Chester Martin Remembers Chattanooga's Enriched Society

Monday, November 23, 2015

With that title I am referring directly to the Jewish population of our city. This population had apparently begun its good work long before my time. My father was born in a very rural community in1884 and his family remembered "Leboits" - a peddler, who spoke with a strong "old world" accent. "Leboits" traveled to the most rural parts of North Georgia well before 1900, reaching my dad’s area. When dad came to Chattanooga in 1913, he found that "Leboits" was now running a business in Chattanooga, and his actual name was, "Lebovitz".

Years later “Leboit’s” family founded “CBL & Associates”, whose properties include today’s Hamilton Place Mall!

My dad worked for the Chattanooga Post Office beside a most lovable Jewish man, Morris Licktenstetter, who, along with his wife, were two of the most memorable people of my early life. We were in their North Chattanooga home frequently; they were always cheerful, and there was a piano in their living room that I liked to play. I never once thought of them as being different from my own gentile people. Children along "Mr. Lick's" mail route were reportedly always waiting to greet him.

At Kirkman Vocational High School, our Art teacher, Mr. Stephen A. Harding, was originally from New York City, had studied Stagecraft there, and now directed all the plays at Frye Institute here in town. Our Art department was constantly in demand to make posters and design other features for his plays. Soon the new Chattanooga Opera Association was coming to our department for help with their stage properties. Through Mr. Harding, a number of us became involved in acting or simply being chorus members for the several stages then in Chattanooga. Harding, an Anglican gentile, directed plays for Frye, a totally secular institute, but there was a Mrs. Dressler who was Jewish, and directed plays for another group I worked in. (A number of the actors were also Jewish). We frequently rehearsed in the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus hall, near SS. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church on East 8th Street! Those days were happy days, and there was NO friction among the disparate factions, Protestant, Jewish, or Catholic!

Through my involvement with the theatrical groups I got to meet, briefly, Dr. Werner Wolff, founder of the Chattanooga Opera Association. He and his wife, Emmy Land Wolff, were among the lucky Jewish people who fled Germany only moments before Hitler slammed the door. We are still feeling the effects of their good works here in Chattanooga, for the Wolffs had been involved in German operettas, and they brought their expertise to the Chattanooga stage. (A quaint story I read somewhere told of how Dr. Wolff, as a child, once sat on the knee of the famous Austrian Composer Anton Bruckner).

Lillian Feinstein was another great asset to the city. Her passion was for wood sculpture, and I truthfully can say that it is some of the most beautiful work in wood that I have ever seen. I believe there is some of it still in town, but I know not where. Her husband, Rabbi Abraham Feinstein, did a most interesting weekly broadcast from his Mizpah Congregation Synagogue on McCallie Avenue for some time.

Miss Fannie Mennen was yet another Jewish artist of regional renown. She taught Art at Northside Junior High School - and had a delightful log cabin summer home on the edge of a Lookout Mountain bluff. Here she founded her long-running "Plum Nelly Clothesline Art Shows", held annually every fall. Miss Mennen was an excellent print-maker, many of which featured one or more of her pet cats. Her father was "Chattanooga's first Rabbi", and, as a girl, loved to read in the old Carnegie Library on East 8th Street.

In Philadelphia I once happened upon an exhibition on the life of Adolph Ochs, founder of our Chattanooga Times newspaper. (“Our” Times was in operation here BEFORE Ochs acquired the New York Times!). Through the Ochs family - and perhaps with the assistance of Dr. Werner Wolff - Chattanooga was always able to get top-notch singers from the NYC "Met" to sing in our operas. The early value of the Chattanooga Times is indisputable, being an ameliorating factor between the races in the 1960's.

Old-line Jewish businesses included names like, "Moskin's", "Brenner and Rubenstein", and "Ira Trivers". There were many more, for sure, and they formed a sort of framework, attracting many another business. Joe Engel was also a successful Jewish businessman..

There was never any difference between Jew and Gentile in my grade school. We were totally blind to religious differences. Only thing setting us apart was that the two Jewish kids were allowed to either leave the room or do artwork when the Bible teacher came once a week.

In my later student days working in radio I made a number of very likable Jewish acquaintances: David Shapiro and Harry Edelstein (whose on-air name was "Hal Eddy"), to name only two. Hal’s daytime job was with a fine men’s clothing store on Market Street and he sold me the first "tux" I ever owned, (which was also my last!). My uncle, Forrest Martin, a gentile merchant on Main Street, knew Ira Trivers personally, and had many other Jewish friends in that area with whom he shared mutual respect.

Jewish doctors and other professional people abounded in Chattanooga; my baby doctor was Dr. Ira Long. He was only about five feet tall, was very agile, - and had a son who appeared to be over six feet! His office was in the old Medical Arts building on McCallie Avenue, now owned by First Presbyterian Church. Dr. Long knew how to entertain his young patients while doing his work, and I always liked going to his office. Another Jewish Professional I did some work for was a Dr. Glasser who was involved with the early research and development of fuel cells.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )





Morris Licktenstetter
Morris Licktenstetter

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