Chester Martin Remembers More Details About McCallie, Georgia Avenues

Thursday, December 28, 2017 - by Chester Martin
Elizabeth Apartments was later the Professional Building
Elizabeth Apartments was later the Professional Building

(NOTE: This story refers back to the one published on Dec. 14, 2017)

Some readers have reminded me of important features I neglected in the earlier article about these two streets. YOUR COMMENTS AND CORRECTIONS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME, and I always want to hear about any errors.

As I told you earlier, McCallie Avenue used to make a perfect "T" with Georgia Avenue - directly under the big "orphan steeple" which stands alone at that place today.

The modern McCallie Avenue makes a sweep to the north as it comes toward the downtown area, across a property that had a great history. In my youth that property was home to a high-rise apartment building known as the Elizabeth Apartments. My wife and I went there once, early in our marriage, to visit a former Kirkman HS teacher of mine. The teacher lived on the very top floor and had a magnificent view toward the west, looking out over the leveled former home of First Baptist Church. Unfortunately, the Elizabeth Apartments would soon meet the same fate as the church. Fire broke out, causing the evacuation of all residents, though fortunately no fatalities were involved. Damage to the sturdy building turned out to be minimal, but water damage forced  all residents to move elsewhere. It surprised many people that the old building was successfully renovated and given new life as the "Professional Building". As such, it housed quite a few offices for architects, engineers, CPAs and doctors. As a much younger man than today I made illustrations for several people in that building, which included a doctor, an architect, and an engineer. Sadly, a second fire led to total demolition of the building, which opened space for both the re-direction of McCallie Avenue and allowed for the small green space under the "orphan steeple"where modern sculptures are now displayed along with garden greenery.

A small and very insignificant detail I remembered after writing my earlier story about this Georgia and McCallie corner was when McCallie T-boned directly into Georgia Avenue back in the 1940's. That intersection was starting to get enough traffic to warrant a new signal light which was to hang over the middle of the streets. (Until then only policemen directed traffic there at peak periods). Someone at City Hall had gotten the idea from some other city that the light should emit a chime whenever the signal changed. I think it was supposed to create a more cosmopolitan atmosphere for Chattanooga, and I think the intent was to have several  of them, scattered at other intersections. New York City had been known to historically have such chiming traffic lights so I do believe that is where our idea came from. Ours worked for a very brief period of time, but was soon removed from service without any explanation I was aware of. Plans for any others were quietly dropped. Quaint idea though, don't you think?  Chiming stop-lights?  Tsk tsk!

The building on the southeast side of Georgia Avenue at 8th Street is the former Carnegie Library, as related in my earlier story. By my time, however, the new, very fine, Chattanooga Public Library had opened on McCallie Avenue and I never was inside the Carnegie Building while it was still a library. Too fine a building to be torn down, it has been preserved and has gone through several owners. In my high school and college years it was home to the "Y-Teen Club" which held dances for young people every Saturday night. From the Eighth Street entrance you could either go down a few steps to the main dance floor - or turn right, up a short flight of steps to what was, years later, the Executive Office for Mr. Gordon Street, North American Royalties CEO. (Gordon Street was the gentleman who saved the "orphan steeple" from the wrecking ball, as I told in my story of December 14th). Right across Georgia Avenue was THE place for hamburgers in town (before all the franchises), called GEORGE'S. with Bill Shores Picture Frames directly across 8th Street. (VANDERSTOOP'S Shoe Repair was on the corner above Shores' - though you walked down into the basement to access it from street level). On the second floor above George's Hamburgers was the studio of Walter Cline, Sr., who did a ton of quality historic photography in the Great Smoky Mountains area - obtaining classic captures of the original old Appalachian Culture... (Sorry if you're getting light-headed from all the twists and turns in this labyrinth, folks, but it just proves what a great place "old" Chattanooga was!)  Next door to the Carnegie Building (on Georgia Avenue) you now find a large parking garage with bars over the openings. That space was once home to a large YMCA of 6 or 8 stories which functioned very much like a hotel. Near the Greyhound bus station, it had many transient rooms plus a few "permanent" rooms, and I knew one university student who made that his home for four years before all the new dorm space was added years afterward. Need I tell you that Clarence T. Jones was the building's designer and builder? Any of my regular readers could have guessed it, as I have mentioned Jones's name many times in conjunction with other "Y" buiildings. Anyway, there was a really fine pool in the basement there, and a modest concession stand where you could find such disparate items as Zagnut candy bars and Teaberry chewing gum!  A complete work-out room was immediately adjacent to the pool and concession areas. Many people were sad to see the old "Y" go.

Just below the "Y" on Georgia Avenue was the Ross Hotel - a portion of which was called "Yesterday's", in much more recent days, and which many of you will remember. In its heyday as a working hotel it had a fine barber pole displayed outside the main entrance, and stairs led down to a 3 or 4-seat barber shop where "Mr. Cole" used to cut my hair. Porters kept all brass polished freshly daily at the main entrance and the entire front of the building was always kept immaculately groomed. Some large planters in the lobby held low-growing live palm trees. My dad also spent his first years in Chattanooga at the Ross Hotel when he came here to work in 1913. In the Presidential election of 1916 he joined a large crowd outside the nearby Chattanooga Times building to see the election results posted that were  received by telegraph. These were placed above the main entrance - then at street-level beneath the dome. (Democrat Woodrow Wilson won, incidentally!)  Patten Parkway is adjacent to the Ross Hotel, and that is where the old Chattanooga market house stood until about 1945. Dad also liked to tell how early aviator Johnny Green built a small aircraft in the basement of the hotel. A portion of the hotel wall had to be removed to get the plane out! Today's large "Volunteer Building" at the corner of MLK and Georgia Avenue stands on a site which was Chattanooga's best livery stable when my dad first came to town!

Okay, now we are transitioning back to McCallie Avenue. And this is where my "artist's blood" takes command, and I should revile myself a thousand times for getting the following detail wrong in my first story: The three beautiful bronze relief panels over the entrance to the former "Interstate Life Insurance Company Building", at 540 McCallie, were done by a most distinguished Nashville artist of the day, Mr. Puryear Mims. Mr. Mims taught Art History at Vanderbilt University for many years, I am told, and was an excellent sculptor as well. You can find him on Wikipedia - and Chattanooga should be very happy to have such a fine example of his work here. Its only drawback is the same that all relief-sculptures suffer: LIGHTING! For if not placed very carefully to catch the light to best advantage, then it is almost a total failure. Mr. Mims, however, seems to have realized what problems might result and so kept his design simple enough - and the relief high enough that it could be "read" at a distance. Best time to view it is in the mornings during spring and summer. The sun only strikes it well at those times; rest of the time it is in shade. For you younger readers, the three panels were done for the Interstate Life Insurance Company's new home (around 1950), and the panels represent the "Three Stages of Life" (my own title). Incidentally, when that Interstate Building was first built it had a conference table whose top was made out of a single, PRICEY, piece of Honduras mahogany. It had to be lifted by  crane and set in place before the last construction was completed. I wonder if it's still there.....?

Across from the Interstate Building on the north side of McCallie was Campbell's Clinic (later, Hospital) where my father died in 1977, and there was also Tepper's Clinic in the same neighborhood. Those were two long-time McCallie Avenue landmarks.

At 744 McCallie is a dark red brick building that had a very interesting start, and would be known as the "Doctors Building". Newspaper articles were written describing how all five concrete floors would be poured at ground-level and then jacked into place. It must have been pretty innovative to get all the attention that it did. Unfortunately, I missed the daily excitement and had to wait until the building was completely done before I could see it. Everyone thought it was an attractive new addition to McCallie Avenue, and it never seems to have had any problems caused by its unique construction. Someone told me that it had the world's fastest elevators!

Just across Fort Wood Place from the Mizpah Congregation (on the north side of McCallie) is a building that intrigued me from the very start. I think it was built before the end of World War II, and I thought it was one of the most modern buildings I had ever seen to date. It was then known as the "Womans Clinic". A small jewel of architecture (in my opinion), it has retained its good looks all these years, and now houses the Henderson and Gouger CPA firm. Built while McCallie Avenue was still bordered with medium-sized deciduous trees, that off-white new modern building responded very well to the sunlight dappling down through all the nearby McCallie foliage. A locally prominent Naturalist - Mr. Robert Sparks Walker - was writing  a Sunday column at that time for the Chattanooga Tmes, called, "Answers on Nature", where readers could get their questions answered on that subject. A favorite project of his was to label every tree on every major thoroughfare - and in every park -  with both its common name and its Latin name. I can't think of "old" McCallie Avenue without remembering Mr. Walker's labelings on every tree. He had a small device whereby he could stamp all the desired information on strips of metal, mounting them on thin wooden boards and then affixing them to each tree.

A few of the wonderful old Victorian homes along McCallie still remain. Once single-family homes they have now largely become apartment houses or office space. All seem very well-preserved, and reminiscent of the day when McCallie, Oak and Vine Streets were arguably  the most elegant streets in town. "Fort Wood" certainly bespoke a genteel elegance which was home to many of the city's most prominent families - and it is not too shabby a residential area even today!

McCallie Avenue at Central is very hard for a person of my age to look at presently - certainly for someone who remembers the fine high-rise apartment building on the southwest corner. Now, and for years past, two sets of  limestone steps lead up from the sidewalk through the ancient limestone wall to - nowhere! The large apartment building that had stood there like forever burned and was replaced with nothing. There had also been another apartment across Central Avenue, and I am hard-pressed to remember its fate. My Google Earth currently shows the beginnings of something new on the northwest corner of McCallie and Central - and I hope it will be a building of character and beauty like in the old days, and that it will harmonize with the Fort Wood section of town. Let us hope also that Chattanooga's many architects will stay busy to give the New Chattanooga as much character and interesting appearance as the old. Good things often take time to "happen", and I have great hope for the future.

Today's tour stops here at Central Avenue, folks; not sure whether I'll ever get back to go beyond that point. My fondest memories of places east of there are of Warner Park - about which I've already written - a couple of do-nut shops, the wonderful old PARK THEATER, and maybe Wally's Restaurant, farther out. (And I remember the ORIGINAL Wally's as well, which was closer to Dodds Avenue). Oh, yes, across McCallie from the entrance to Warner Park was the famous "HONEST CHARLIE'S SPEED SHOP", which truly WAS famous and known world-wide....   Will see if I can maybe germinate a new story from all these fragments....Stay tuned!

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Carnegie Library is now the law office of Phil and Jennifer Lawrence

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