Friday, May 13, 2011

The Guest House

The Manhattan Project, the effort to build the world's first atomic bomb, was one of World War II's best kept secrets. Even the hotel where visiting scientists and military leaders stayed when visiting the super secret Clinton Engineer Works had a simple, folksy name: the Guest House. Located in what was to become Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the Guest House hosted a Who's Who of nuclear pioneers; Enrico Fermi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie R. Groves, and others.
After the war it was renamed the Alexander Inn, and served as a hotel until closing in the mid-1990s. I stayed there many times in the late 1960s, while a Purdue University graduate student conducting research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It wasn't the best of accomodations then, but the price suited a poor graduate student's budget. And while Oak Ridge and Anderson County were still "dry," the Alexander Inn hosted a "private club," where for one dollar you could join and have access to a full bar. It was very popular for a time.

The Guest House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 as part of the Oak Ridge Historic District. After closing, however, it was allowed to deteriorate, until now it is in major disrepair.
A non-profit organization is seeking to buy and restore the property, but they need help from us all. They will be kicking off fund raising on May 22 with an on-site event featuring popular local band, Boys Night Out. Tickets are only $12.50 each, and may be purchased on-line at the Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort web site by clicking on the highlighted text, or by visiting The Ferrell Shop in Oak Ridge's Jackson Square.
The Guest House sits in front of the Manhattan Project-built Chapel on the Hill, and just one block west of historic Jackson Square, the major business district during WWII. Army-built "alphabet houses" line the streets further up the ridge. Thus, a restored Guest House would serve as an anchor to a major historic area, and serve to preserve and interpret an important part of our national history.
The City of Oak Ridge offers many attractions and activities for visitors. For a full, up to date listing, visit the web page of the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau by clicking on the highlighted text.
The Friendship Bell

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