Chester Martin Remembers The Park Theater

Sunday, January 24, 2016
Park Theater
Park Theater

It was actually inspiring for me to see the recent picture posted here on of the former Park Theater. It was on the SE corner of  McCallie and Willow Street, and could classify easily as being one of Chattanooga's first "Art" theaters. I think there was another such theater in Riverview, but it was outside of my territory as I had no car at the time. The "Park" theater took its name from Highland Park, probably the first Chattanooga suburb after St. Elmo. There were no published ratings for film in those days, so it could be assumed that all performances were for "General" audiences. After the Park and Riverview theaters, I think the Brainerd (Cinerama) Theater came next, which was on the northeast corner of Brainerd Road and Germantown.

About 1950 while I was still in high school, the Park Theater offered a "Finer Films Festival" that lasted for many weeks. My art teacher at Kirkman Vocational HS reviewed all the titles and urged all his students to go, if at all possible.

They were some of the most interesting films I had ever seen, and introduced such actors as Alec Guinness to Chattanooga audiences. There were many titles I still find available on Netflix, such as "Bicycle Thief", "Quartet", "Macbeth", (played by a young Sir Laurence Olivier), "Tight Little Island", Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, "The Mikado" etc. Alec Guinness was already an acclaimed actor in his native England at the time, but virtually unknown in the U.S. The Park Theater showed a number of his earliest films such as, "The Captain's Paradise", and "Lavender Hill Mob". Another memorable film from that series was, "The Red Shoes." I can still recommend any of those films to this day, even though a bit "dated". One of Charlie Chaplin's last films before he left the U.S. was also in that line-up, titled, "Limelight." I think he wrote both the screenplay and the music.

Until about 1950 Disney had dominated the field of Animation - in the entire world, actually. It was said that if you asked someone in a remote African village to name a well-known American, they would not say "Truman" or "Eisenhower", but "Walt Disney". So it was a great surprise for Chattanoogans when the Park Theater started presenting some "foreign" animated films. I only saw one such French film, which depicted human robots whose every movement was accompanied by an appropriate mechanical sound, and there was no dialogue. Very different from Disney! Like it or not, it was probably good for helping us Chattanoogans get out of a comfortable rut and showing us some new avenues for Film Art, and Animation in general.

As you waited in line to buy your ticket at the Park, you ran the good chance of meeting up with some of your favorite people, giving you the opportunity for sitting together and enjoying the film all the more.

(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 )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

John Shearer: Former American National Bank Building Turns 50

One of Chattanooga’s longtime depositors and loaners of money has collected its own form of gold this year.   The 20-story SunTrust Bank building downtown – originally built as the locally based American National Bank’s headquarters -- is reaching its golden anniversary with its 50 th  birthday.   In the early fall of 1968, the structure opened at Market ... (click for more)

The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society To Meet Aug. 7

The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society will meet at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7.  The meeting will be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1160 Ridgeway Ave. Signal Mountain.  The speaker, Susan Gruwell, will present a program entitled, "Spotlight on Family Search."  Visitors are welcome. (click for more)

Former Dalton High School Teacher Who Fired Gun At School Pleads Guilty, Sentenced To 2 Years

Jesse Randall Davidson, 53, formerly of 5219 Hwy 11, Rising Fawn, and formerly a teacher at Dalton High School, entered a guilty plea to criminal damage to property in the first degree, carrying a weapon within a school safety zone and disrupting the operation of a public school.  He was sentenced to serve two years in prison followed by eight years on probation on the first ... (click for more)

Firefighters Battle 2-Alarm Fire On Workman Road Tuesday Morning

Chattanooga firefighters were dispatched at 6:03 a.m. on Tuesday, to a commercial fire at 400 Workman Road. When the first firefighters arrived on the scene, flames were shooting through the roof and the request was immediately made for a second alarm response. The flames could be seen for miles as a total of 13 fire companies rushed to the scene. The large, two-story ... (click for more)

Bill Lee Is Great For Tennessee

I had the opportunity to meet Bill and Maria Lee at the grand opening of his Chattanooga Campaign HQ. He delivered, what was by most accounts, a showstopper speech at the Statesman’s dinner in Nashville the night before. He and Maria should have been worn out, but if they were, they really showed very little sign of it. His energy level, for a guy that couldn’t have gotten more ... (click for more)

A Successful East Ridge Bake Sale

Saturday's event at the Camp Jordan Pavilion was nothing more than extraordinary, if not history making.  Alongside the threatening eminent domain letters the citizens of East Ridge received, a Union was formed amongst the East Ridge Police Department.  Coming to City Council the night of April 26, I had only one thing I was focused on: eminent domain.  ... (click for more)