John Shearer: Touring Classic Riverview Home For Sale – And Searching For Its History

Friday, June 11, 2021 - by John Shearer

For years, it seemed as though many of the older and larger Riverview homes never went on the market very often.


But at least three of the oldest dozen or so homes still standing along Hillcrest Road have been sold within the last two or three years, and now a fourth is for sale, too. 


And in contrast to many of the classic homes here that sometimes change hands through private negotiations without a sign out front, this home at 1651 Hillcrest Road is to be sold via auction.


The sale conducted by John Sanders of Crye-Leike Realtors is scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 17, at 10:30 a.m.

at the home.


Mollie Majors, also from Crye-Leike, thinks the home might possibly sell for anywhere from $1.2 million to $1.6 million, based on its offerings and other comparable sales. Ms. Majors and Mr. Sanders added that the seller, whose name Mr. Sanders requested not be used, has the right to refuse any top bid.


Regarding why it is being sold via auction instead of the more normal ways Riverview homes are sold, Mr. Sanders said, “Auction creates action.”


I realized on Memorial Day that the home was to be put up for auction. I was participating in the Chattanooga Chase and saw the big auction sign as I lumbered up and down Riverview Road as one of the competitors closer to the back.


I had actually seen and admired the nice brick home of 6,100-square feet since I worked at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club 40 years ago and later began jogging regularly through the neighborhood.


I knew at that time that the home was lived in by civic leader Mai Bell Hurley and her husband, Bernard “Bern” Hurley, but I looked forward to trying to learn more history about it after Mr. Sanders kindly offered a tour.


Ironically, my wife, Laura, and I a little over two decades ago lived in a ranch, mid-century brick home at 116 Green Gorge Road on Signal Mountain that had been built and resided in by the Hurleys in the 1950s and ‘60s.


When I walked in this Riverview home on Tuesday, I realized I liked its classic look that has been little changed. It features a nice foyer area on the first floor with a spacious living room and dining room, a large and more modern kitchen that had apparently always been big, and a den with knotty pine-style paneling and even a pine door. The floor also has a small bathroom convenient for use by guests or while a resident is downstairs. 


Oak flooring featuring classic strips not as wide as used in later homes entertains the eyes when the head is turned down, while some classic chandeliers entice those on the first floor looking up. 


Also on the first floor of this home built in the 1920s is a newer master bedroom suite constructed where the garage was. For those of a certain age who want to stay in a home as long as possible and not have to climb stairs, that is obviously an amenity.


Upstairs are several bedrooms and bathrooms and on the third floor is an open room that could be used as a play area or as a mini-ballroom for parties. Several of the homes in this part of Riverview have upper rooms like that.


There are also two sets of stairways also typical of houses this size and age: the main one visible from the foyer, and the out-of-the-way, less ornate one. Uniquely about halfway up the latter stairs on its own landing area are a bedroom and bathroom.


The space was likely used as a servant’s bedroom in the early days, although now it might make a good and private bedroom for a guest or even an office.


In total, the home has five bedrooms, five full baths and three half bathrooms, with classic tile and fixtures still in some of the bathrooms.


“This is a great, great home,” said Mr. Sanders after the tour, adding that he particularly likes the dining room with its pocket doors.


The home not only has the “location, location, location” of being in the upscale neighborhood, but it also seems to me to have a great setting, even for Riverview. The Tennessee River across Nos. 1 and 2 at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club can be seen, and the large sloping front lawn with older trees catches my eyes more than even the patios and porches.


“It is one of the few homes here that has a view of the river as well as the golf course and clubhouse,” added Mr. Sanders.


If I lived in this home, I might spend at least a little time sitting in a chair under one of the big shady oak trees about halfway down the hill facing Riverview Road.


The home definitely has a classic feel and is one of the more familiar homes to non-residents due to its location just above Riverview Road in a more public part of the neighborhood, where pedestrian exercisers, bicycle riders and automobiles periodically go by.


As mentioned, about all I previously knew regarding the home was that the Hurleys lived here, although that was pretty significant. In fact, it was from this home that Ms. Hurley became the first woman elected to the Chattanooga City Council in 1990 as a representative of District 2 after the City Commission form of government had to be changed following a Federal Court ruling.


Ms. Majors also said that she was talking with former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker recently, and he recalled sitting on the home’s porch and talking with Ms. Hurley about making a run for political office and picking her brain.


The successful developer and builder, who now lives in his own nice and classic Riverview home off Minnekahda Road, lost his initial bid for U.S. senator in 1994 to Bill Frist before his successful run for mayor in 2001. And he was first successfully elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.


Ms. Hurley’s more laid-back husband, Bern, was a Provident Life (now Unum) vice president.


The Hurleys sold the home in the mid-1990s to the current owner.


But finding who had earlier owned or even built the home took a little more searching. The Realtors did not know any other owners, but Mr. Sanders was told the architect was Louis Bull.


He had designed at least one home in Shepherd Hills as well as the former Etheridge/Newton automobile building in the 300 block of Market St. (of which a façade remains), the Clemons Bros. building at 8th and Chestnut streets, and the College Hill Courts.


The Shepherd Hills home at 201 Windmere Drive was built for the Clemons family and the granddaughter, Bettie P. Lorino, remarked in some information Mr. Sanders had that Mr. Bull was well respected.


“My granddaddy said that anything Mr. Bull built would still be standing 100 years from now,” she was quoted as saying in a historical handout.


Mr. Bull was also an associate or supervising architect of an Erlanger building project, as well as some work on Christ Church Episcopal on McCallie Avenue.


The graduate of the highly rated architecture program at Washington University in St. Louis died in 1951 at the age of 65 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. His son, Frank J. Bull, who became an accomplished architect in Atlanta, lived until 2014.


Regarding the other earlier owners of the Riverview home, it is known that Dr. W.E. Van Order had lived in it from about the early 1950s until about 1967, when the Hurleys purchased it. When I was working at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club around the pro shop and bag storage room beginning in the early 1980s, he was an elderly member who enjoyed playing there in his retirement.


Dr. Van Order’s obituary after his death in May 1994 at the age of 93 said that the New York native and Vanderbilt graduate was one of only three pediatricians in Chattanooga when he opened his office on the fourth floor of the Volunteer Building in 1928.

Before he retired in 1978, he treated three generations of children and later had his office in the Medical Arts Building by First Presbyterian Church, where he was a member. At his death, his body was donated to Vanderbilt Medical School.


The owner of the home before the Van Order family was Dillard Houston Griswold, who lived there from about the onset of the Great Depression around 1930 until the early 1950s. The native of Tracy City, Tn., had worked his way up the ladder the old-fashioned way at what became American National Bank, which was long associated with the Probasco family. 


Mr. Griswold was listed as active vice president when he moved into the home, but by the late 1930s was listed as president, succeeding E.Y. Chapin Sr. He was succeeded as president in 1948 by E.Y. Chapin Jr. 


The Second Presbyterian Church member later moved up to one of the condominiums at Minnekahda Place in the former Patten family home at the top of the hill in Riverview. In 1958, he was unfortunately killed in an automobile accident. 


Mr. Griswold was attempting to turn left from Barton Avenue onto Hixson Pike in the days when the road configuration must have been a little different, and he collided with a southbound automobile driven by 17-year-old Bobby Burns of East Chattanooga.


Using the resources of the Chattanooga Public Library, a copy of an old speech by early Riverview resident Augusta Allison Lasley and the knowledge of Riverview home historian Judy Rowland, who formerly lived right across the street, I tried to find more.


Looking through some city directories from the late 1920s, I saw at least twice where the former Griswold home was listed as being owned by Theo King Jr., even though that contradicts with some information in the otherwise excellent Lasley speech paper.


He apparently moved in there about 1927 or 1928, and he looks like he could have been the first owner, even though the real estate and court records say the home might have been built as early as 1920.  


He was the secretary and general manager of the Chattanooga Warehouse and Cold Storage Co., located at 1208 King St. downtown, with an ice plant at 2308 Dodson Ave. The firm also owned the Arrow Transfer and Storage Co.


His father, Theo King Sr., had been president of the firm before his death in 1927, and that might have been a factor in the son building the nice home at that time, if he was indeed the original builder. The World War I combat veteran and fairly young man was living in the Highland Court Apartments at Duncan and Greenwood avenues in Highland Park beforehand.


He had also lived immediately across Hillcrest Road in the home built by his father and later lived in by the Lupton Patten and Richard Winningham families. The elder King was living north in Riverview on Edgewood Circle at the time of his death.


Whether the Depression affected Mr. King Jr., or he and his family had a desire for a cozier home is not known, but within two or three years of moving into the home currently for sale, he moved to Shady Circle a few hundred yards north.


The family later moved to Lula Lake Road on Lookout Mountain.


His wife, Hilda, died in 1966, and he lived until 1977. His obituary said the McCallie School and 1922 Cornell University graduate and First Presbyterian Church member also owned the Moccasin Distributing Company. 


The old King, Griswold, Van Order and Hurley home has seen a lot of history, not to mention numerous numerical addresses on both Riverview and Hillcrest roads, and now it will soon see a new chapter as well.


Whether its classic interior will be greatly altered as is popular, or whether a new addition will be constructed, as is being done with the former Winningham and Rowland homes across the street, is yet to be seen.


But what is true is that this home at a commanding spot up from the old Riverview trolley line stop and near the two homes where singer and actress Grace Moore’s parents lived has drawn admiring eyes from a distance for years with its look resembling the home just to its south.


And on July 17 at least for a short period, it will draw plenty of admiring eyes up close, too, when a unique Riverview auction is scheduled to be held there. 


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To see the website listing with additional information and professional photographs, read here:


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