Last week’s field work included a trip to Oak Ridge, known as the Secret City for its role in the Manhattan Project during WWII, located about three hours from Nashville. I went to document the Guest House / Alexander Inn (1943) and to attend a community meeting hosted at the American Museum of Science & Energy featuring Lee Curtis of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. It was great to see Lee in action – she is not only an expert in heritage tourism but also is a good communicator on the stage and one-on-one.
Finding the Guest House / Alexander Inn proved a challenge in itself. Mapquest told me to take a left onto Kentucky Avenue and then take a left onto East Madison Road. I went up and down the street a couple times but could not find East Madison. Finally a nice woman out taking a walk on a parallel street pointed me in the right direction. Appears as if there is no sign for East Madison from Kentucky. I cannot wait to get an iPhone with GPS – printed out Mapquest directions are for the birds. A historical marker and evidence of a massive construction project greeted me on arrival. Thank you Tennessee Historical Commission for providing both physical and historical orientation on the landscape.
While new windows, gutters and downspout extenders were visible on the front facade, the historical integrity remained intact. It still looked like the old photos from the 1940s. Circling clockwise, I was surprised to see a large concrete structure jutting out from the back of the building. On closer inspection, I noticed the connecting hyphen and it clicked. Per the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief 14, new additions should be distinct / differentiated from the old and should be compatible with the “massing, size, scale and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.” NPS wants to protect the character of historic buildings. This building was not only being rehabbed but also adaptively re-used. As I continued my circle, I came to the sign noting that the building is being converted into a senior living center. What a cool idea.
After I got all the photos I needed, I went over to the American Museum Science & Energy. With some time to spare, I visited the gift shop and checked out the exhibits on the ground floor. I was happy to see that the Guest House / Alexander Inn was woven into the story of Oak Ridge both in terms of merchandise and exhibits. I picked up a few postcards featuring the Guest House as well as a glass ornament featuring its likeness in all its sparkly glory. There was no distinction between my role as historian and heritage tourist.