Alexander Guest House Preservation Project Receives ACHP Award

Alexander Guest House Preservation Project Receives ACHP Award

L to R: Historian Robert S. Norris, DOE historian Eric Boyle, ACHP Chairman Wayne Donaldson, DOE official Sue Cange, ACHP ACHP Exec. Director John Fowler, ETPA Exec. Director Kim Trent, ACHP member Robert Stanton, & DOE Undersecretary David Klaus. Photo b

On July 13, the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance (ETPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) in Oak Ridge, and Dover Development received the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation for their efforts to preserve and restore the historic Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge.  Built to accommodate visiting dignitaries during the Manhattan Project, the property was formerly known as the “Guest House.” Today it is called the Alexander Guest House.

Kim Trent, Executive Director of the ETPA, and Sue Cange, Manager of DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, accepted the award on behalf of their organizations and Dover Development. The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) co-sponsored the award ceremony. The ACHP introduced the award with a presentation on the history of the Guest House/Alexander Inn with photographs of the property before and after its restoration. Robert S. Norris, a member of AHF’s Board of Directors, spoke at the reception about the Inn’s ties to the Manhattan Project.

Other speakers included ACHP Chairman Milford Wayne Donaldson and Robert G. Stanton, a member of the ACHP who was the first African-American to serve as the Director of the National Park Service (1997-2001). They explained how important it was to preserve and restore historic properties, and the significance of the Alexander Guest House to the recently established Manhattan Project National Historical Park. In an Oak Ridge Today article, Donaldson stated, “The Alexander Inn project fulfills a number of the objectives we honor through the Chairman’s Award, including significant contributions to economic development and heritage tourism, and rehabilitation of historic resources.”

Many of the people present had been involved in the effort to establish a Manhattan Project NHP, and were pleased to see the Alexander Guest House preserved for future generations.

 

History of the Alexander Guest House

AHF Board member Robert S. Norris speaking at the reception. Photo by Matt Spangler.When General Leslie R. Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, came on one of his frequent visits to Oak Ridge during the war, he usually stayed at the Guest House. According to Groves’ appointment book, meticulously kept by his able assistant Jean O’Leary, he visited Oak Ridge 36 times from September 1942 until the summer of 1945, sometimes staying for just the day, other times spending the night. He had a special suite reserved for him at the Guest House throughout the duration of the war.

The Guest House is a wood-framed building, constructed in 1943. In addition to General Groves, key Manhattan Project figures, including Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, James B. Conant and Vannevar Bush, stayed there on their trips to Oak Ridge. 

The name of the hotel was changed to the Alexander Inn in September 1950, a year after a 44-room addition was completed. The Inn’s bar and restaurant were a social center for Oak Ridgers for decades. In 1991, the Inn was added to the National Register. However, it was closed in the mid-1990s and fell into disrepair.

Over the last 15 years, the Atomic Heritage Foundation worked with the community to preserve the Alexander Inn. AHF President Cindy Kelly remembers visiting the historic building and seeing a television set floating in the pool. Vandals had ravaged the interior, and squatters had built a campfire in one of the bedrooms.

In November 2011, DOE had a meeting with stakeholders as part of the Section 106 process to mitigate the potential loss of the K-25 plant and associated historic resources. At the meeting, DOE announced that it concluded that it was “imprudent” to save any portion of the K-25 plant. As a concession to the stakeholders, DOE agreed to provide $500,000 to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance (ETPA)-Knox Heritage. These funds allowed ETPA to take ownership and find a willing party to invest in the restoration of the Alexander Inn. After ETPA purchased the building, it stabilized the property and found a purchaser interested in rehabilitating the historic property.

ETPA sold the inn to Dover Development Corporation which specializes in “reclaiming the past to build communities for the future.” General Manager Rick Dover was personally very interested in preserving the old Guest House, an icon of Manhattan Project history at Oak Ridge. Dover completed the $8 million restoration and conversion of the house in two years, and the Alexander Guest House opened in November 2015 as an assisted senior living facility. By the opening, 60% of units had already been reserved. The property tax value of the center increased from $400,000 to $9 million, showing how preserving and restoring historic buildings can greatly increase property value. 

Dover Development saved as much as they could of the original building, including the original floors and structure. The lobby features exhibits on Manhattan Project history developed by the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. The Inn is now part of the heritage tourism tours sponsored by the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association President Mick Wiest was quoted in the Oak Ridge Today article, praising Dover’s commitment to restoring the Alexander Guest House: “The Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association is extremely proud of the excellent reuse and preservation of the Guest House. Rick Dover and DOE EM surely deserve this award. Without such cooperative and innovative approaches, we would have lost an iconic structure that is at the very heart of Oak Ridge history.”

It’s wonderful to see such an important historic building preserved and restored. The Alexander Guest House will continue to be a center of Oak Ridge’s community for decades to come.

For the ACHP press release, please click here