Yesteryear Columnist Sadly Bids Farewell to Gardner Apartments

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 was a heartrending day for this writer. The old apartment building, originally known as the Gardner Apartments, at 319-321 W. Watauga where I lived during the first eight years of my life (1942-1950) burned and collapsed into a mountain of molten rubble.


The Gardner Apartments as It Looked Before, During and After the Devastating Fire 

The structure was one of six rental complexes built in that general area, the others being Larchmont, DeLeacon, Montclair, Holston and Lafayette. The 20-unit L-shaped edifice was constructed in 1921 and surrounded by three streets – Watauga to the west, Market along the south and (later) King on the north.

A 1919 reference to that property identifies a Garden Flats Apartment. Further research suggests that the likely owner was James Robert Gardner, a prominent attorney whose practice was located in the Armbrust Smith Building and later relocated to the second floor of the Arcade Building Annex. T.H. Mouries was president and Gardner was vice president of Watauga Realty, which carried the identical address as the apartments.

Andrew Mickle eventually became manager of the Gardner and Holston apartments. Gardner also owned the nearby Watauga Swimming Pool (renamed Sur Joi and then Carver). Isaac Garland owned the apartment during my family’s stay there in the 1940s in unit 10 facing Watauga at King.

Leon-Ferenbach Inc. was for years situated on the east side with City Fire Department No. 4 farther east on Market and the Police Department directly behind it on King. The constant roar from the silk mill machines was frequently augmented with shrill sirens from emergency vehicles. Like most things, we got used to it. The apartment offered more than just a place to eat and sleep as evidenced by some vivid memories from my youth depicting life there and in the surrounding neighborhood:

Proudly walking to Howard Stewart’s Red Store by myself with a list of needed groceries for Mom; occasionally shopping at Luther Pardue’s Grocery Store; taking a bath in the impressive-looking old bathtub that stood on four feet; waking up each winter morning to the clanging of steam radiators; chatting with the firemen at the fire station and occasionally seeing a young Clarence Eades (future fire chief) there; …

Going with Ernest Green, the maintenance man who lived in Apt. 4, into the dark, cool basement and being advised to watch out for rats; patronizing Prator-Wilson Pharmacy, being greeted by Guy Wilson, eating ice cream in the summer and hot tamales in the winter at the soda fountain and reading comic books from the store’s display rack; getting an adult haircut at Bill Garland’s Barber Shop; anxiously decorating a modest pine tree during the Christmas season; feeding a stray cat on our back porch; …

Going “swimming” by carrying a pot of warm water to the narrow sidewalk behind the apartments, sitting in it and using a metal cup to refreshingly pour water over my head; watching a barrage of helium-filled balloons drift overhead that had been released from the Press-Chronicle, offering a prize to the fortunate person who found one and returned it; enduring a life-threatening bout of rheumatic fever that required me to be quarantined, kept inactive and off my feet for a year; …

Walking to West Side School by taking a “shortcut” through the Larchmont Apartments; becoming acquainted with the Buda family (John, Ethel, Anna and George) who owned John’s Sandwich Shop on Buffalo; walking with Mom to 536 W. Market each month to pay our $20 rent bill; eating a delicious hamburger at Bill Lawson’s Sandwich Shop soon after having my tonsils removed at Jones’ Hospital; and watching a snow shower in winter slowly paint the neighborhood white. What memories!

The aging 86-year-old Gardner Apartments daringly and dramatically absconded into the annals of yesteryear earlier this week, but my reminiscences of the years of my residency there are brilliantly stuffed in my bank of memories.