John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Northside Lunch, Bright Reunion, And Local Races

Sunday, May 22, 2022 - by John Shearer

Within the last month came the news that the old Northside Lunch building on the immediate east side of the Walnut Street Bridge had been torn down.

It was vacant and had been closed as a restaurant for several years, and this building that harkened back to the days of modest-appearing structures in North Chattanooga was quickly leveled.

The boxcar-shaped structure’s quick demise was a sharp contrast to its long history that apparently involved several owners and maybe even personalities.

While the news reports said the building had been there almost 100 years, I felt as a lover of local history and local landmarks that it had not gotten enough of an obituary or at least a “thank you for your service.” So, I went to the Chattanooga Public Library and looked up some more information on it.

Either the first or a very early owner or operator of the restaurant in the 1920s was E.C. Moses, according to the older Chattanooga city directories. He unfortunately died in 1927 at the age of 47 and was survived by an unnamed wife and son. His service was held at the North Chattanooga Church of God, and he was buried at Chattanooga Memorial Park.

But the restaurant would live on for a long time. The next owner, George Bobos, sounds more typical of restaurant owners in Chattanooga at that time who were often not natives of America. He was born in Athens, Greece, where his mother continued to live, and had previously worked at the Mecca Lunch, owned by fellow Greek Gus Pappas at 403 Market St.

Mr. Bobos and his wife, Pauline, went on to operate the Northside Lunch for more than two decades and lived nearby at 302 Tremont St. He died in 1948 – at the age of 47, like Mr. Moses – while his wife continued to operate it into the 1950s. She eventually settled in Florida, where she died in 1988.

By the mid-1950s, the Northside Lunch was run by Alva J. Dyer, who lived in an apartment at 50 N. Market St. She operated it until about the mid-1960s. Later owners in the 1960s included J.N. Pippin and S.E. Burgess.

By the 1970s, Mrs. Alma Green and Mrs. H.A. McGaha owned it. Ms. Green, who later went by Alma Miller, operated it until closing it on June 3, 2006. She oversaw it from before the closing of the Walnut Street Bridge in 1978, to the reopening of the bridge as a popular pedestrian corridor beginning in 1993.

She said at the time of the closing that she was then in her 60s and tired and worn out. The opening of Coolidge Park had hurt the business, she said, with people stopping by to use the restroom or get a soft drink instead of ordering food.

The lot at the time of the closing was owned by Bill and Mary Humphlett.

A 2006 story talks about all kinds of dishes served there like meatloaf, breaded chicken or steak, and various vegetables and other simple-but-mouth-watering items.

It was a throwback to a simpler and more modest time, and whatever is built in its place in this now-very-trendy part of town will likely be a contrast in some way.

I regrettably only ate there once years ago, but I think I liked the ambience, which was unsophisticated and suited me perfectly. I remember that the waitress who served me happened to be an old Bright School classmate.

And speaking of Bright School, my sixth-grade class of 1972 from Bright School had its 50-year reunion on May 7. I had referenced the planned reunion a few weeks back in a story when hoping to find some lost classmates. The reunion turned out well – although it was probably too short an event for me.

A small number of us had decided a year or so ago to have one and began planning it. Of the less than 50 class members from the two sixth-grade classes still living, 14 showed up along with three or four spouses. About three others were planning to come, including key planner Scott Seretean all the way from Oklahoma, but had to cancel at the last minute for a variety of reasons. In Scott’s case, it was due to tornadic activity in his home state.

Overall, we considered the attendance numbers a success, and we knew several others unable to attend were backing us in spirit.

We met for an outdoor lunch and time of fellowship in the Peeples Pavilion on what was the kindergarten playground when we were in school. As some of us were waiting on the others, I saw a couple of older-looking men walking in our direction at two different times and I was not sure where they were headed.

And then I realized they were classmates! Of course, they probably thought they were at the wrong reunion when they saw me, too!

As we were gathering and I was trying to take a few pictures, I quickly realized that in contrast to my Baylor reunions where it is all male graduates greeting each other in a more laid-back manner, the female graduates of Bright more excitedly embraced each other. Also attending and glad to see everyone in her enthusiastic manner was my sixth-grade teacher, Janet Reeve, who during the lunch led us in a rendition of the French national anthem, which we had learned back then.

After we ate and heard some welcoming remarks by head of school Kristin Watts, she and alumni/communications director Elizabeth Davis gave us an informal tour of the school.

While some of the original school plant we remembered had been remodeled slightly or had new floor coverings, etc., it still felt like home. We reminisced about the great meals in the cafeteria, the Friday educational films and plays in the auditorium (now called a theater), the location of the original music room, and how the head of school’s office was once the student or parent check-in location.

We continued walking down the hall away from the office and, almost by instinct, we decided to go in our old sixth-grade room with Miss Reeve, and those of us in her class posed for a picture outside the door. It was the first room on the left as one gets out of a vehicle at the concourse. By then, we were all happily and fully back in the early 1970s for a period.

We then went out on the quadrangle for another photo, and as we were finishing up there, I saw an older couple coming across the parking lot to the concourse, and I realized it was my old boys’ phys ed coach Bill Wolcott and his wife. I had not seen him in about 50 years, and I ran up and reintroduced myself, and I was thankful he seemed to remember me – or at least courteously acted like he did!

We went in the current library that had been the old gym, and it was neat again going back in time. As we continued walking the halls, he told me when we went down one area that was where he learned the news that President John F. Kennedy had died in 1963, a couple of years or so before many of us would even enter kindergarten there.

We also all went into the shop/manual training room during the tour and saw our old familiar friends – the worktables with vice grips that we used so many years before when the popular Aaron Lowe was teaching the class. They had a little more paint splattered on them, but they still looked wonderful! 

We then concluded the tour by looking at ourselves and others we knew on the school’s long wall of photographs of the various classes.

Nearly two hours had quickly passed by then, so we all said goodbye after this unique chance to reconnect about a shared past.

It was great for me to see everyone, and I almost felt cheated that the time went by so fast after looking forward to it for several months. Maybe we should have done like high school classes do on their 50th reunions and had a full weekend of activities.

Some attendees I have seen periodically and regularly over the years, while others I have not, even though I learned that at least two classmates had worked for years for firms like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and TVA. And I likely passed them in my regular jaunts through downtown Chattanooga over the years while doing newspaper work. And there were two or three classmate friends I would have loved to see, but they could not come, or we could not reach them.

Other classmates who did attend included Kathaleen Scott Hughes, Mikki Moore Schnur, Virginia Anne Corey Manson, Lucie Stephens Holland, Boofie Lupton Crimmins, Mary Claire Pruett Thompson, David Christian, Beth Jenkins Fogo, Larry “Buddy” Fogo (who married Beth!), Lyn Meyer Marvil, Herndon Elliott, Bob Franklin and Lisa Lowe Stauffer.

Overall, I was thankful for the experience of getting to add one more chapter – 50 years later – to my fun experience that had been Bright School. It was where I fell in love with history and geography, and where I was first nurtured in sports and writing and just encouraged to get the most out of life.

I also first got interested in following politics at Bright, and that continued with my interest in the local races that culminated with the Tennessee primary elections on May 3.

I found it interesting that the Hamilton County and Chattanooga voters chose the brother and sister combination of Weston and Coty Wamp to be the Republican nominees in the race for county mayor and district attorney general, respectively.

It would be neat to see where all in the United States such a sibling combination exists in elected office, if the two Republicans win in the August general election as expected in this red-leaning county.

They are, of course, the children of former U.S. Congressman Zach Wamp. So that, along with the fact I remember their mother, Kim, being an ideal politician’s wife who was outgoing and personable and felt comfortable being out front with her husband, made the two naturally inclined for politics, too.

The Chattanooga/Hamilton County area has had some other multiple family members successfully elected to office. Ones that come to mind to me are former Gov. J.B. Frazier Sr. and son, former Congressman J.B. Frazier Jr.; Sheriff and Chattanooga Police Commissioner Bookie Turner and daughter and state Rep. Brenda Turner; and former County Judge (forerunner to County Mayor) Wilkes T. Thrasher Sr. and Chancery Court judge and former congressional candidate Wilkes T. Thrasher Jr. City Court Judge Bill Cox, whose courtroom I used to sit in as a young reporter in the mid-1980s, was also the father of former district attorney general Bill Cox Jr.

Coty, 33, beat incumbent Neal Pinkston likely due in part to Mr. Pinkston’s situation with having his wife and brother-in-law working with him in this era of stricter nepotism rules, while Weston, 35, tried to emphasize new ideas, including in education.

Mr. Wamp has less of a Southeastern Tennessee drawl than competitors Sabrena Smedley and Matt Hullender, although I am not sure if that counted for anything. He might have also gotten some additional votes from Democrats crossing over throughout the county, as has since been challenged by Ms. Smedley in documents filed with the Republican Party State Executive Committee.

Ms. Smedley might have gotten a few Democratic votes as well from those sympathetic to women’s rights and issues or other reasons. At least those were my very unscientific observations.

The fact that Mr. Wamp had for a period a radio show on Saturdays where people could hear his more moderate Republican viewpoints and his comfortable articulation as a talker also likely did not hurt him among many, including Democrats.

Mr. Wamp, a McCallie graduate whom I remember writing stories for years ago about McCallie football, also stressed the fact his children go to public schools, and that might have helped him. That is an obvious point to make when taxpayers and voters fund the public schools, but as a graduate of Bright and Baylor, I always cringe when I hear such comments. That is, even though I love public schools, too, and taught in them – although somewhat unsuccessfully – for three years.

Both Weston and Coty received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, with Coty also going to law school there. So, that should at least help unite the county on football Saturdays in the fall if they both win in August.

That is, while people also realize that Chattanooga has a few ‘red’ state fans pulling for the ‘Crimson Tide’ red of Alabama and the Bulldog ‘red and black’ of Georgia.

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