Wednesday, May 12, 2010

where's the old city? in the bowery

photo credit:

I've been reading Metro Pulse's "Ask Doc Knox" blog and I've been fascinated by the arcane history of this town. And it's brought something to mind.

First off, I love downtown. I work on Market Square, I love my neighborhood Mechanicsville. But... if I have a free sunny afternoon you'll find me heading down to the Old City for a cigar and a pint. I think that sitting in the corner booth of Patrick Sullivan's is maybe as close to the spiritual center of "Knoxvilleness" as one can get. It is the oldest building in the city, after all. The Old City vies with some of the best urban neighborhoods I've been able to find in other cities.

photo credit:

I could go on about the charm of the district, but let's get to the point- as I've grown to love the Old City, I've tried to learn more about it. Jack Neely and "Doc Knox" (if they aren't truly one and the same) have helped me get a feel for its rough and tumble history. And, it it's proper name: The Bowery.

Back in the small original urban renaissance of Knoxville in the 1980s, the Bowery needed sprucing up. Perhaps longer than anywhere else, the "Suttree version" of Knoxville survived at the intersection of Jackson and Central (rumor has it that this area is where you'll be most likely to run into Cormac McCarthy when he's in town). It was a somewhat dangerous place, like the New York neighborhood it was probably named after. I've heard stories of prostitutes keeping shop above the old saloon, dragging half drunk winos up the stairs for business. Most of the gunfights in our city's history happened down there.

You can see how the early urban revivalists wanted to distance themselves from the Bowery's reputation. What better than a new name for the district? So, as I understand it, "Old City" was born. Never mind that near the river is the oldest part of the city. Out with the old, in with the new jazz clubs and lofts.

I'm not knocking the Kendrick and the preservationists. They did what they had to. Under it's new moniker, the Old City has risen, fallen, risen, fallen, and risen again. It has become the neighborhood I love. But it's been twenty years and "Old City" seems to me a bit contrived like "Happy Meadows" is for a subdivision. We need to embrace our past, even the gritty parts, and celebrate it. It's time to have a Bowery again.

From now on I'm calling the district around Jackson and Central The Bowery. Maybe I'm pseudo-nostalgic for a time when I'd probably have been murdered down there. We'll see if it catches on.


The Modern Gal said...

Ahh, the good ol' days.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to decide if you were being facetious in saying that Patrick Sullican's is the oldest building downtown, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Blount Mansion is older.
Craighead-Jackson House is older.
James Park House is older.
Lamar House of the Bijou is older.
Those three non-descript brick-fronted buildings on the 700 block of Gay Street are older.
The Foundry is older.
Farmers and Merchants Bank on the 100 Block is older.
The Hackney Building, though refaced later, is older underneath.
For that matter, parts of the White Lily buildings in the background of your own photo are older.

For the record...

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Sullivan's, that is.