Chester Martin Remembers The Old Chattanooga Southside

Thursday, September 28, 2017 - by Chester Martin
Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel

Yes, I have written about it before, but some new information has come to light, such as actual people's names and business names, thanks largely to the enthusiastic help of Mr. David Steinberg. David was the longtime motorman/conductor of the streetcar at the Chattanooga Choo Choo and is well remembered by many!

What better place to begin our little trip to the "old" southside than at the Patten Hotel - now called the Patten Towers Apartments? EVERY born Chattanoogan will remember that stalwart icon of our city as it is well over 100 years old and was standing long before most of our parents were born.

It has been somewhat altered in appearance as the very widely overhanging parapet  which crowned the building, was deemed dangerous and was removed many years ago. Still, the bulk of the building remains just as you remember it, there on the northeast corner of 12th and Market. Can you remember when the two WDOD radio towers stood on the building's flat roof? They were also removed many years back as they served no use except for pigeons to roost.

Market Street continued for a way parallel to Broad Street, but near the mass of TVA buildings turned slightly to the left past  rows of sturdily built brick warehouses, whose original uses are long forgotten, but which are too valuable for demolition. These now house gyms or spas and the occasional restaurant. On the west side of the street two long popular restaurants - Porker's Barbecue, and the English Rose Tea Room have lasted for quite a number of years, though (as I have understood) both are either now closed or soon will be. President George "Dubya" Bush got to enjoy a meal at Porker's while on a visit to town last decade, and the English Tea Room, not too far away, rented space on the main floor of a former Chattanooga landmark hotel, the "Grand". Off to the east of those restaurants is a very popular block of businesses called, "Warehouse Row", housed in former warehouse space, very substantially built.real-estate. 

Then we come to the Chattanooga Choo Choo itself - the brain-child of local entrepreneur Allen Casey decades ago. His vision saved the unused station from who knows what kind of fate! It serves as a magnet for business like few other hotel complexes can do!  I can personally remember when it was called "Terminal Station", and have been there many times to watch those monster locomotives backing their passenger cars into the pedestrian area - or to watch the mighty wheels start rolling as the train pulled out, clouds of smoke and steam mixed together...

Station Street borders the Choo Choo on the south side and has a long row of businesses on either side - including the new home of the Comedy Catch, which you may remember from its Brainerd Road location. There is a brewery on the other side of Station Street which is probably a micro-brewery, as these are very popular just now. There are other businesses along Station Street as well - none of them "old". Only the buildings are old, and will make you feel like you are going back in time along the brick-paved street. Across from the Choo Choo (on Market Street) I continue to marvel how the Ellis Restaurant property remains vacant. It was once highly popular and became famous for green neon frogs hopping across the wide front window. People say they are still there, yet I am unable to go check for myself. Chattanooga used to have some really great neon signage!

I am wondering if anyone remembers "Levin Brothers Clothing Store", or Mr. Eidex, who had an upholstery shop in that area?  That would be at "Main and Market" - once an almost self-supporting habitat! You can't imagine what a dynamic area that was at one time! Country people flocked to the area in droves on Saturdays via Rossville Boulevard and Chickamauga Avenue to shop at Brenner and Rubenstein's, and then eat 5 cent hamburgers at the Krystal which was exactly on the southeast corner of Main and Market.  Just west of Market Street there was a store where they sold genuine Persian carpets - straight from the Bazaars of Iran or Iraq. An industrial place called "Chattanooga Paper and Woodenware" was on WEST Main Street (between Market and Broad). There were always trucks loading and unloading there indicating a brisk business. Several interesting pawn shops were also in the area.The farmers who came to town seeking farm supplies could always find plenty of chicken feed at a place where they either sold it or produced it (or both). The smell it emitted was not especially pleasant, but it was just a fact of life there and no one stayed away on account of it.

I recently studied that entire area on Google Earth and found very little to remind me of the old days on the Chattanooga Southside.  The movie theater and the dime store are both long gone, and the area nearest East Main and Mitchell Avenue is the only tiny remaining vestige of the original that I could find. The entire south side of Main Street now consists of much newer buildings than when my Uncle - Forrest D. Martin - ran his clothing store there. He knew Ira Trivers well, working for him for a time before leaving for Texas at War's end. Trivers had opened a store on Market Street in his own name and became very well known through his frequent commercials on Luther's rakio broadcasts. Forrest Martin also knew Abe Zarzour, the "MAYOR OF MAIN STREET" very well, assisting him in collecting baseball gear to donate to poor kids of the neighborhood. While in business on Main Street, Forrest Martin always kept a black tailor working for him on the premises, Grover C. Davis, who many years later ran for Councilman locally.

Anyone interested in the Chattanooga Southside could do no better than to refer to John Wilson's several books of local history and photos, and they make excellent gifts for our citizenry "stranded" away from their roots!

My thanks again to David Steinberg for his contribution of details to the above; would be nice to hear his own story, first-hand!

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

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