shop, Union Avenue Books, the Oliver Hotel and other icons. This stretch of downtown, after all, was declared a "Next Great Neighborhood" by Southern Living magazine in 2013.

But unless you look up, you might miss one of the oldest and oddest bits of Knoxville character - the distinctive streetlights.

​The lamps on Union Avenue are among the oldest infrastructure in Knoxville, dating all the way back to before 1910. Similar lamps, with a distinctive “Kaiser helmet” top that resembles an old German military helmet, used to be the standard throughout the city. But over the years, they have slowly been replaced, redone or removed as more modern lighting was installed.

Even the Union Avenue "Kaiser helmets" were in danger of being lost to time and progress.

However, KUB - with support from the City and determined historians - wasn't going to let that happen.

“I think it is always important to preserve the past whenever we have an opportunity,” said Rick Emmett, the City's Downtown Coordinator, who was a part of the project to repair rather than remove the stories lamps. 

The project started with a request by the Knoxville Historical Society, which had noticed that that slice of history was literally falling apart.

“They were in a serious state of disrepair and had not much attention recently,” said Emmett. “KUB folks really stepped up. They worked hard to get the poles repainted and to refurbish one of the newer poles to mimic the older street lights in that block.”

Gabriel Bolas, KUB's Senior Vice President/Chief Engineer, said the refurbishment of the five light poles began in early 2016 and was completed in July.

"Both City of Knoxville and Knoxville Utilities Board saw value in refurbishing the lights while upgrading them to modern LED lights, which are more efficient and cost-effective," Bolas said. "Refurbishing consisted of refinishing the surface of the light poles, upgrading the electrical components to be LED compatible, and finding a missing finial to complete the set."

KUB also worked with local historian Jack Neely to make sure that all their refurbishing work remained period accurate.

“As I recall, it was a style used all over downtown in the very early 20th century, based on some old photos, ending right about the time of World War I,” Neely said.

The “Kaiser helmet” tops were preserved and repainted, although Neely noted that the name is more colloquial than anything.

“The resemblance to a German helmet is probably coincidental,” he said. "It's also possible their resemblance to German helmet ornaments played a decisive role in the demise of the style. Local German celebrations seemed to end about that time, when the Germans were derided as the Huns,” due to their involvement in World War I.

Thankfully for today’s Knoxville, some survived. Now, between Market and Locust streets, you can look up and see the unique lamps, still lighting the way for fun nights more than 100 years after they were first turned on.

-Communications intern Jarrod Nelson

Heres one of the "kaiser helmet" streetlights on Union Avenue.

Posted by evreeland On 09 August, 2017 at 12:55 PM