Downtowner Motor Inn Was Part of the 1960's Golden Gateway Urban Renewal

Monday, May 19, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
Downtowner Motor Inn was visible and accessible from Ninth Street interchange.
Downtowner Motor Inn was visible and accessible from Ninth Street interchange.

By 1965, the demolition and excavation phases of the West Side Urban Renewal project were mostly complete.   Many houses, businesses, and churches had been removed, with owners and tenants being forced to find other accommodations.  Cameron Hill had been “contoured,” as some of the announcements of the excavation had read, to promote redevelopment.  The Olgiati Bridge and freeway provided a new route into downtown through the newly-named Golden Gateway.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority oversaw the next phase, which was to make the cleared parcels of land available for development.  One site at Carter and Ninth streets, at the Ninth Street freeway exit, became home to a Downtowner Motor Inn and Flaming Sword Restaurant. 

Like its competitor, Holiday Inn, the Downtowner Corporation was based in Memphis.  The company featured motels under the Downtowner Motor Inn name.   It followed a business model in which the Downtowner Motor Inns, with ample parking near each room’s door, were often placed in central business districts in competition with older hotels.   Such was the case in Chattanooga, where the new Downtowner was in view of the Read House.

The July 17, 1963 Hamilton County Herald included coverage of the new lodging entry in the Golden Gateway redevelopment.

“A proposal for a $1.5 million Downtowner Motel and restaurant to be built at 9th and Carter Streets in the Golden Gateway has been accepted by the Chattanooga Housing Authority on recommendation of the CHA’s technical advisory committee, Herbert Banks, executive director, said Wednesday.  The development will be built by Dr. William C. Pallas and leased to Downtowner Corp. of Memphis.”

Dr. William C. Pallas, who maintained a practice at Woman’s Hospital on McCallie Avenue near Fort Wood, was interviewed for a December 20, 1965 Chattanooga News-Free Press article.  In the interview, he spoke of looking for “new fields to conquer” including the motel as well as cable television for the Chattanooga market.  “You just find the right investment and then add the correct number of digits,” said Dr. Pallas.  The interview is worthwhile reading at the Public Library for Dr. Pallas’ views on the importance of a strong middle class, a well-rounded education, and the importance of individualism.

A full page advertisement in the January 22, 1966 Chattanooga Times proclaimed the grand opening of the Downtowner.  “In the center of things” was the motel and its 147 units.  J.L. Rainwater was hired away from Orlando, Florida to become the general manager.  The motel offered free wire reservations.  “Everything you need is downtown, and at the Downtowner, you’re there.”  advised the advertisement.

Fronting the motel along Ninth Street was its Flaming Sword Restaurant.  What landmark could one use in finding the eatery?  Just look out for the pile of rocks with a sword thrust into them, and a small blaze surrounding the sword.  In the newness of the Golden Gateway area, the Flaming Sword became a restaurant destination, along with the new Shoney’s and the Holiday Inn’s restaurant in the Zayre’s plaza on the contoured slope of historic Cameron Hill.

Gradually, the newness of the Golden Gateway area began to fade, joining the status of the portions of downtown which had not been renovated.  A less-busy downtown translated into vacancies at the Downtowner.   The parent corporation, affected by similar declines of central business districts across the U.S.,  changed ownership a few times.  At the time of an April 19, 1976 News-Free Press report, a renovation of the motel was being carried out by its franchiser, the Hotel Systems of America, still based in Memphis.  By the time that a September 9, 1981 News-Free Press article appeared, the motel’s name was changing from the Downtowner to the Golden Gateway Motor Inn.

Beginning in the 1990’s, the introduction of tourist attractions near Chattanooga’s riverfront has led to construction of new lodging and renovation of old sites.  Today, the former Downtowner Motor Inn is the Days Inn Chattanooga-Rivergate.  The City Cafe occupies the former Flaming Sword space.

If you have memories of the Downtowner or the Flaming Sword, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.   I’ll update the article with some of your recollections.

Memories Shared by Readers

Your article about the Downtowner Motor Inn brought back some incredible memories for me. On August 17, 1967 there was a WFLI Spectacular at the Memorial Auditorium.  Headliners were Herman's Hermits and two of the opening acts were The Who and The Blues Magoos.  They were in Chattanooga (at the Downtowner) for three days due to either a schedule break or airplane repairs.  One of those days was spent skiing and swimming on Chickamauga Lake.  There was a full page article in the newspaper, but only after they had left town.  My friend and I got to hang out with these surprisingly down to earth people and we even took our mothers with us on one day. I made small talk with The Who, drank Coca Cola with Herman's Hermits and watched "Two Lane Blacktop" with the Blues Magoos. It was AWESOME! 

I enjoyed reading your column on the Downtowner Motor Inn.  Yes, I remember it’s day!  My grandfather, J.L. Rainwater, had pictures in his office with celebrities such as Michael Landon, very young, and Sammy Davis Jr., I believe and others who came through Chattanooga at that time.  At the time, the Railroad had a lot of their employees staying there too who were coming through.  Their trains past right by my grandfather’s house and would blow their horns on the way in and out. My uncle taught me to swim in the pool and I can still remember the restaurant and waiting area.  Those were the good ole days!  I miss the slower pace.

 

 

Downtown was included with other developments in a Golden Gateway advertisement.  Many historic structures going back to the 1800's had been razed in order to clear land for redevelopment.
Downtown was included with other developments in a Golden Gateway advertisement. Many historic structures going back to the 1800's had been razed in order to clear land for redevelopment.

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