John Shearer: Historic Frist Hall And Old Oak Street Home Among UTC Razing Projects

Wednesday, August 11, 2021 - by John Shearer

Many Chattanoogans might not realize it, but an important part of the old McCallie Avenue medical office corridor recently disappeared. 


UTC had a blog post about it, and ran a photo on the front of the website for a few hours beginning Sunday, but Frist Hall at UTC is in the final stages of being torn down.


Also, a former older home at 545 Oak St.

across from Frist and a short distance east is scheduled to be torn down by UTC later this year. 


While the 545 Oak St. building does appear to have some architectural significance as an old-style home, the mid-century Frist Hall does not. But the latter structure on the western edge of UTC’s campus was important in local medical office history.


The building was originally two different back sections of the old Campbell Clinic, one of the more popular and heavily visited health clinics and small hospitals of mid-20th century Chattanooga. It was operated at a time when most primary health providers still operated independently and were not affiliated with a major local hospital or chain, as is usually the case today.


The Tepper Clinic (now greatly remodeled into the UTC Metro Building) at McCallie Avenue and Houston Street, the razed Newell Hospital near the courthouse and the Currey Clinic (now the CADAS facility) near Cherokee Boulevard were three other independent clinics.


A number of other medical and health office facilities were also along that stretch of McCallie Avenue, and one or two still operate, including the Doctor’s Building. 


According to some old newspaper articles found on file at the Chattanooga Public Library downtown, Dr. Earl Campbell Sr. founded the Campbell clinic in 1939 offering daytime only services. 


As the years passed, it expanded in services and size as it became Chattanooga’s third largest hospital behind Erlanger and Memorial. As it grew away from McCallie Avenue toward Oak Street, the two wings being torn down this summer were added at different times. 


The brick-covered wing running from east to west and closer to McCallie Avenue was evidently older. The clippings at the library do not discuss its construction, but the UTC blog post and more recent stories on file say part of the building that became Frist Hall dated to 1950, and that might have been when that section was added.


Part of the east section of that wing was removed at some point in later years.


Several articles appeared in the paper when the north-south-running wing was added closer to Oak Street. The wing – designed by Derthick and Henley architectural firm and built by H.E. Collins – was announced in 1966 and was evidently formally opened in 1967. It had that 1960s look, with brighter brick, like that of some of the original buildings constructed at Chattanooga State about the same time.


This wing was originally named in memory of Mrs. George (Virginia Reeves) Scholze Jr., who had been a patient there during her life before her death about two years earlier. When it opened, this section had a sign on the Oak Street side that said Campbell General Hospital. 


Among the other doctors besides Dr. Campbell who served the hospital over the years were surgeon Dr. Guy Francis, internists Dr. Wayne Gilley and Dr. Merrill Nelson, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Earl Campbell Jr., general surgeon Dr. Joseph J. Dodds, obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Stanley Dressler and internist Dr. William Dowell.


The third floor of the Scholze wing was not finished until 1973 and had apparently been built with anticipation toward future growth. 


The third floor was the scene of a slight tragedy, as a distraught patient fell from a window in the 1970s and later filed suit in a case that was covered well in the papers.


In 1977, Campbell Clinic was purchased by Medical Park Hospital Inc., although some of the doctors were to remain there under the group name, University Medical Center, and were to still admit patients there. The name of the facility became Medical Park Hospital at that time.


Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) purchased the renamed hospital in 1981 and closed it in 1982 as it made plans for North Park Hospital near Northgate Mall.


In 1985, the newspaper announced that HCA was to donate the Medical Park building to UTC following negotiations between Chattanooga banker and UT board of trustees member Scott L. Probasco Jr. and HCA official and popular early 1970s Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn.


They attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies transferring the property there in October 1985 along with UT President Dr. Edward Boling and UTC Chancellor Dr. Frederick Obear.  


In November 1986, UTC officials announced that the building would be named in honor of Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., founder of HCA and father of HCA official Thomas Frist Jr. and future U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.


At some point over the years, the part of the complex closer to McCallie Avenue was torn down. An old Victorian style home was also on the southwest corner of the grounds and photographed in older articles, and the 1985 article references two converted residences still on the site at the time.


Initially after UTC took over the property, it used the building for such community-focused departments as Communications and Student Health Services, the Facilitating Adult Career Education (FACE) program, and the college access program for students with learning disabilities.


At some point over the years, draining and flooding issues developed around Frist Hall, so in 2014, officials announced that it was to be torn down following approval by the State Building Commission. 


Finally, seven years later, that has occurred. The UTC blog post by Chuck Wasserstrom of the UTC communications office said the initial plans are to have green space there, with a long-term plan to construct housing and a parking garage at the site.


Mr. Wasserstrom also referenced at his post plans to tear down the building at 545 Oak St. across the street. Factors in the scheduled demolition or future plans for the site are not known or could not be determined. 


According to both its appearance and style of architecture, the 545 building appears to date back decades. A check of the city directories and cross-reference books at the library shows that the building might have been constructed when other nearby homes were, around the turn of or early in the 20th century.


Although the address numbers were changed for some of those roughly east-and-west running streets near downtown at some point early in the 20th century, the directory of 1914-15 lists a home at 245 Oak St. as being owned by Dr. Lemuel B. McWhorter.


That is believed to be the address that later became 545 Oak St. He was a physician who had his office at 826½ Market St. 


Determining the initial resident or who built the home would require further research.


By the 1920s and early 1930s, the home at 545 Oak St. was lived in by Miss Margaret “Maggie” McClure. Her occupation was not listed.


UTC actually has 1930 listed as the date of construction of the building, so it is not known if another building was at that address, or if some construction changes were made to the building lived in by Dr. McWhorter and Miss McClure.


The 1938 directory said Eventus W. Bolin, a barber, lived on the first floor of that home, while Kibler and Long salesman Jack H. Maris lived on the second floor.


By 1945, it was occupied by J.F. Million, occupation unknown, while the 1950 city directory said it was resided in by Mrs. Clara B. Million, a cafeteria manager at the H. Clay Evans Elementary School in the Cameron Hill area.


By 1955, it had been converted into a 16-room apartment facility, and an 18-room unit by 1960. It is not known if it was expanded in any way. 


Later in the 1960s, the building was called the Oakwood Rooms, while in the 1970s and ‘80s it was called the Million Apartments, although the number of units was smaller than a few decades earlier.


From the late 1980s into the early 2000s, it housed Specialty Unit Management, which was an office connected to the Psychiatric Group of Chattanooga. 


Taylor Lane Brown Photography was located in it around 2005, while about 2010 it was used by Anglican Church of the Redeemer, Thomas Cory and North Shore Investments.


According to Mr. Wasserstrom, UTC purchased the building within the last 15 years for surge space. In more recent years, the old residential building was used by the school’s international program and the UTC Honors College while their facilities were being renovated. It was commonly called the International House for a period.


It and the old Campbell Clinic/Frist Hall facilities will likely be known as places of history as well, as an end of an era has come for them.


* * * * *


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