Ridin' Around, Looking at Christmas Lights

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - by Harmon Jolley
Volunteer State Life Insurance was a point along the Christmas lights tour.  Click to enlarge.
Volunteer State Life Insurance was a point along the Christmas lights tour. Click to enlarge.

“Let’s go ridin’ around, looking at Christmas lights this evening,” was often the suggested plan for December entertainment when I was growing up. The call might come as a result of a visit from extended family or friends. In the days of cheap gasoline and electricity, it didn’t divert much funding from the domestic budget. It was also a way to tour the new subdivisions around town.

Exterior Christmas decorating was once a city-wide contest in Chattanooga. The December 17, 1967 Chattanooga Times reported “Annual Contests for Lighting On.” The Electric Power Board, Electric League of Chattanooga, and thirty-three garden clubs sponsored the competition that must have been highly profitable for the NOMA (National Outfit Manufacturers Assocation) Electric Corporation.

Garden clubs were once popular organizations, with many neighborhoods participating in them. During the rest of the year, these civic groups worked hard to beautify both small and large areas where they lived. For instance, the May 17, 1931 Chattanooga Times contained photo coverage of the work of the Cameron Hill Garden Club to build a rock garden near the old fire hall on West Sixth Street. As Christmas approached, the garden clubs began planning how their communities would highlight homes and street corners.

Looking over the list of thirty-three entrants in the 1967 contest, I recognized several that my family visited. Some were relatively new subdivisions of the Brainerd and Eastdale area, including Indian Hills, Pinoak, and Woodmore. Others, such as Forest Plaza and Cloverdale, were new addresses in Hixson.

The decorations were more than just thousands of colored lights. There were displays crafted from plywood, and then painted or covered with tinsel. Quite a few carpenters had obviously spent a lot of time working with jigsaws and hammers. Some exhibits garnered a few “ooh, look there”s from my mother, grandmother, or aunt. I recall that my uncle, however, always enjoyed pointing out “There are a lot of families named Noel in this subdivision.

On the way back home, we might take a side trip through downtown to see more lights. Brightly illuminated strands of lights were draped across Market Street. Animated figures were on display in the windows of the Electric Power Board, Loveman’s, and Miller Brothers. Provident and Interstate insurance companies decorated their buildings. Hamilton National Bank put a real Christmas tree atop its building. Volunteer State Life combined red strands of lights with its usual green-lettered sign, and put a bright white light atop the flag pole.

In the fall of 1973, the energy crisis put a sudden damper on the nation’s Christmas lighting. The November 10, 1973 Chattanooga Times reported “Dimouts Planned in State Cities.” Locally, the Chattanooga Retail Merchants Association said that there would be no downtown lighting. Interstate Life canceled its Christmas tree lighting.

Eventually, the holiday illumination returned to homes and to businesses. However, the number of garden clubs declined as more women moved into the labor force. Some neighborhoods gained notoriety for their megawatts of Christmas lighting that attracted sight-seekers and accompanying traffic gridlock. The lighting competitions, however, have never regained their former prominence.
If you have memories of the Christmas lighting competitions, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2010 to all readers!



Montagues Led In Chattanooga Banking, Industry; Fine Homes Were Knocked Down On Cameron Hill

One of Chattanooga's first banks opened after the Civil War's end was a project of two Northerners, who had first eyed Cincinnati for their First National Bank. The First National opened Nov. 15, 1865, in an unpretentious brick building between Third and Fourth streets. The founders were Theodore Giles Montague and William Perry Rathburn. They had moved on to Chattanooga because ... (click for more)

Remembering The Park Hotel

(The Park Hotel is again in the news as the county is vacating it and it will be offered for private redevelopment) I wasn’t familiar with the Park Hotel when I ran across an old postcard of it recently. Judging by the relatively level surroundings in the picture, one might think that it was located on one of the flat streets in downtown, such as Market or Broad. However, a ... (click for more)

Ooltewah High's Robin Copp Is State Principal Of The Year

Ooltewah High School principal Robin Copp has been named Tennessee’s 2017-18 Principal of the Year.   Officials said of the second-year principal, "No matter the grade level, she believes in creating student-centered schools, which are first and foremost focused on teaching and learning. To support this model, Copp has instituted a professional learning framework ... (click for more)

City Has Apparently Found Buyer For Chattanoogan Hotel

The city of Chattanooga has apparently found a buyer for the Chattanoogan hotel on Broad Street. A city board will meet next Monday to consider several resolutions. One item before the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corporation is approving the hiring of the Husch Blackwell law firm "as special counsel in connection with the preparation of a sale and purchase agreement ... (click for more)

Congress Needs To Get Down To Business And The News Media Report Facts

"Pettiness" seems to be the driver of the news continuing into its third week.  When will it stop? I want to make it clear to my friends, this country and abroad, that I have called the President much worse words than "moron" to my best friend, so much worse that I am sure they would not be printed by AOL in the interest of acceptability.  I make no apologies. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: UT A 34-Point ‘Dog

I can’t remember a time in my life when a University of Tennessee football team has been a five touchdown underdog and this comes at a time when my primary-care physician tells me, “Let’s face it … you are old.” That said, even when I look at myself naked in the bathroom mirror I ain’t as ugly as what I fear will happen in Tuscaloosa this coming Saturday. I can remember the Tide ... (click for more)