Chester Martin Remembers McCallie And Georgia Avenues

Monday, December 4, 2017
Stone Church at McCallie and Georgia
Stone Church at McCallie and Georgia

The intersection of McCallie and Georgia Avenues used to be a very small bit like Main and Market, though you would never make that comparison today. McCallie at Georgia was never a commercial center like the Main and Market intersection, but was famous for several tall church steeples that were once there and rather close together. Only one of those steeples remains in place - long a single remaining orphan from all its former comrades.

That lonely steeple belonged to a beautiful church made entirely out of the same kind of limestone. It was quarried from the Beck farm at the present site of the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.

There are many similar limestone walls which still remain scattered about the city. Check the wall around the nearby Hamilton County Courthouse and you will see the similarity. Oak Street - in all its former elegance - used to have many more of those walls than today. The Stone Fort quarry was located near where the Patten Hotel stands today.

That steeple at McCallie and Georgia formerly was an integral part of First Methodist Church, whose membership dwindled to such a degree that it combined with a second nearby Methodist church to become, "First-Centenary" UMC - and the empty stone building stood vacant for a long time. Gordon Street, a Chattanooga Industrialist, was a member there, and he regretted to see the demise of such an historic old structure. From his own pocket he paid to preserve that steeple when the rest of the building was leveled.

In its heyday it had been roofed with heavy slate roofing tiles common to the Victorian era. As slate came in a wide variety of muted colors, many patterns had been worked out quite tastefully on the surface of the tall, needle-like  steeple roof. However by sometime in the early 1950's (and while the building was still in weekly use) the wind and weather had chipped and torn away so much of the slate  that a renovation was necessary. This was accomplished with sparkling, freshly-hewn new slate tiles - and it was phenomenal the appearance to anyone willing to crane his (or her) neck to look upward! Unfortunately these new tiles did not last long. I never knew the story: perhaps some of them came loose and caused damage below. I only remember that they were discretely removed and the ugly sheathing of copper - which you see there today - was put up in their place. As an artist I bemoaned the fact that such beautiful work had to be supplanted by such an incongruous material as copper. But the steeple remains as a wonderful memorial to Mr. Gordon Street, Sr., a caring Chattanooga preservationist!

Down Georgia Avenue - between the church and the Dome Building - was a row of buildings which included a law office and an Air Force recruiting station from which I left for Lackland AFB in February, 1956. The present "Dome Building" was the original home of the Chattanooga Times newspaper,  and was then known simply as the "Times Building". It was built by Adolph Ochs who later founded the New York Times! The dome on top housed a reviewing platform where Ochs could take guests to give them a bird's eye view of the city he loved. Across 8th Street to that building's south - the white marble building - was an original Carnegie Library - a favorite place of young Fannie Mennen, another of our city's best-known artists, (later of "Plum Nelly" fame). I personally remember her giving kudos to that worthy library.

McCallie Avenue once started directly below that church steeple and ran due east to where the McCallie family lived - and where they had started their well-known high school (then only for boys).  There was no funny offset on McCallie Avenue at that time to direct inbound McCallie Avenue traffic onto 7th Street. Today McCallie Avenue has been re-routed so as to flow directly into East 7th Street, thus eliminating two awkward turns for vehicular traffic. Another large church  stood on the southwest corner of  Georgia and 7th Streets, but it burned back in the 1940's leaving a large ugly gap for a long while. That gap remains, although it has long-since been converted into a parking area. At 6th and Walnut, there was a movie theater everyone liked called the Bijou!  That is where I first saw the Wizard of Oz when it was a brand new hit movie of 1939! My mom took me there a lot when I was a kid and I was really sad about its burning. The first-ever Krystal was one block farther downhill at 7th and Cherry. (Krystal hamburgers were five cents and cokes were a nickel!)

First Baptist Church was at the northeast corner of Georgia and Oak. I remember that church well because my 1952 high school Baccalaureate service was held there. A few years earlier it had been the site of Metropolitan Opera singer Grace Moore's, funeral. (The place was packed, and the service broadcast on radio here locally). One of the Met's leading sopranos was sent to sing 'Ave Maria' at the service, though it could not be broadcast due to contract restrictions. That church has also long since vanished from the area to a new location in the Golden Gateway. Its former site is also now a parking lot.

When I was in 6th grade (at Sunnyside Elementary School) I had a paper route here in Brainerd which took me all over that high hill between Germantown and Belvoir Avenues. WOW, was that a chore to have to push a bicycle uphill, loaded with newspapers, every day! But at the top of the hill was a doctor's house - a Dr. Hogshead. He had a big two-story yellow brick house, and he owned a property to match - there at Georgia Avenue and Vine. That property is still in use, and is still called the "Hogshead Apartments" - at least by us Seniors! We kids called that hill either "water tank hill" (because of a huge water tank visible from many parts of Brainerd - (like the water tanks on Lookout Mountain) - OR we called it "Hogshead Hill".

Although neither on Georgia Avenue nor on McCallie, Sts. Peter's and Paul's Catholic Church is nearby on East 8th Street. Old photos show that it once had two towers rather than the one of today. The top portion of one was removed for safety reasons. St. Peter's and St. Paul's is probably the most historic of all our local churches and established the first private (or parochial) school in town, Notre Dame. I think that the Scholze family (of the Tannery) were instrumental in founding it.

The "Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium" was built east on McCallie back in the 1920's to replace (according to my mother) a really dilapidated earlier auditorium which was in such bad condition that then-famous Irish Tenor, John McCormick, refused to sing there and left town! The Centenary Methodist Church of my day was directly across Lindsey Street from the Auditorium and was a very attractive yellow brick building with a long flight of steps leading to the entrance. The congregation, though, decided a new building was needed so they vacated the old church when the present  building was ready. Across the street and farther out McCallie a new and very attractive new building was added to our skyline - the Interstate Life Insurance Company - which lasted for many years before being converted to a State Office Building. (It was built in the very late 1940's or early 1950's). I knew the building manager there - an architect who had helped design the building, Corley Young, Sr. I admired the three relief-panels over the wide entrance, and Mr. Young told me that they had been designed and sculptured by an "interested amateur" who also was an architect who helped in the building's design. Those three panels remain in-place and are worthy of a glance next time you pass! Interstate Insurance Company was located next door to the much older, and very beautiful Art Nouveau building known in my day as "Medical Arts". That is where I liked visiting Dr. Sam Long when I was a child - an eye-ear-nose-and throat specialist. The building is now part of First Presbyterian's various ministries, the main sanctuary being next door (on the east side).

Medical Arts was always a lively place back in the 1940's, '50's and '60's as it had a three- or four-chair barber shop on the ground floor to the left of the entrance, and a large drug store to the right. The barbers were kept so busy they seldom had a chance to sit down! The drug-store fountain attracted kids from every school in town and it was a favorite place to hang out back in the day. There was a similar pharmacy nearby - also with a fountain - directly across from Memorial Auditorium at the time, so this was "student row" for many years. Often, some of the "acts" at the auditorium would go there to hang out too, and Pharmacist Gurney Connally could tell many stories about what he overheard! (Gurney Connally was our good neighbor for many years).  I can never pass those two drugstores today without looking for - and wondering where all the kids went!

But back to First Presbyterian Church, its doors opened onto McCallie Avenue. And directly across the street the doors of Christ Church, Episcopal, did the same! You can imagine how - back in the day - McCallie Avenue would be virtually blocked on Sunday mornings with parked cars and church-going pedestrians halting all traffic. Some of the churches on McCallie now have their  parking lots on Oak Street, but Oak Street was mainly residential back in the '40's and '50's, forcing McCallie Avenue into being a Sunday morning parking lot! I regret to say I have never once seen the inside of Christ Church, but I used to see a rector's name listed there as "Rev. Christopher Morley". He was the son of a famous American writer; I had a book at home with a story by Christopher Morley, Sr. I always used to admire the architecture of both those churches across from each other: Christ Church, Episcopal, and First Presbyterian. (Dr. James L. Fowle was pastor at the latter during my younger days).

Across Douglas Street from Christ Church was the truly delightful Chattanooga Public Library. It  always seemed a friendly place to me with an ambiance all its own and a pleasantly non-descript odor that said "Library"! The entrance led directly to a split-level stairway to both left and right. In the middle you went up a few steps to the large main lobby, OR you could turn left or right and go down a few steps to the Girls and Boys Department. Hand-painted friezes and tapestries hung on several walls, and there was a section of mosaic-work from George Washington's boyhood home, framed and under glass. I wonder if the modern library still has those relics? If not they should be kept for a future Local History museum. The stacks at our library were "open" and anyone with a library card could wander through them. While in the University (1954) I worked for a summer in Dayton, Ohio, and found that their library restricted all but librarians to enter the stacks! Folks, you don't know what a great library we have until you have tried to use some of the others in distant cities. Not even the main branch of the Philadelphia library had as good a picture file as our Chattanooga library. (That was in the days just before "Google Images" arrived on the scene).

Farther east on McCallie we pass the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and First Christian Church - both on the south side of the street, with the earlier buildings of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga dominating the hill to our left (north). There you can plainly see the "University Gothic"   Patten Chapel - and maybe even (very) distantly hear Dr. Isa McIlwraith playing at its mighty organ console! (Be sure to hand your signed affidavit to "Miss May" Saunders that you attended chapel today)!

Between there and the 900 block of Mc Callie Avenue there are very few recognizable landmarks to go by. But at #900 is the beautifully restored Mizpah Congregation building which I have long admired. I was only there a very few times to meet Rabbi Abraham and Mrs. Lillian Feinstein. She was one of the recognized Chattanooga artists of her day - a sculptor, basically, of both wood and stone. Anyone who might have a piece of her work could be said to have a very real treasure.

So now, since we have almost reached Central Avenue, I will end today's story. That would be an appropriate place to end it, because  " Central", once known as "EAST END AVENUE" was literally the east end of Chattanooga in my mother's time. Later, three viaducts were to cross the railroad tracks and thus open entire new sections of town to easy access. When this happened, the former "East End Avenue" became far more "central" - hence the present name, "Central Avenue".

* * *

Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net.
Church spires at McCallie and Georgia
Church spires at McCallie and Georgia


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