John Shearer: The History Of The Metropolitan Building

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Bianculli look has given way to a brick look for the old Tepper Clinic/Metropolitan Building at the corner of McCallie Avenue and Houston Street.

The structure – which was one of the few remaining mid-century modern public buildings in Chattanooga designed by architect Mario Bianculli – is getting a brick facade.

In recent days, workers have been converting the last remnants of the classic-looking, 1960-era building into a structure that will now house the UTC Department of Health and Human Performance, the school’s nursing program, and the university’s television studios.

It is all part of a $4.6 million conversion for the UTC-owned building being done by Schaerer Contracting Co. and Franklin Architects. Also in connection with the project, workers last summer demolished the annex on the Oak Street side and have built a new entrance there.

Chuck Cantrell, the UTC associate vice chancellor for communications and marketing, said a decision to change the look of the building was done to make it blend in better with the rest of campus.

“Because of its prominence as an entrance to the campus at the Houston and McCallie intersection, we wanted the building to better reflect the architectural style of the rest of campus,” he said. “It is important for people to recognize when they arrive on our campus. There is not enough room at that intersection for a traditional gateway, so we are incorporating that function into the building.”

Although perhaps not as showy or as unusual as some of the other local modernist-style buildings, the Metropolitan Building in its earlier look was still part of the portfolio of the accomplished Chattanooga architect Mr. Bianculli.

Among the still-standing structures the native of Italy designed, often with George Palm Jr., were Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department on Third Street, the old Pioneer Bank building downtown, the former Chattanooga High School in North Chattanooga (now Center for Creative Arts), Pilgrim Congregational Church off Glenwood Drive, and his former home in North Chattanooga, which is now used by Girls Preparatory School.

Mr. Bianculli was also the lead architect for the razed Fehn’s restaurant by the Tennessee River and the former Lovell Field terminal that featured airplane-themed exterior tiles.

The Tepper Clinic had opened originally at the site in 1954, but it grew physically like its young patients over the years. According to the local history department of the Chattanooga Public Library, the building had several expansions. Much of its more recent look prior to the brickwork apparently came during an expansion announced in the late 1950s.

The building for years had an unusual entrance roof on McCallie Avenue, distinctive metal window awnings, metallic sheathing and precast concrete siding – all typical of the 1960-era modernist style.

According to the obituary of Dr. Jack Tepper at the time of his death in Kansas on Aug. 12, 2010, at the age of 95, he had built his hospital and clinic because he felt greater pediatric care was needed in the local publicly operated hospitals.

The hospital building – which was dedicated in June 1954 with an afternoon open house complete with punch and cookies – grew to 67 beds and was at one time the only privately operated pediatric hospital in the country accredited by the American Hospital Association.

Over the years, numerous baby boomers and other young patients were treated by “Dr. Jack,” as he was popularly known.

Dr. Tepper later sold the hospital to a chain and moved to Boca Raton, Fla., with his wife, Rene, before living in the Kansas City area the last 12 years or so of his life. Known as a man of diverse interests, he was very active in projects related to the local Jewish community.

A cookbook author, he also continued to focus in his later years on the healthy physical growth of the young, although it was more with his vegetable garden, fruit trees and flowers.

He was born in New York and grew up in Cordele, Ga.

His wife preceded him in death by less than three months.

His hospital building later became known as the Metropolitan Hospital and was taken over in the 1990s by UTC, which renamed it the Metropolitan Building.


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