Williams boosts Pond Gap park idea

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, West Knox

Lifetime Pond Gap resident David Williams takes a real delight in his neighborhood. Now he hopes to have even more reason to enjoy it, with a proposed pocket park for the area.

A pocket park is usually a repurposed piece of urban land that allows residents to enjoy green space. This particular park would be across from Dead End BBQ on the south side of Sutherland Avenue, between that busy road and UT’s RecSports Field Complex. The land that would be used is currently owned by UT.

Williams recently presented his idea for the park to Knox County Commission, and he has a meeting with the university later this month. With the go-ahead for the use of the land, Williams could begin fundraising through the Pond Gap Neighborhood Association, of which he is president. He also hopes to apply for grants to private and corporate foundations.

Renderings done by Mike Kearney, CDT, a senior technician with Architects Weeks Ambrose McDonald Inc., show benches, trees and landscaped hedges. A group of sculptural sheet metal figures in the park will include a mini-line-up of baseball players, meant to represent the integrated baseball teams who played in the area during the 1940s and 1950s.

Rendering of the proposed Pond Gap pocket park near the northern entrance to UT’s RecSports Field Complex (Courtesy of Architects Weeks Ambrose McDonald Inc.)

Williams is passionate about his neighborhood’s history. He lives in a home off Sutherland built by his great-grandfather in 1929, and the area has made up the landscape of his family’s stories for generations. He has made a lifelong project out of collecting memorabilia related to the neighborhood and is still learning more about its history.

“We need to have respect for the things that used to be,” Williams says, but he is also an evangelist for what is to come for Pond Gap. He praises West High School and its enthusiastic principal and student body as an integral part of the neighborhood’s makeup. He is also enthusiastic about the businesses that have made a success of the Sutherland Avenue corridor in recent years.

“George [Ewart, the owner of Dead End BBQ] has been very helpful in getting new business to the area,” Williams says. The walls of the popular barbecue spot include some notable shots of “old” Pond Gap, including the old airport, and photos of circus tents set up where the National Guard Armory stands.

Change has been a constant for Pond Gap. It’s a busy cut-through corridor for east-west and north-south traffic, but there were still cattle roaming to the pond off Hollywood Road during the first half of the 20th century. For years a popular golf range sat where the intramural fields are now, later replaced by UT’s married and graduate student housing, which closed in 2010.

Currently the neighborhood is looking at the benefits and challenges that might come with further development on the west side of Hollywood Avenue, which is being eyed as the site of a new apartment complex.

Williams, who has unsuccessfully run for city council twice, says anyone in any neighborhood can find something of interest to drive growth.

“Look at your neighborhoods. There is history there you can highlight,” he says. As for him, he will continue to be around as Pond Gap celebrates its past and creates a future.

“I always say, when I pass away, bury me in a speed trap on Hollywood Road.”

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