Some of us who have been eyewitnesses to the history of Northgate Mall may have to stare at this article’s headline a while.
Yes, Northgate Mall is forty years old this month. It is the shopping center that many remember as being the milestone of local retail history that came after downtown, Brainerd Village, Highland Plaza, and Eastgate Mall.
The Chattanooga city directories provide a record of how rural that the Hixson area was prior to Northgate. As late as 1960, the last individually-listed street address on Hixson Pike was that of DuPont Elementary, numbered 4104. North of that address, every resident in Hixson was lumped together into one listing under “Hixson, Tennessee.”
Hixson had been a community of small farms and rural homes, with the major road leading to it being two lanes. The advent of TVA, Chickamauga Dam, and DuPont caused Hixson to become more suburban.
Still, some farms remained, including the one at 5000 Hixson Pike at the intersection with Tennessee Highway 153. There, during the 1960’s, William Jesse James Sr. lived with his wife, Ollie, and son, William Jesse James, Jr. My wife recalls that her school bus passed the farm each day, and that there was a white farm house surrounded by many acres of land.
In 1971, the locally-based Independent Enterprises, which later became CBL, began construction of Northgate Mall where the James family had recently lived. The new shopping center site included one hundred twenty-five acres.
My family moved to Hixson in August, 1971, and I watched the construction each day on my school bus ride to Hixson High School. Many residents anticipated the arrival of the ninety stores of Northgate, with some being part of chains not previously represented in Chattanooga. Northgate Mall would be completely enclosed and air-conditioned, something that Eastgate would be remodeled to achieve after Northgate opened.
Miller Brothers was the first store to open at Northgate. The retailer opened on March 2, 1972, according to a Chattanooga News-Free Press article. Mrs. George Blackwell Smith, the sole survivor of co-founder G.H. Miller, presided at the ribbon-cutting.
On March 15, 1972, the Chattanooga Times covered the grand opening of the remaining stores of Northgate. Reporter Charles Quinton wrote, “Festivities, which continue through Saturday, will begin at 8:45 with a concert by the Hixson High School band under the direction of Clark Houck.” I was an eyewitness to this part of the ceremonies, for I played trombone in the group.
The Soddy Daisy High School band followed Hixson with a program at 9:15 that concluded with the national anthem. Chattanooga Vice Mayor Pat Rose, Hamilton County Judge Chester Frost, and Miss Chattanooga, Debbie Zoulek, cut the ribbon
The next several weeks were a time of inspection of the new stores by the public. Shoppers could find decorator candles at Wicks ‘n Sticks, heirloom keepsakes at Things Remembered, and relax at Der Stein. My family was so enthusiastic about Northgate that we invited friends from other parts of town to join us at Picadilly Cafeteria.
It was the variety of record shops, though, that attracted me to Northgate. Grand opening specials for $3.88 at the J.C. Penney music department were Three Dog Night’s “Harmony,” Carole King’s “Tapestry,” and Cat Stevens’ “Teaser and the Firecat.” Record Bar, G.C. Murphy, and Sears also had vinyl and tapes (the battle of 8-track versus cassettes was being waged).
So, who were some other eyewitnesses to the history of Northgate? I invited comment from some of my Facebook friends from Hixson High:
- I worked at Sears in the Men's dept. Great job. You got off at 9:00pm and were already dressed to go out.
- When I graduated, I got a job at Sears in Customer Service. I loved that job.
- My first job was at Baskin-Robbins in Northgate Mall. People used to say our ice cream was too expensive at 33 cents a scoop!
- Picadilly was my first job.. Man, I hated cleaning those tables.
- When we moved here in '73 from a tiny town in RI, I thought that was the coolest thing ever to be so close to 'a mall'!! I worked at 'Pick-A-Daisy Florist' right out of high school.
- (A friend) worked at the candy counter at J C Penney. Those were the best chocolate covered cashews EVER!!!
- One classmate recalled that Jesse James had lived on the farm that became Northgate (thanks for the lead on this!).
- I worked at Miller’s during college. I learned of the death of Elvis on the department’s radio/8-track player. (OK, this is another of my own memories).
Northgate Mall was extensively remodeled in 1990. Gone was its original royal blue/black/white signage, including a revolving cube that read “NG” at each entrance. Also gone was the large fountain at center court.
Over the years, the shopping center has had various owners. On September 22, 2011, The Chattanoogan.com reported that CBL would become new owners (http://new.chattanoogan.com/2011/9/22/209707/CBL-to-Acquire-Northgate-Mall-For-11.5.aspx).
As one who has had Northgate Mall experiences ranging from band student to talent show performer to stroller driver to fitness walker, I wish new, fun things at the mall for years to come.
If you have memories of Northgate before or after its opening, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.