The Red Cross building, which was used as the city’s housing office during World War II, is for sale.
The American Red Cross had been in the building since 1945, but it last had a part-time employee there in 2014.
It’s one of the few original Oak Ridge buildings remaining on Oak Ridge Turnpike or Illinois Avenue, said Mick Wiest, president of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association.
A Red Cross official said the organization is trying to lower its overhead across the country and occupy fewer buildings. That leaves more money to serve clients, said Michelle Hankes, executive director of the Red Cross East Tennessee Chapter Office, which is based in Knoxville.
Much of the organization’s work is field work and can be conducted with a laptop and cell phone, Hankes said.
She said she has talked with historic preservationists about the Red Cross building in Oak Ridge and made others aware of its value, but a buyer would have control of the building.
The Red Cross building received a historic preservation award from ORHPA in 2007. Wiest said ORHPA would like to see the building used and the exterior kept as close as possible to the original condition. Modifications might have to be made to the interior, Wiest said.
The Red Cross building still has a brick chimney and other features that “speak to early construction,” Wiest said. It has the look and feel of early Oak Ridge, he said.
Once a secret production site that wasn’t on maps, the city that is now Oak Ridge was built quickly during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to make the world’s first atomic bombs.
Wiest said ORHPA hopes to talk to those who might be interested in re-using the single-story building.
“It’s still a good building, with a lot of years left,” Wiest said.
He said his parents arrived in Oak Ridge in 1944, during the war. They lived in an apartment and got on a waiting list for a home at the former housing office, which is now the Red Cross building. In those days, residents got homes based on the size of their families, Wiest said.
Hankes said the sale of the Oak Ridge Turnpike building won’t affect Anderson County services. Red Cross continues to use local volunteers, and they get calls to help with incidents such as a recent apartment fire in Anderson County, Hankes said. If anything, reducing overhead through the sale of the building should free up money to help serve clients, she said.
After it ended part-time employment in Oak Ridge in 2014, Red Cross said it was trying to make better use of donor dollars, expanding its presence in more counties, and seeking to make operations more efficient. The organization had community partners willing to share space, Red Cross said at the time.
On Friday, Hankes said Red Cross can use libraries and churches for training and doesn’t need a separate building. The Oak Ridge building hasn’t had much use since 2014, and it’s not meant to be a shelter, she said.
Hankes said communities started Red Cross chapters in East Tennessee during World War I, and Red Cross will have been in East Tennessee 100 years next year, in 2017.
The Oak Ridge and Anderson County chapters were combined in the 1980s, she said. Based in Oak Ridge, the chapter was known as the Appalachian chapter.
The Appalachian, Blount, Knox, and Cumberland chapters combined to have fewer paid employees in 2012, Hankes said.
Other original buildings in Oak Ridge on Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) building on South Illinois Avenue—it was once a health department and hospital—and the Tunnell Building on Oak Ridge Turnpike.
“We’re getting down to so few,” Wiest said.
ORHPA plans to announce its annual historic preservation awards on September 19. ORHPA considers it Oak Ridge’s birthday, the day in 1942 that General Leslie R. Groves came and decided to break ground for the Manhattan Project here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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