As the city unveils plans for a new and larger and greatly revamped Patten Parkway downtown, a look at this uniquely rectangular piece of property shows an area currently in need of a little tender loving care.
Stones and pieces of granite are missing in places surrounding or near the military memorials, bushes are overgrown, and the dogwood trees have a few dead limbs.
Despite all this, however, it still has a tranquil feel to it – even amid the circling motorists.
In contrast, a look at the site’s history in the clipping files at the Chattanooga Public Library shows a place that was not always peaceful, at least in terms of discussions over its upkeep.
And unlike some of its current vegetation, several ideas for unique offerings were often trimmed and scaled back.
Dating back to the 1800s, the small strip of land had been the site of a market house featuring meats and produce as well as a City Hall until the current government building was built on 11th Street in 1908.
And that explains how the city has owned the property until the present time, even though some old newspaper articles pointed out that some people thought – apparently erroneously – that the prominent Patten family owned the land.
As the years passed, the Market House became dilapidated and an eyesore, at least in the eyes of some, so the city tore down the building in 1943 and planted grass in this area between what is now Georgia Avenue and Lindsay Street.
The cleared tract also allowed traffic to flow through the area more easily.
The Patten connection came in 1944, when longtime Mayor Ed Bass suggested that the city name the spot Patten Parkway after the late former business and civic leader Z.C.
Patten. The City Commission agreed by introducing an ordinance.
Mr. Patten, a Union Civil War veteran, had been involved in such business ventures as the Chattanooga Medicine Co. (later Chattem Inc.) and the Hotel Patten, among other endeavors. He was also the father-in-law of early Coca-Cola bottler J.T. Lupton.
That same year, architectural plans by Harrison Gill and Associates were unveiled to modernize the north side of Patten Parkway and put new storefronts east of the Hotel Ross, demolish some structures and have new stores and apartments.
That plan never really materialized, but with the end of World War II and soldiers now home from war, plans were under way by 1948 to memorialize the roughly 700 servicemen from Chattanooga and Hamilton County who died in that war.
And Patten Parkway seemed the ideal place. Summers-Whitehead American Legion Post 14 just across Lindsay Street was involved in the planning and fund raising for the project, as were some local civic leaders. The fund-raising chairman was Jim Moore Sr. of Lovemans department store.
An architectural sketch was drawn up by architect Mr. Gill for a nice stone pedestal with bronze figures on top surrounded by fountains and pools. Unfortunately, the bronze adornment was scaled back along with some of the pool plans due to fund-raising efforts, but organizers planned to put the bronze statue on top at a later date when money was available.
Unfortunately, that later date never occurred.
However, a nice crowd of about 400 braved threatening weather on Feb. 22, 1950, for the dedication of the plaque featuring the hundreds of names under the heading saying, “In humility and gratitude this memorial is dedicated to the memory of each son of this city and county who gave his all and to his hope for a better world.”
Unveiling the bronze plaque was Hattie Whitehead, the mother of Joseph Whitehead, the first Hamilton County soldier killed in the war.
Local bands from such schools as Red Bank and Chattanooga high schools also played, and religious leaders from the Catholic and Protestants churches and the Jewish synagogues took part.
The featured speaker was American Legion state commander Frank Clement, who would go on to serve as Tennessee governor.
At one point he said of the deceased servicemen, “They died for freedom of speech, a free press, a free conscience, their right to worship God in whatever manner we choose. If we lost but one of these rights, our democracy will perish.”
The general contractor for the memorial had been Mark K. Wilson.
At the time, news reports said that the memorial as it was cost $15,000, while the price was an additional $10,000 for the bronze figure group.
A low-key fund-raising effort had been made, and Paul Dubrow, the father of David Dubrow, who had been killed in the Pacific Theater, gave $2,500.
Besides the bronze tablet, the memorial also featured Tennessee quartzite and Georgia granite.
At the dedication, around 75 mothers and fathers of deceased servicemen were there, including Mrs. Ralph Bell, who had come all the way from Colorado Springs, Colo.
The names of the deceased who were going on the plaque had been run in the Chattanooga newspapers to make sure no one was inadvertently omitted. They had been obtained from War Department records.
As time went on after the dedication, Patten Parkway became kind of its own war zone, at least of the verbal and disagreeing kind.
In 1959, an anti-tank gun acquired by a subcommittee of the American Legion Post 14 from the Anniston, Al., Ordnance Depot was briefly displayed in Patten Parkway but was removed by a larger Post committee.
An eternal flame was put up in 1969 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion, and was turned on simultaneously with others around the country. It was also to honor those who had been killed in Korea and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the energy crisis of the early 1970s shut it off.
Longtime post commander and former city treasurer and county trustee Carl Levi said some employees of the nearby Volunteer Building gave an eagle for the top of the WWII memorial about that time, but efforts were made to steal it.
He said his father actually welded a ball onto it to make it harder to steal. Today, the eagle and ball are in city of Chattanooga recreation department storage, he said.
The old Post 14 building across Lindsay Street was heavily damaged in a fire on Thanksgiving 1977. Another Post 14 facility was built on Amnicola Highway, but the group now meets in Memorial Auditorium, Mr. Levi said.
However, he said the post still owns the lot across Lindsay Street and is looking with a developer at having a multi-story building constructed on that leased lot, with space for the post to meet.
The post had also helped put a flagpole on the east end of Patten Parkway, and they also had to figure out how to keep the flag rope from being damaged by vandals, Mr. Levi said. He said they later put some hooks to hold the rope farther up the pole, and now they use a fire truck to change the rope or lower and raise the flag.
Perhaps the most memorable confrontation of recent years to occur at Patten Parkway was in 1981, when City Commissioner Jim Eberle and his department made plans to rework the parkway some.
However, before anyone knew about it publicly, Commissioner Eberle, with input from a staff arborist, cut down a mature elm tree on the grounds. This caused outcries from some, including attorney Selma Cash Paty and her office staff/family located just across the street.
Headlines of “tree murder” splashed across the Chattanooga newspapers for a few days.
In Knoxville just this week, some trees were cut down near that town’s popular Market Square, and similar comments have been made in the news media there.
An already developing saw-tooth oak was planted in Patten Parkway, and today it sits quite tall, with a swing hanging from it. Some dogwoods sit on the end closer to Georgia Avenue, although they likely need a little trimming and thinning due to dead branches, as is often the case with dogwoods.
The overgrown bushes down near the dogwoods are thick enough to hide a few of the town mice or maybe provide a nice privacy hedge for a baron’s estate.
Among the other adornments in the strip, a Marine memorial to those from Hamilton County who died also now stands just west of the World War II plaque.
Mr. Levi said Patten Parkway was also a common place to hold military-related holiday ceremonies and programs before the National Cemetery became the main site.
According to the clipping files at the library, talk of first redoing Patten Parkway in recent years had begun in 2012. That is when the non-profit downtown redevelopment group, River City Co., invited some in the local design and urban planning community to visualize a new and improved Patten Parkway.
And then this past April, Mayor Andy Berke formally announced plans to redevelop Patten Parkway into a larger and redesigned public space with less parking. As part of those plans, which are expected to begin next year, the military memorial markers would be moved to an as-yet-unannounced place.
Mr. Levi, now 88 and the longtime post commander, said he has not been involved in any discussions so far, but hopes to attend meetings in the future. And he has an idea where he would like to see the memorial markers relocated.
“My opinion is that Coolidge Park would be the best place,” he said of the popular North Shore park named for World War II Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge. “It would not take up that much room.”
While Patten Parkway has not taken up a lot of room physically, either, it has apparently been large in the minds of the community, many of whom have had a vested interest in it over the years.
It’s a unique spot due to its linear shape, but its history has been anything but straight and simple.