This Sunday night, New Year’s Eve, the 43-year-old preservationist nonprofit known as Knox Heritage is ringing in the new year with its first-ever Gilded Age Gala.
The Gilded Age was a period of great opulence, among the wealthy, at least, during the nation’s rapid expansion during 30-odd years after the Civil War. One of America’s most amazing examples of that era is Asheville’s palatial showplace, Biltmore.
Of course, Knoxville doesn’t have anything approaching the size and opulence Biltmore. Our best-preserved relic of the Gilded Age may be the old Victorian brick house behind the serpentine wall on Kingston Pike. It was built in 1890, at the same time as Biltmore was being built. It’s probably not big enough to be called a “mansion,” but it may be unique.
Westwood was designed expressly to be the home of a working artist. Adelia Armstrong Lutz (1859-1931), who grew up across the street in Bleak House, had studied in Paris and exhibited at some of the extravagant expositions of the era. She worked in oils and watercolors, and was best known for her portraits and still lifes. Her husband, insurance executive John Lutz, and her father, Robert Armstrong, collaborated with architects known as the Baumann Brothers to design a house that would be perfect as the home of an artist. The studio, hailed as extraordinary even in its own time, like a tiny cathedral with lofty ceilings and skylights, was where Adelia Lutz worked for more than 40 years. It’s still intact today, just as extraordinary, and the room where most of the lectures and other public events are held.
Westwood was occupied by descendants of John and Adelia Lutz until the 21st century, when Knox Heritage, with the help of some generous donors, fixed the place up in keeping with how Adelia knew it. Her paintings adorn the walls.
The $200-500 fundraiser may not be for everybody, but Knox Heritage does a lot for the community for free—tours of the house are available almost daily and once a month KH offers the Lost and Found Lunch, a free lunch and presentation on a subject of interest, as well as other for anybody who wants to attend, regardless of membership in the organization. KH does a lot more for the community as an advocate for Knoxville’s best historic buildings and neighborhoods. The group offers free assistance to those needing advice about historic tax credits and practical preservation techniques. To do all this work for free, of course, and pay their full-time staff, they’ve got to raise some money now and then.
By the way, New Year’s Eve and the Gilded Age has a special resonance in Knoxville, home of Adolph Ochs, founder of the modern New York Times--and also founder of the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve celebration, with fireworks, beginning in 1904. After fireworks were banned, Ochs initiated the ball drop in 1907. witnessed in person or on TV by one billion people around the world. Ochs began his career in journalism as an apprentice printer for the Knoxville Chronicle in the early 1870s.