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The Post Sign Company Collection

The Knoxville History Project Continues its Shoebox Series

At the nonprofit Knoxville History Project, we are always on the lookout for old images for our Knoxville Shoebox digital collection. If you have interesting photographs, postcards, or brochures, from any era, we’d love to hear from you so we can preserve the visual history of Knoxville and make it available for researchers of the future. 

This month we present four photographs from a collection of almost 100 images taken by the Knoxville-based Post Sign Company to document their finished sign products in use by its customers during the 1920s and 1930s. Founded in the 1880s, Post Sign Company was a well-established Knoxville firm known for its electrical and neon signs. The company is notable in retrospect for having employed—at least briefly at its Gay Street location—artist Beauford Delaney, of future international renown as an abstract impressionist. The Knoxville Museum of Art now owns more Beauford Delaney works than any other art institution in the world. 

The Post Sign Company collection, shared by Jody Davis, provides an unusual urban documentary-like view of the city. 

 

Tennessee General Building, circa 1925

This photograph shows the intersection of West Church Avenue and Market Street looking north toward Market Square. The billboard above the rubble advertises the pending construction of the Tennessee General Building designed by Barber & McMurry in 1924. Completed in early 1926, it was among the tallest buildings in Knoxville. It’s also notable for the exterior ironwork by Ukrainian-born Samuel Yellin (1885-1940), a master American blacksmith. Yellin’s work can be also found on the Alumni Memorial Hall at UT and the Candoro Arts & Heritage Building in Vestal. Across the street from the proposed development is the Empire Building, which had claimed to be the city’s tallest building in 1901. That building was razed in the early 1970s, but the Tennessee General Building still stands. Shared by Jody Davis.

 

100 Block of Gay Street, 1925

This photograph, looking south on the 100 block of Gay Street, was taken just before the construction of the Sterchi Brothers’ Furniture headquarters, which would soon rise in the vacant lot behind the fence on the left. To the left of the Washington Avenue-bound streetcar is the Commerce Building (now mostly residential), and the Rebori Building, formerly the public library. The buildings in the center of the picture represent the eastern section of the 200 block that was demolished to make way for the Summit Hill Drive redevelopment project in the 1970s. Shared by Jody Davis.

Clinch Avenue, 1920s

This somewhat blurry snapshot shows a congested Clinch Avenue, looking east from Market Street, with ca. 1920 automobiles, parked bicycles, and an electric streetcar approaching. On the right is the marble Custom House, which then housed the city’s main post office. In the background is the surprisingly lean Burwell Building, before its 1927-1928 additions, which would include the Tennessee Theatre. In front of the Burwell is a mid-19th-century building known as the Fouche Block that was the subject of a failed preservation effort. It was demolished in 1993. Years later, the East Tennessee History Center expanded into the site. Shared by Jody Davis.

Broadway Viaduct, 1930s

A motorist heads north along the Broadway Viaduct in the 1930s. That viaduct was constructed in the early 1920s and almost a century later was demolished and rebuilt, re-opening last year. The Crane Company building on the left, part of the row of Jackson Avenue buildings that included the C.M. McClung Warehouses, were poised for redevelopment before they caught fire and burned down in two enormous blazes early in the 21st century. On the horizon, on old Gallows Hill (now Summit Hill), the cluster of houses are now all gone, replaced by Ryan’s Row townhouses in the 1980s and the new condominiums known as City House Town Homes. Shared by Jody Davis.

The mission of the Knoxville History Project (KHP) is to research, preserve, and promote the history and culture of Knoxville, Tennessee. Through research and engaging programs, KHP tells the city’s stories, focusing on those that have not been previously told and those that connect the city to the world. KHP’s stories, programs, and publications educate and help residents and visitors understand the city’s past and its complicated but dynamic heritage, and also inspire an appreciation for the city’s culture.

Donations to support the work of the Knoxville History Project, an educational nonprofit, are always welcome and appreciated. KHP’s best seller, Historic Knoxville: The Curious Visitor’s Guide and the latest collection of stories, Knoxville Lives IV, is available at knoxvillehistoryproject.org and local bookstores, including Union Ave Books.

To get in touch, call (865) 337-7723 or email paul@knoxhistoryproject.org. Learn more at KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org

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