OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) was honored as a recipient of the prestigious Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation at a recent ceremony in Washington D.C.’s National Building Museum. The award is given by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), an organization whose members are appointed by the U.S. President.
OREM was recognized for its support to the Alexander Inn rehabilitation project. The inn, originally known as the Guest House, dates back to the earliest days of Oak Ridge. It housed dignitaries that visited the secret site during World War II, such as General Leslie Groves, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi.
In 1991, the inn was added to the National Register of Historic Place. Despite this honor, the vacant building deteriorated greatly over the years, with the roof leaking and water accumulating in the basement. By 2010, it was added to the “East Tennessee Endangered Heritage” list.
That all changed in 2012 when OREM signed an agreement to mitigate for the removal of the historically significant K-25 building. This agreement with the ACHP, State Office of Historic Preservation, City of Oak Ridge, and East Tennessee Preservation Alliance committed the program to undertake three broad initiatives to commemorate the history of the K-25 complex and the city’s larger role in the Manhattan Project.
One of those initiatives was a $500,000 grant to the alliance to support the preservation of the inn. The grant was used to purchase and stabilize the structure until it could be transferred to a private developer.
“We are very pleased that our grant was able to fund efforts to stabilize this historic gem and help make its renovation a viable option for developers,” OREM Manager Sue Cange said. “Now, Oak Ridge is able to reclaim a landmark that dates back to its origin.”
A local developer, Dover Development Corporation, purchased the inn and spent two years converting it into a senior living facility. Now, its occupants can take pride in their new home with fond memories of its glory days hosting visitors and community parties.
The developer not only preserved the inn’s external facade and much of the original character, but also included a museum in the lobby that is a stop for tours sponsored by the newly designated Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
“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,” said ACHP Chairman Milford Wayne Donaldson.
The reopening of the historic landmark also had a significant impact on the local economy. When it opened in November 2015, the renovations had improved the property tax value from $400,000 to $9 million.