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Wrecking ball blues: Knoxville landmarks are coming down

Crews are tearing down decades of history from Cumberland Avenue to the Smoky Mountain Market and Naples Italian Restaurant.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Chicago-based developer has purchased at least $56 million worth of Cumberland Avenue properties, including the original Ruby Tuesday, Stefano's Pizza and University Liquors.

Those buildings were torn down to make room for the Hub on Campus, a new development that will bring hundreds of apartment spaces and parking spots to the area, as well as retail space.

But, the Strip isn't the only Knoxville landmark facing the wrath of the wrecking ball.

Naples Italian Restaurant

Credit: WBIR

In Bearden, crews have demolished the original Naples Italian Restaurant. It closed its doors April 2019 after nearly half a century of serving the Knoxville community. 

Naples was a longtime area favorite -- for family celebrations, holiday meals, first dates and sometimes matrimonial proposals.

Chuck Naples and Ray Ward originally opened the restaurant back in 1971. Bob Luper's brother Steve Luper had been an accountant for the restaurant originally, which eventually the Lupers invested in in 1981 and Bob and Becky assumed ownership. 

Smoky Mountain Market

Credit: WBIR

The Smoky Mountain Market first opened its doors in 1936, according to the Knoxville History Project. Its hot dogs were legendary -- if you had a strong stomach.

"Local businessman Virgil Rushing bought the store in 1974 and created a chain of 31 Smoky Mountain Markets," Todd Rushing wrote on KHP's website. "The Chapman Highway Store remained the 'Old Number One' until it closed in 2002."

It was demolished earlier this year after the city repeatedly flagged structural concerns, records show.

Stefano's Pizza, University Liquors and the original Ruby Tuesday

Credit: WBIR

The entire block of businesses on the north side of Cumberland Avenue between 19th and 20th street was demolished for the "Hub on Campus."

That includes Stefano's Pizza, University Liquors and the original Ruby Tuesday. Some fans swore Stefano's was the best pizza in town.

"I hate it. I think they are losing all of the mystique of the strip," Stefano's Pizza General Manager Sandra Hobbs told 10News in December. "I know we need housing. I know it's something that needs to be done, but the tradition of the Cumberland Avenue Strip is just going away so I don't care for it."

Pryor Brown Garage

Credit: WBIR

Love it or hate it, historian Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project said Pryor Brown helped modernize downtown Knoxville in the 1920s.

"Pryor Brown built the first part of that in 1925 and finished it in 1929. This may be, as far as I know, the oldest or one of the oldest parking garages in America," Neely told 10News in September. "Architects used pictures of it to show how parking garages should work."

In the years since, however, the garage has deteriorated in the heart of downtown. A demolition permit is pending with the city.

Rule High School

In September, Knox County leaders said they were accepting bids to demolish the giant Rule High School up above Western Avenue. Various efforts to save it had been pitched through the years; none proved practical enough to act.

Rule first opened in 1927, named after Captain William Rule, a former Union Army captain who went on to be mayor of Knoxville and the editor of the Knoxville Journal.

It closed in 1991 due to low enrollment numbers and has sat vacant ever since.


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