Chester Martin Remembers The Frye Institute

Sunday, December 6, 2015 - by Chester Martin
The Frye Institute
The Frye Institute

It is regrettable that I have no idea "which" Frye family gave such a wonderful facility to the city of Chattanooga, as I believe it to have been an endowed gift. I had no membership there, although membership was free. It functioned somewhat like a YM or YWCA, but did not offer overnight, or "transient" accommodations as the Y's did.

It was located on Cherry Street near the northeast corner of 6th Street. My only real contact with the Frye Institute was in high school  when my art teacher was sole director of all their plays, and whose plays always drew packed houses. These were the days immediately before television hit and people were still conditioned to "live" perfomances...and especially when they were free! Those plays always drew rave reviews from the newspaper critics.

Frye's in-house theater was larger than many of the movie theaters I have seen in Philadelphia and in Europe; the acoustics and visibility were excellent. (No posts to block the view!) Director Stephen A. Harding was born and raised IN the city of New York, and had wide experience in stagecraft before coming to Chattanooga. Best local actors (from the Little Theater, etc.) considered it a privilege to work under Harding's directorship. Kirkman Vocational High School students designed all the posters and other publicity  for Harding's plays, which included such titles as, "Peg o' my Heart", "Cornzapoppin'", "The Importance of Being Earnest", - and even, "Dracula". There were many others.

Nowadays we have access to a wide variety of gyms, health clubs, and karate studios which did not exist locally in the world of 1949 and 1950. Young men interested in training for athletic events - and who did not attend schools blessed with good athletic equipment - could find it at the Frye, totally for free. When I look at the photo I have of the Frye Institute I see a substantial building of several stories, and I wonder what other amazing facilities might have been included inside. One of the upper floors has windows that seem as though there might have been a restaurant on the other side. But I don't know. Perhaps someone reading this might remember and tell me! The view of downtown from there would have been excellent!

The Frye Institute lasted until around 1960 when "urban renewal" began  tearing up a lot of the old Chattanooga landmarks. At least one local architect had the foresight to photograph some of those former treasures just ahead of the wrecking ball.

(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 )

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