John Shearer: Getting To Tour A 2nd Classic Riverview Home For Sale – The Avery/Hon Residence

Friday, February 16, 2018 - by John Shearer

Sitting at the top of a grass-covered lawn off a major curve of Riverview Road, the home at 1631 Hillcrest Road seems to have a residence’s equivalent of 50-yard-line or behind-home-plate seats.

With no trees in the main part of the front yard, as can be found with most other Riverview homes, it seems to be ideally situated for residents to enjoy the game of nature, primarily the flowing Tennessee River just 100 or so yards below it.

And many might say the view back up at it is not so bad, either.

For years as I have driven or jogged along Riverview Road, I have enjoyed looking up at the historic home of approximately 6,500 square feet. In fact, it has always been a highlight of my time visiting this popular and historically premier neighborhood by the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.

Now that the home is currently for sale for just over $2.99 million, I finally had my first opportunity to see it up close on Feb. 9, just a day after I toured another landmark home at 1636 Hillcrest Road also for sale.

Another home three doors south of the 1631 home was also for sale in recent months, but it went off the market before I had a chance to tour it. I wrote about the 1636 home earlier this week, and this story on the 1631 home is the second part of this series.

The 1631 home – which, like the other one, is described loosely as neoclassical – has an indirect connection to the very early history of Riverview since man from Europe arrived.

For the last 40 years, Charlie and Ann Hon had lived in the home. A longtime official with the Title Guaranty and Trust Co. of Chattanooga, Mr. Hon was descended from the Beck family that formerly owned all the land around Riverview and parts of North Chattanooga.

He had died suddenly at their new home on nearby Longholm Court on Sept. 28 at age 73 shortly after a fund-raising event at the Hillcrest Road home. The colorful Chattanoogan had penned his own obituary while in declining health, and the family kept it as he had written it, with his several self-effacing and humorous comments.

He apparently also became one of the first Beck family members or descendants in decades to be buried in the old Beck Cemetery by No. 3 green at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. A brightly polished large grave marker now sits in one corner of the small burial grounds bearing his name.

The home is listed by Becky Cope English along with her husband, Derek, now with Re/Max Renaissance Realtors. Derek – an old friend of the Hons dating to his days growing up in Riverview as the son of local businessman and former Chattanooga Moc football player Rick English -- was there to greet me in the driveway off Hillcrest when I arrived.

As I walked down to the front door with him, I quickly noticed how much cozier this side of the home is than the other, more formal side -- even though the elegance and well-above-average size of the residence are still quite noticeable here, too. The front facing Riverview Road makes the residence look like a stately house, while this backside, which could also be considered a front, gives it more the appearance of being simply a home.

Inside the structure at the time of the tour was owner Ann Hon, who greeted us in the kitchen. Talking to us later in the dining room after we took a quick walk around the first floor and outside, she made obvious the fact that the residence had become just a beloved home to her over the years. It was not a structure that held her in awe.

The word, showplace, was definitely not used in her description, as it might be in a realty magazine or in the words of occasional visitors.

“It just felt like home from the minute I walked into the front door,” she said with feeling. “I raised my children here and worked on it for 40 years. We have truly lived in every inch of it and loved every bit of it.”

She also recalled such early memories as when they had not yet furnished the living room, and children Emily and Chad Hon turned the oak-floored space into a mini-skating rink.

Besides a neat kitchen pantry, where Ms. Hon said a container for the old large pieces of ice in the days of primitive refrigeration once was, the first floor also has a simply gorgeous library/study. It is paneled with light-colored birchwood, Mr. English said.

While the most eye-catching features for most larger and older homes are the central areas or main rooms on the first floor, at this home, the ends are what seem to draw attention. The bottom ends were originally outdoor porches, but now they have been enclosed.

One upstairs end room has been converted into a dressing suite for the master bedroom, complete with its own bathroom, while the other is a gathering room for TV watching at night or simply enjoying the sunlight during the day.

“This is where I remember coming growing up,” said Mr. English with nostalgia as we walked into the latter room. “We’d come over here to eat popcorn and watch movies.”

Upstairs in the attic area is a large room that could be used as a play or recreation room, or provide additional space as needed. It even has a vintage sink in one corner.

Like the former Winningham home profiled last week, this home also has another stairway besides the main one. And the more modest stairway features some very steep steps from the top floor that might be attractive to children but not necessarily to older adults with mobility issues.

There is also a large basement area in the home, with some old sturdy tables with worn marks hinting of a long and interesting history of use.

The bathrooms and kitchen of the home have been mostly updated in recent years, giving it a more move-in-ready quality than the Winningham home, at least in this regard.

One aspect not changed, which will cause a smile for most people, is that the home still features plenty of large doors with vintage glass doorknobs. The home also has a wooden sliding door leading from the library to the living room.

Outside is also quite nice. The stars of this yard are the numerous boxwoods, which are among nature’s slowest-growing and longest-living pieces of greenery. They are known to be quite attractive when they get as old and as large as these are, and that is the case here.

The Hons have also added their touch, including a sloping water path through rocks leading down to a small outdoor goldfish pond on the side of the home closest to Hixson Pike. “Charlie was always out here tinkering,” said Mr. English of the late Mr. Hon.

There is also a nice small fountain area on the Hillcrest Road side of the home surrounded by a brick wall and patio.

Plans for the original home were designed by architect Jefferson Davis “J.D.” Alsup. A native of Memphis, he designed such other structures as the old Signal Mountain Hotel building (now part of Alexian Brothers), the now-razed Central High School on Dodds Avenue, and an old building at East Lake Park. He was also in practice with an architect named Adams at one point.

Ms. Hon has some plans by Mr. Alsup of the home drawn for George Andrews in 1913 (as well as some 1939 plans for some metal cabinets from the Whitehead Metal Cabinets in New York that were to be put in the kitchen).

Although Mr. Alsup had an office in the R.H. Hunt-designed James Building at the time, the city directory said he lived in Sumner, N.C., in the Central/Eastern part of the state during the same period.

First resident Mr. Andrews – who was apparently not related to well-known Chattanoogans O.B. or Garnett Andrews – had come to Chattanooga shortly before the home was built after a successful career selling high-end wholesale foods.

But upon his arrival in Chattanooga, he started the Phillips Excelsior Co. at about the 3500 block of Alton Park Boulevard. What products were made there are not known. A lumberyard was nearby and the dictionary says “excelsior,” although usually used to describe something of the finest quality, is also used as a name for finely ground wood products used for pillow stuffings.

Mr. Andrews moved into the home not long after the plans were drawn and apparently lived there at least until the early-to-mid 1930s, when he moved to a home just on the north side of the Spanish-style landmark home at the northwest corner of Hillcrest and Riverview roads.

Due to the remodelings of recent years, it is not clear whether Mr. Andrews’ second home is still there in any form.

The Excelsior business had also changed hands about that time, and it is not known if the Great Depression had affected his business, as one historical account of early Riverview by Augusta Allison Lasley on file at the Chattanooga Public Library indicates.

His obituary said he later went back into sales, indicating that this was perhaps his true calling and that he was able to bounce back from any financial misfortune he may have had.

He and his wife later lived at the Twinam Apartments on East Fourth Street before his death in 1945 and subsequent burial in Columbia, Tenn. His obituary also said his son had become an embassy official in Chile. Further research would be required to see if he also grew up in the Hillcrest Road home.

A quick check earlier this week via automobile shows that the old Excelsior plant and the Twinam apartment building have been torn down.

After the Andrews family moved out of the 1631 Hillcrest Road home in about the mid-1930s, Clarence Avery and his family moved in. He had become an official of Chattanooga Glass Co., which produced Coca-Cola bottles for decades.

So this home was one of several Chattanooga homes – including a number in Riverview – that were either built or lived in by those who made money in Coca-Cola bottling or supporting businesses.

Another Coke connection to the home was that Mr. Avery’s wife, Elizabeth, was a niece of Coca-Cola bottler J.T. Lupton. Clarence Avery – the father of Lupton Avery, who also worked with Chattanooga Glass – died in 1953, while Mrs. Avery lived there for another 25 years.

A 1981 Chattanooga News-Free Press article about some of the Coke homes recalls that at one point while Mrs. Avery was a widow living in the home, she chased a would-be burglar off by sheer feistiness. The story was apparently relayed to the reporter by a laughing Lupton Avery.

After Mrs. Avery’s death in 1978, the Hons moved into the structure. And now it is ready for a new owner. It had actually been on the market before Mr. Hon’s death as the Hons transitioned into a new residence.

Mr. English said the home has had some showings for and inquiries from people qualified in that price range of nearly $3 million.

“Most of the activity is from people wanting to move off Lookout Mountain, or they are looking to move from out of town or to have a second home,” he said.

Becky Cope English added that some couples who have looked at the home have wanted to open up some of the downstairs floor plan, as has become popular in recent years. She jokingly called that idea “HGTV disease” from the popular TV channel that often shows homes being gutted or significantly remodeled.

But many might believe the home that hints of the Great Gatsby era of the early 20th century is mostly perfect as it is.

One who does is Mr. English. “It is an iconic Riverview home,” he said.

And, as he added, it is not in a bad location, either.

“Hillcrest Road is probably the most premier street in Riverview,” he said.

* * * * *

To hear Derek English talk about the Hon home for sale, click here

* * * * *

This is another in a planned ongoing series of stories on touring older and historic homes or buildings that still retain most of their original look and features. To see the previous story on another large Riverview home for sale, read here.

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