SoKno hotel symbolizes dreams of past, future

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, South Knox

One of South Knoxville’s most prominent landmarks is the vacant, forlorn-looking former Parkway Hotel. Nestled between Chapman Highway and Martin Mill Pike, across from Berry Funeral Home, it’s a white, six-story building in the heart of the up-and-coming Urban Wilderness business district, but it’s in need of a lot of TLC.

It debuted in the early 1950s with fanfare and Klieg lights sweeping the sky, but for the past decade it has been shuttered. It has thrived only as a source of conversation and frustration for South Knoxville residents who’d like to see it as an active business.

The Parkway’s history is tied to the story of three generations of the Monday family, longtime real-estate players in Knoxville.

According to Bob Monday, head of Monday Realty, the family business was started by his grandfather, William Eugene Monday, in 1895. It was a four-partner firm to begin with – Braine, Epstein, Nelson & Monday – with offices downtown on Vine Street.

Monday was the youngest, and after the others died, he dropped their names and went solo.

His son, William Eugene Monday Jr., was also interested in real estate, but after he graduated in 1924 from the University of Tennessee, he wanted a bigger playing field.

“Dad always used to say that Knoxville was a great town to grow up in, but it was just too small for him to do business in,” says Bob Monday. Gene Monday Jr. decided to go to New York City.

“He wanted to trade with the world,” Bob says. Gene lived at the YMCA and started working in real estate. He hired other Y residents as his salesmen, “and they did quite well.”

“He was up there the day the stock market crashed in 1929. All the money that he had that he didn’t spend, he invested in the stock market, and he totally got wiped out. So he came back and asked his father for a job, and that’s when he started in Knoxville.”

Gene and wife Florence bought a home in South Knoxville and brought up sons Gene III, Jim and Bob, all of whom went to Young High School and eventually ended up working in the Monday real-estate enterprises.

The last restaurant to operate at the Parkway Hotel building served Mexican food. (Photo by Betsy Pickle)

The boys were all young when Gene Jr. decided he wanted to build a hotel on Chapman Highway, the main route to the Smokies at the time. Small motor courts dominated the hostelry industry at the time, and he dreamed of something fancier.

His hotel had a restaurant and an elevator, and it thrived for a couple of decades. But the Holiday Inn model launched by Kemmons Wilson of Memphis was proving hugely popular, and the Parkway couldn’t keep up.

There was no central heat and air, and in the late 1960s, the hotel at 3701 Chapman Highway transitioned to monthly rentals. The coal-fired heating system was converted to natural gas, but there was still no air conditioning.

After graduating in 1969 from East Tennessee State University, where he majored in real estate, Bob Monday returned and joined the family business.

Most of the residents of the Parkway Apartments lived on government checks and had limited resources.

“We had very reasonable rates,” says Monday. “They didn’t have to pay any utility bill whatsoever; we paid all the utilities – heat and everything.

“And quite frankly, when we did that, it wasn’t very long at all that we started losing money because the utility bill with the heat in the wintertime was more than the money bringing in the income. But yet those people didn’t have any place to go. We just ran it at a loss. We did that probably for the last 10 or 15 years of operation.”

Lower utility costs in spring and summer weren’t enough to let the hotel make a profit, but it did host several popular restaurants in its restaurant space through the years, with specialties such as Chinese, Southern and Mexican cuisines.

“It got to the point where we’d been losing so very, very much, and honestly, we tried so very, very hard to cater to those tenants and meet all their demands,” Monday says. “But it just got to be impossible, and so we decided to close it down. I believe it was about 10 years ago.”

The building had 60 units, and the Mondays found apartments for a third of the tenants at some of their other properties. Another third went into public housing, and Monday says he doesn’t know what happened to the rest.

Although the building had code violations while it was still in operation, Monday says he did what he could.

“A few years before we closed it down, I spent $50,000 on that elevator,” he says. “Put in all the brand-new circuitry. … I thought long and hard on that one, but I was just trying to give those people someplace to live.”

Monday, whose son and nephew now work with Monday Properties, believes the old building could be brought back into use, though not as a hotel. But with the heating and cooling system – and a number of code violations – it’s going to need a lot of work. And a better economy.

“It would have to have a whole lot of money spent on it,” he says. “I’m gonna do something with it.

“Back in the day, it must have been something.”

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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