As I walked into the office of my boss, Stephanie McClellan, Thursday afternoon, she was ending a telephone call and said, “Matthew is on the way to a structure fire off Stone Drive behind the Putt-Putt course.”
“Is it Cabana?” I asked, “If it is, maybe I should drive to the back of Oak Hill (Cemetery) and see if the fire is visible from that angle.”
She wasn’t sure and I had other things to do anyway. A bit later, my coworker and cubicle-neighbor Matthew Lane arrived back at his desk.
“Where was the fire?” I asked. “Was it the old Cabana Apartments?”
“No,” he answered. “It was the old Tuscany Villas. But now they’re called Stoneview.”
“Tuscany Villas was Cabana Apartments,” I said, again doubting Matthew’s claim to be from Kingsport, just like me. “But when I was young, everyone called it ‘Sin City.’ ”
I could tell from his look he didn’t believe me, but he did skeptically ask “Why?” in a drawn out way.
“Well, I was told when someone got divorced in the ’70s, the husband moved out of the house and settled in at Cabana Apartments.”
Matthew: side-eye; shade; to work on his keyboard as if I had disappeared. So, there I sat, wondering about Cabana Apartments. I need to say up front that I only remember being there a couple of times in the 1980s — and I know there were many wholesome, well-behaved singles, couples and families with children that lived there. It wasn’t ALL “Sin City” shenanigans. But I have over the last couple of days confirmed with multiple folks in my age bracket and older that the complex was in fact nicknamed “Sin City” in the “Swinging Sixties” and the “Me Decade” that followed.
Not surprisingly, no one wanted to be quoted. But they all said Cabana was the place to be. It was swank. And fun. “When Friday evening came, out came the barbecues and covered dishes and drinks. Everyone chipped in. Something was going on around the pool or this or that patio until Sunday night.”
I always assumed the complex was built around the early 1970s, for some reason. Maybe that’s when I first really became aware of it and its modern look. That’s about the time I had a cousin move there — after his divorce. I decided to go dig through old copies of the Times News to find out what I could about Cabana’s history. I got surprised.
The complex got its start in February 1963 (I was barely two months old) when construction started on what was described as a $1 million project to bring a 99-unit development to a 10-acre parcel off Stone Drive. By April 1968, the complex had grown to 167 units, and construction was underway to bring the total to 239 — and add a second adult pool (well into the 70s, the complex advertised it had the largest pool in Kingsport).
An article from the first day of construction said the “luxury-type” apartments had been described by its developers as “one of the largest such in the South.” The owners had “about 10 other such apartment groups in the South,” including in Nashville; Lexington, Ky.; and Huntsville and Mobile, Ala. In all, what turned out to be the first phase of Cabana Apartments, included eight two-story buildings — five with a total of 32 two-bedroom units, and three with a total of 67 one-bedroom units. A 600-square-foot one bedroom apartment was projected to rent for $110 per month, or $135 “completely furnished.” Adjusted for inflation, those rents today would be $909 and $1,116, according to a consumer price index calculator from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.The complex had a pool, a wading pool for children, tennis courts, a barbecue area and a clubhouse.
As for it being a hot spot for partying, a quote from a developer might explain there could have been two sides to Cabana in its heyday: “The one-bedroom apartments will be grouped away from the two-bedroom ones in an effort to keep the children in one section.”
Its opening brought a special eight-page “Cabana Apartments Section” to the Kingsport Times News on Nov. 17, 1963, filled with advertisements from businesses that supplied materials, services and furnishings for the “fabulous new” complex “overlooking Kingsport” off “Stone Drive (Bristol Super Highway).” Ads boasted:
“Cabana Apartments Offer You ... Gracious Living”
“More than a name, the Cabana Apartments offer a new style ... in scope ... and value!”
“You can have your very own luxurious apartment nestled on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful countryside!”
“Tastefully decorated with deep pile wall-to-wall carpeting and draperies to match!” and “20th Century living for as little as $99.50 per month!”
I guess they dropped the starting rent. I almost ended that sentence with an exclamation mark. And that made me think. Maybe that’s what Cabana Apartments offered Kingsport 40 to 50 years ago — an exclamation point, perhaps experienced by some and imagined by others. Like me.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]