Western Heights: History Reborn

East Tennessee History Center
Wednesday, September 20, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

The Beaumont and Western Heights neighborhoods hold a special artistic heritage, communicated through their histories of Knoxville’s working classes, and as they echo the area’s continued connection to the liberal arts. The area played childhood muse and inspiration to such famous international figures as Frances Hodgson Burnett, David Madden and Clarence Brown. Beaumont is French for “lovely hill,” a perfect name for the often-overlooked hillside community with picturesque views of downtown. Following the Civil War and Gen. James Longstreet’s ill-fated siege of Fort Sanders during the Civil War, an area formally known as Flag Pole Hill within the community served as the location of the family home of Burnett, a British-born author.

In 1939, the Knoxville Housing Authority directed a federal initiative to subsidize construction of low-rent housing in the Beaumont area. The 244-unit complex, named Western Heights, was more than subsidized living. It included new housing, splash pad, baseball diamond, library, teen club, WPA Adult Education School, Red Cross classes and a Sunday School. The first families moved into Western Heights in 1940, and it is the oldest still-standing affordable housing community in Knoxville. The nearby major employers included Brookside Weaving Mills, Dempster Brothers Machinery and Southern Railway, all of which needed a working-class population which led the area to be almost entirely residential since it was developed.

The Western Heights and Beaumont neighborhoods are strategically located 1.5 miles from downtown, but disinvestment, concentrated poverty and residential and commercial vacancies have kept the neighborhood from realizing its potential.

KCDC’s Transforming Western initiative is underway to revitalize the Western Heights housing site and the surrounding neighborhood following a comprehensive, 14-month planning process. The process culminated with KCDC receiving a $40 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant to help fund neighborhood transformation through additional affordable housing along with economic and educational opportunities and community-wide amenities. Join us to learn more about the history of the site and how that history will inform and shape the upcoming transformation.

About the Presenters:

Ben Bentley: Executive Director and CEO, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation

Ben Bentley has a distinctive track record of successfully managing operations of large public housing agencies. The Alabama native began his career at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Nashville Field Office in 2010, became Division Director of HUD’s Denver Regional Office of Public Housing with responsibility for financial and regulatory oversight across a six-state region and served as Chief Operating Officer of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency in Nashville before taking the leadership reins in 2017 at Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC). Bentley serves on the board of the Tennessee Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (TAHRA) and holds a bachelor’s degree from Birmingham-Southern College in history with a minor in political science and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Denver.

Marisa Moazen: Vice President of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation

Marisa Moazen develops and lead initiatives to increase access to education, employment, connectivity, workforce development, transportation and health resources for residents at KCDC communities. Prior to joining KCDC in 2020, Moazen worked at the University of Tennessee as assistant vice chancellor for research engagement and at Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in grant procurement and development and coordination of projects and programs. Moazen holds both a Bachelor of Science in finance with minors in German and economics and an MBA with a marketing concentration from the University of Alabama. She earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration with a concentration in leadership, statistics and quantitative analysis from UT.

The program is presented by the East Tennessee Historical Society and is and free and open to the public. The lecture will begin at noon at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay Street, Knoxville. Guests are invited to bring a “Brown Bag” lunch.

Presenting Sponsor: