City Applies H-1 Protection to Cal Johnson Building

Communications Director

Eric Vreeland
evreeland@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-3480

400 Main St., Room 654A
Knoxville, TN 37902

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News item

City Applies H-1 Protection to Cal Johnson Building

Posted: 07/21/2016
The Knoxville City Council on Tuesday voted to apply H-1 historic overlay protection to the Cal Johnson Building, 301 State St., to ensure the preservation of the uniquely historic three-story structure.

Mayor Madeline Rogero in December 2015 applied for H-1 protection for the brick warehouse built in 1898 by Cal Johnson, a former slave who became one of Knoxville’s most prominent African-American businessmen and civic leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“This is one of just a few buildings still standing that reflect the major contributions by African-Americans to the city’s culture and character in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Mayor Rogero said. “It’s a rare treasure deserving to be safeguarded.”

An H-1 designation protects a historic structure by requiring review by the Historic Zoning Commission before any permit may be granted for demolition or a significant change to the structure.

Mayor Rogero said the City has been eager to partner with property owners who come forward with redevelopment plans for historic buildings. Downtown projects have benefitted from a range of City tools and assistance – from historic preservation grants, to public infrastructure upgrades, to helping owners close financing gaps that otherwise would have rendered their projects financially infeasible.

The Cal Johnson Building, meanwhile, is the only original building associated with Johnson that is still standing in Knoxville. The Knox Heritage preservation group has identified it as an endangered structure on its annual Fragile Fifteen list.

Born to a Knoxville slave family in 1844, Johnson after the Civil War worked his way up from a cook and bartender to owner of some of the most popular saloons in the city. He also owned the only horse racing track in Knoxville, until the General Assembly outlawed the sport in 1907. Today, Speedway Circle, the site of the track, maintains its original shape in what is now the Burlington neighborhood near Chilhowee Park.

From 1883-85, Johnson served on the Knoxville Board of Aldermen. In 1906, he donated a house at the corner of Vine and Patton streets to be used as Knoxville’s first black YMCA building.
 
In 1898, Johnson constructed what is now known as the Cal Johnson Building on State Street in downtown Knoxville. Built in the Vernacular Commercial style, it’s been used as a clothing factory and as a warehouse.

Knoxville has recognized Johnson’s legacy. In 1922, the City established Cal Johnson Park, at what is now 507 Hall of Fame Drive; 35 years later, the Cal Johnson Recreation Center was built in the park.