Public gets first peek at historic Alexander Inn during cleanup

11:37 PM, Apr 10, 2010   |    comments
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On Saturday morning, a historic Oak Ridge property, which has sat quietly empty for years, was buzzing with activity.

"We want people to see that somebody cares about this building," said Kate Groover, executive director of the Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort.

ORRE purchased the Alexander Inn, formerly the Guest House, back in December but invited the public to help in the restoration efforts for the first time this weekend.

"It's the first time people have had the chance to see what it looks like on the inside," Groover said. "Up until now, other than our board members and a few people from the city, nobody's been allowed to be in the building at all."

Volunteers weeded, mowed and removed boards from the windows.

Inside, others pulled up the lobby carpet, prying out each staple, one by one, to reveal the original wood floor.

"I'm just tickled to be here and wouldn't want to miss it," volunteer Joseph Lee said.

Lee had his wedding reception at the Alexander Inn back in 1989. Now, he's using his construction experience to return it to its former luster.

"Sure, it's in deplorable shape, it's a crime the condition it's in, but, with the right focus on redeveloping, and with the fine people that are involved, I have no doubt that it's going to come back on," he said.

The inn was built back in 1943 and played host to a number of famous Manhattan Project scientists, including Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves.

But the inn shut down in the '90s and continued to deteriorate after that.

"Over the years, vandals have gone in," Groover said. "They have just destroyed the records, they've torn up the walls, they've gone and broken every light fixture in the building, and for me, it's just disappointing that somebody doesn't respect property more than that, let alone a historic property. It's also a little sad that the town has let it deteriorate to the point that it has and not done something about it sooner."

Just last month, the property took the No. 1 spot on the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance's inaugural Endangered Heritage list.

But ORRE and area volunteers say they will work hard to save the property, some hoping to turn it into a bed and breakfast, while others aim to make it a conference center, of sort.

But first, ORRE must raise the $500,000 needed to pay off the property and demolish the ballroom portion that is collapsing.

"Back to the future is what I like to think it is, back to the future, and the future's here, so here we go, hold on," Lee said.

ORRE will is planning a fundraiser for the night of May 22 in the lobby of the Alexander Inn.

The event will last from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and feature the Boys' Night Out band.

Tickets are $12.50 for singles and $20 for couples if purchased early. The prices are $15 for singles and $25 for couples at the door.

"It'd be really nice if we could raise that $500,000 that first night," Groover said.

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