(The Park Hotel is again in the news as the county is vacating it and it will be offered for private redevelopment)
I wasn’t familiar with the Park Hotel when I ran across an old postcard of it recently. Judging by the relatively level surroundings in the picture, one might think that it was located on one of the flat streets in downtown, such as Market or Broad. However, a check of an old city directory showed that The Park was at 117-19 East Seventh Street. As many downtown workers can attest, East Seventh is anything but level. Walking up it is a good substitute for a workout on the stair-climber machine at the gym. I believe that the person who designed that postcard was using a bit of artistic license. After determining the location, I proceeded to find that the Park Hotel is “steeped” in history, and has connections to a local auto dealer, a pioneering downtown retirement center, and to the Hamilton County government.
The Park Hotel opened in 1915, at a time when other buildings were either newly completed, under construction, or on the drawing board. Frank Davis, who had previously been the manager of the Maxwell House in Nashville, was the Park Hotel’s first manager. The hotel’s owner was also one of its first tenants - the Realty Trust Company, with J.S. Rodriguez as its president, A.W. Chambliss as vice-president, and Emmett S. Newton as treasurer. Several years later, Mr. Newton took over the Couch-Jones Chevrolet dealership, and renamed it for himself. Still today, Newton Chevrolet’s advertising mentions “Since 1929,” which was the year of the change in ownership.
The prominent and prolific local architect Reuben Harrison Hunt designed the Park Hotel. Much of the financing, material, and labor came from the Chattanooga area, a fact noted in an advertisement (“a testimonial to home industry”) taken out by those who built the hotel. The Renaissance-styled hostelry was nine stories, and had 105 rooms. A solarium was on the ninth floor. Through any one of the solarium’s three glass sides, a guest could view the surrounding mountains and ridges. Guests of the hotel admired the marble floors and walls in the lobby and oak flooring in the rooms. Each room had its own bath and telephone (novel furnishings in 1915), and the structure was said to be fire-proof.
Guests of the Park Hotel likely included traveling vaudeville entertainers who performed at the shows at the nearby Bijou and Tivoli theaters. Other customers stayed overnight while in town to conduct business at the court house or at Chattanooga businesses. The Park may have occasionally welcomed the overflow of lodgers from the Read House and Hotel Patten when conventions were in town.
By the 1960’s, however, many downtown hotels were in decline due to changes of the jet age. In 1963, Lester and Ruth Auerswald leased The Park as a retirement hotel. Mr. Auerswald was in the nuclear engineering division at Combustion Engineering, while his wife was operator of the Ridge Manor Nursing Home. Mrs. Auerswald, a registered nurse, had advocated the establishment of retirement centers to help the elderly to continue to maintain their own residences. She felt that the Park Hotel’s location in proximity to hospitals, stores, and churches would be a plus.
By 1964, however, the retirement center was having financial difficulty. The lease was returned to the hotel’s owners, DeWoskin and Logan of Chicago, who planned to resume operation as a hotel. During the 1970’s, The Park then passed through two other owners, Caldwell and Associates and Bouquard Engineering. This was followed by the announcement in 1978 that the Hamilton County government would acquire the building for $260,000 in order to provide additional space for offices. The county had previously acquired the adjacent Elks Building, and converted it to offices.
In 1981, it was announced that an $850,000 make-over would be given to the former Park Hotel - now called the Newell Towers for the former sheriff of Hamilton County, Frank Newell. Like the Hamilton Bank (now First Tennessee), Loveman’s, Miller’s, and smaller downtown buildings, the old-fashioned appearance of The Park would be hidden by modern-looking porcelain enameled panels. The first two floors, though, were left as Reuben H. Hunt had designed them.
Going back to the picture in that postcard, I wonder how many guests complained to the management about the false advertising of the slope of East Seventh Street? I’ll bet that the Park Hotel’s manager heard from at least a few of the guests who were panting after a walk up the hill.
If you have memories of the Park Hotel, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.