What Did That Old Building Used To Be? - Ellis Restaurant

Saturday, September 21, 2002 - by Harmon Jolley

The “Keep America Beautiful” crusade of the 1960’s called them unsightly and demanded their removal. The energy crisis of the 1970’s threatened to unplug them. However, neon signs have survived, even becoming valuable collectibles. I was always fascinated by them when I was a child, and I especially liked the ones which were animated. The Incline Drug Store in St. Elmo used to have a mortar-and-pestle which appeared to be mixing a prescription. Zayre’s Department Store in the Golden Gateway had a sign that spelled out its letters one-by-one. The neon sign of the jumping frog above the Ellis Restaurant at 1443 Market Street was my favorite.

Gus Ellis emigrated from Greece when he was sixteen. After living in other parts of America, he settled in Chattanooga. In 1909, he started the Ellis Restaurant, which was originally located at Market and Ninth Streets. Soon, the opening of the Terminal Station provided business opportunities farther south on Market Street. In partnership with his cousin, Victor Ellis, he built the Ellis Hotel at Market and King Streets. Gus also relocated his restaurant to a site across from the Terminal Station, an easy and rewarding walk for those traveling by passenger train. The restaurant was also in proximity to hotels, a roller rink, the industrial YMCA, and manufacturers.

The exterior of the building was styled in art deco. Beneath the leaping frog, “Ellis Restaurant” was aglow in neon surrounded by flickering incandescent bulbs, and names of menu items were displayed to catch the eye of a hungry passerby. A large, rounded plate glass window allowed prospective customers to observe the fine dining taking place inside the business.

An advertisement noted that the Ellis was “Chattanooga’s most popular and up-to-date café. A visit will convince you.” A high standard of service kept customers coming back. They could select a live lobster from a tank, or a steak from a chilled case. Spaghetti was a favorite of many. “The Ellis” was stamped into the thick china plates and silverware. The restaurant became well-known locally and nationally. Sports celebrities, including Jack Dempsey, Joe Namath, the Lookouts, and the wrestlers from Harry Thornton’s auditorium events were among those who enjoyed meals there. During World War II, soldiers would form a double line for breakfast at the Ellis. The line would sometimes extend to the Grand Hotel. Because it was one of the few restaurants open late, it became a popular destination after high school proms.

Gus Ellis passed away in 1976 at age 91. In addition to his many business accomplishments, his obituary noted that he was founder of the Greek Church of the Annunciation. The family continued to operate the restaurant for a few years before closing it around 1979. Though once easily accessible in the days of travel by train and trolley, business at the Ellis had declined due to lack of parking. As the Southside revitalization continues, I hope that the restaurant will one day be restored and reopened. I would love to see the neon frog jump once more.

If you have a favorite memory of the Ellis Restaurant, or you want to recommend an old building for an article, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.


Sewanee Features: Ghosts Of Lone Rock

Chattanoogans Cheered Up University Of Dayton Squad After Tough 1929 Loss To Oglethorpe

Georgia Trust Announces Its 2021 List Of State’s 10 "Places In Peril"


When a prisoner arrived at the Lone Rock Stockade—a prison located in what is now part of South Cumberland State Park just outside Tracy City, Tennessee—he was immediately sent to the stockade ... (click for more)

Chattanoogans helped cheer up a downcast University of Dayton squad after a tough loss to Oglethorpe in 1929. The Flyers squad stopped off in the Scenic City en route back to Ohio. This ... (click for more)

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation on Wednesday released its 2021 list of 10 Places in Peril in the state. Sites on the list include: Ashby Street Theatre in Atlanta (Fulton County); ... (click for more)



Memories

Sewanee Features: Ghosts Of Lone Rock

When a prisoner arrived at the Lone Rock Stockade—a prison located in what is now part of South Cumberland State Park just outside Tracy City, Tennessee—he was immediately sent to the stockade physician’s office. There, he would be issued one black-and-white striped uniform that he would eat, sleep, and work in. But more importantly, after a basic health examination, the physician ... (click for more)

Chattanoogans Cheered Up University Of Dayton Squad After Tough 1929 Loss To Oglethorpe

Chattanoogans helped cheer up a downcast University of Dayton squad after a tough loss to Oglethorpe in 1929. The Flyers squad stopped off in the Scenic City en route back to Ohio. This account was from the University of Dayton alumni publication: The University of Dayton Flyers are still speaking of the remarkable reception given them by the handful of U of D alumni in ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Tennessee Has 3,052 New COVID Cases, 13 More Deaths; Hamilton County Has 320 New COVID Cases And 1 New Death

The number of coronavirus cases in Tennessee is 366,518 on Sunday with 3,052 new cases. There have been 13 more deaths from the virus, for a total of 4,554, said state Health Department officials. Hamilton County had 320 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. The new total is 17,826. There was one more death from the virus in the county since Friday, bringing the total to 153. ... (click for more)

Georgia Has 4 New Coronavirus Deaths, 1,700 New Cases

Georgia state health officials reported on Sunday there have been 4 additional deaths due to the coronavirus. The current total is 8,778. There were 1,700 new cases as that total reached 420,601 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Hospitalizations are at 34,782, up 58 from Saturday. Here are the numbers by county: Catoosa County: 2,054 cases, up 16; 29 deaths; 99 ... (click for more)

Opinion

County Employees Need A Bonus Too

A few weeks ago we learned that Sheriff Jim Hammond was asking for a second raise. Earlier this year Hamilton County employees were notified that "due to COVID-19" there would be no raises for employees of any kind this year. I guess Mr. Hammond didnt get that memo about no raises. Why is it that some employees will be getting a raise and others are not? That doesn't really ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Facts - Deer & Trees

On Saturday deer season opens in Tennessee, and just as predictably as Tuesday will be the first day of December, the tree huggers will soon come running, clutching their “Bambi” books and bashing – if you please – the best conservationists among us. Those who hunt, and, yes, there is an undeniable thrill to the sport, do more for nature’s balance and the good of the land than any ... (click for more)