John Shearer: Remembering Chattanooga At Dawn Of New Year 50 Years Ago

  • Monday, January 2, 2023
  • John Shearer

For many people, the turn of a calendar year is a time to look ahead with hope at what the new year might bring collectively and personally.

But many this time of year during the festive holiday season like to look back. And for those of a certain age or those who are interested in yesteryear, Chattanooga of 50 years ago had many of the same happy and sad events and other observances as today. But the people and places were largely different.

And for streets like South Broad Street at the foot of Lookout Mountain, the surrounding scene was much different from today.

A look at the Chattanooga newspapers from around Jan. 1, 1973 – exactly a half century ago – as well as the city directory from that time verifies this. And the written chronicles also have a lot of interesting information that any history junkie would love.

Among the unfortunate bad news that is always constant, Chattanooga Police officer Gary Easley died following an accidental shooting on the morning of Jan. 1 at his North Brainerd home in an incident in which all the details had not been released. Meanwhile, local pharmacist T.K. Wilson was killed in a car accident on the same day after striking the Shallowford Road bridge abutment over Highway 153.

Outside Chattanooga, everyone was learning the news that Pittsburgh Pirates’ star baseball player Roberto Clemente had been killed in a Dec. 31 plane crash shortly after takeoff in Puerto Rico. He and some others were beginning a missionary trip of bringing aid to Nicaragua following a massive earthquake there.

It would be the second memorable and lasting sports story of the holiday season, with the first one the much-happier feat involving another Pittsburgh professional athlete. Two days before Christmas, rookie running back Franco Harris had caught a deflected pass and sprinted for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give his once-lowly Steelers team a playoff win over Oakland at their home field of Three Rivers Stadium. He and his Penn State Nittany Lions, including fellow running back Lydell Mitchell, had lost to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium the year before.

President Richard Nixon, who had been re-elected the previous November, was continuing to order the bombing of North Vietnam after most of the U.S. troops had left the region months before. The strategy resulted in a Dec. 31 community peace gathering sponsored by the local United Methodist Church at Wiley United Methodist near the Provident Life building downtown.

Among the other local news, the city of Red Bank had withdrawn from contracting with CARTA for bus service in its community and was looking at possibly operating or contracting a different service.

Drug use had become a serious issue by the early 1970s in Chattanooga, and one public service ad showed a man and pointed out physical symptoms or appearances that could hint of a drug problem. They included a raw nose and lost weight.

In business news, the grand opening of the Rossville branch of Chattanooga Federal Savings Bank at 5022 Rossville Blvd. near the Georgia state line was to occur Jan. 2-5, while many businesses were having post-Christmas sales. The downtown Lovemans was selling dresses for $4 and men’s dress shirts for $1.99. A man’s sport coat was on sale for $14.88 at the local J.C. Penney stores at Eastgate, Northgate and downtown, and an 18-inch portable color TV cost $278 at the Lowe’s on Lee Highway.

Among the social news, the engagement announcement for aspiring tennis pro and Lookout Mountain native Roscoe Tanner and Nancy Kathryn Cook ran in the paper and stated a California wedding was planned. The 1969 Baylor School graduate had gone to school at Stanford out West.

And plenty of sporting activities, particularly football, were taking place around New Year’s Day, of course. Hixson High School was showing signs of having a great wrestling team by winning the Central Invitational with first-place finishes from Marvin and Stan Walden, Randy Batten and Steve Griffith.

In the bowl games, the Chattanooga News-Free Press had sent Roy Exum to cover the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Sam Woolwine to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and Austin White to the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston.

At the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year’s Eve, Tennessee and pioneering quarterback Condredge Holloway defeated LSU, 24-17, with the help of a late interception by Vols defensive back Conrad Graham of a pass by the capable Tiger quarterback Bert Jones.

Auburn easily beat Colorado in the Orange Bowl, and Texas beat coach “Bear” Bryant and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Georgia did not play in a bowl despite a respectable 7-4 record, while Southern Cal beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 1 nationally.

Chattanoogans experiencing all these events around New Year’s traveled roads that looked slightly different from today. One that has changed greatly in certain respects in 50 years is South Broad Street and the surrounding area, which now has a Publix, new housing, and the Riverwalk extension. Also, the adjacent foundry area is to be redone with a new Lookouts stadium.

A look at the 1972 city directory published a few months before the new year shows a variety of at least partially forgotten businesses on South Broad Street. Coming from the area near the bridge over the interstate toward Lookout Mountain, one would pass such businesses as Kentucky Fried Chicken (2121 S. Broad), Wilson’s Antiques (2401 and 2403), Cloogman’s Department Store (2433), Abe Shavin Hardware (2513-21), Lee Pharmacy (2523), Dacus Furniture (2601), Chattanooga Hardware (2613-15), Mickey’s Antiques (2640) and Spann Amusement and Recording Co. (2642).

Closer to the mountain were Wheland Foundry (2727), Alamo Plaza Motel (3008), Dino’s Supper Club (3118), Broadway Feed & Seed (3147), Andy Trotter Pontiac (3150), Albert Pick Motel (3210), WDEF Radio and TV (3300), Koch’s Bakery (3305), the Pizza Pub (3311), M&J Supermarket (3317), Double Cola (3350), the Old South Restaurant (3401), the Krystal (3407), Hamilton National Bank (3502), Mt. Vernon Colonial Restaurant (3509), the Drake Restaurant (3513), and El Palacio (3636).

This part of South Broad Street also featured several liquor stores and old-fashioned service stations, from J.D.’s Liquor Store (3209) to the Broad Street Shell Station (3520).

It was a time and place much different from today, with football bowl games and an occasional longtime tenant like WDEF still linking this American and Chattanooga experience 50 years later and keeping the memories flowing more vividly.

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