Local Lore: Magnolia Avenue

Magnolia Avenue was named for the mother of the Mayor of the area known as Park City before it was annexed by Knoxville in 1917. Park City, in East Knoxville, was one of a number of incorporated towns prior to annexation. Mayor Branner and his mother, Mrs. Magnolia Maria Branner, lived on Magnolia Avenue near the current Pellissipi State Community College campus site. Mayor Branner died while living in that home in 1938.

Magnolia Avenue, circa 1920. Photo Courtesy of the McClung Historical Collection

The development history of Magnolia Avenue began around the turn of the century with a little less than twenty houses between the edge of downtown and Cherry Street by 1890. Fine homes and apartment buildings, especially after the 1920's, were being built along Magnolia Avenue during the early twentieth century. The grand avenue was a solidly lined residential street by the 1930's.  

Above photos are all courtesy of the McClung Historical Collection

Commercial development of Magnolia Avenue began, perhaps abruptly, on the tail of recent new residential development in the 1940's. Increasing automobile use and urbanization, both national trends during the early 20th century, may have contributed to the rapid transition of this and other arterial streets and highways. Today, Magnolia Avenue is the main commercial thoroughfare east from town. Many of the houses remain, however, a large variety of them with commercial facades simply added at the front. 

Some of the remaining homes have maintained their historic residential character, stand as reminders of the neighborhood that once was there, and lend a unique and quaint quality and potential to the shopping district. While a few Victorian examples can be found in the early blocks of the street, a fragile collection of later homes and the lovely old East Knoxville library building, iin service as the library from the early 1930's until the early 1970's, can be found around the busy intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Cherry Street.

The former East Knoxville LIbrary on Magnolia Avenue

2416 E. Magnolia Avenue, built in the late 1920's, was the home of the A.H. Whisman family.   Mr. Whisman was a local contractor and President of Knoxville Glass Company as well as Knoxville Crushed Stone Co. and the well known Knoxville Glass Company building was originally known as the Whisman Building. His firm constructed the building, designed by Baumann & Baumann, local well known architects. The original tenants of his building, in addition to Knoxville Glass Company, featuring modern design, the latest furniture, and an attractive ladies waiting room, were Broadway Tire Co, and the Leroy Cigar Shop.

The former Whisman home.

2651 E. Magnolia Avenue, built in the late 1920's, was home to Mrs. Nina Sterchi, a member of the prominent local furniture business Sterchi family. He husband William H. Sterchi was the brother of James G. Sterchi, co-founder and President of Sterchi Brothers, at one time reported to be 'the south's largest furniture store", located in the well known Emporium building and Sterchi Lofts building in the 100 block of S. Gay Street. William H. Sterchi had worked for Sterchi Brothers and, later, involved himself in the Knoxville Mattress Co. and the Knoxville Outfitting Company.  He and his wife had lived in the Sterchi Apartment building, still standing on W. Fifth Avenue with its neighbor buildings; The Lucerne, and a third smaller building. These apartment buildings were Sterchi family related developments.

The Sterchi home, today. 

James G. Sterchi, Jr., lived near his aunt at 2515 E. Magnolia Avenue (demolished). Another aunt, Mrs. Charles K. Vance had lived at 2455 E. Magnolia Avenue for several years after that house was built in 1920. Her husband was the head of the Vance Furniture Co, at Gay Street and Vine Avenue.

The Vance residence, today. 

The Vance family's neighbor at the house at 2445 E. Magnolia Avenue, built in the early 1900's, was a physician, Dr. A.L. Rule. He was a long-time resident of Magnolia Avenue, having lived in the home with his family from the early 1900's until his death in 1950.

2445 E Magnolia Avenue

2661 E. Magnolia Avenue, built in the early 1920's. was home to the Jacob Reich family. Jacob Reich came to Knoxville in 1886 with his wife from Hungary and started a small grocery store on Vine Avenue. The family business, including Jacob Reich's sons, Edward and Dewy Reich,, grew to become a wholesale retail business in the early 20th century until the brother retired from the business in 1948. 

The Reich home, today. 

Magnolia Avenue is an area steeped in history, full of unique and quaint examples of early 20th century architecture. As such, and with its convenience to downtown and UT, there is renewed interest in commercial development and retail business along this early Knoxville boulevard.