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Preserve Chattanooga Revisits 2017 Endangered List

3 Buildings Lost, 3 Saved, 7 Remain Vulnerable

  • Friday, May 17, 2024

May is National Preservation Month. During this time in 2017, Cornerstones (now Preserve Chattanooga) released a list of Chattanooga’s most endangered historic places. The nonprofit organization is revisiting that list, seven years later, to see where these historic assets now stand.

Preserve Chattanooga categorizes the state of a historic building in one of four ways. A “lost” place has been destroyed and is now only a memory. “Vulnerable” places have the potential to be negatively impacted due to the lack of formal protection or an uncertain future. “Endangered” places face a specific threat and time is of the essence to save them. “Saved” places were once vulnerable or threatened but are now safe, restored or rehabilitated, and are being actively used.  

The purpose for releasing this type of list is to keep property owners, community leaders, and the public informed about the potential loss of places important to Chattanooga’s architectural heritage. A mix of influences and resources are needed to impart positive change. Saving historic buildings can be a major challenge, typically due to owner neglect. Ownership changes can spark hope but can also lead to discovering that the previous neglect has been so severe that there is no alternative but demolition. The hope is that Chattanooga will take vulnerable and threatened historic places seriously before they are lost forever, said officials. 

Lost

The St. George Hotel (1926) at 1447-51 Market St. was demolished in 2022. Cornerstones once funded a structural study of the building which was the city’s first fireproof hotel. Not too far from the St. George was the Levin Brothers Building (1915) at 100 Main St. That building was destroyed in 2023 and had been both a grocery store and furniture store. Both structures were contributing to the Market and Main National Register Historic District. Every contributing structure lost jeopardizes the status of a National Register District.

The Highland Park Elementary School was demolished in 2020 to make way for the new Montessori Elementary at Highland Park. The school was built in 1922 and designed by noted Chattanooga architect R.H. Hunt. It was considered an excellent example of early 20th century school design.

Vulnerable

Part of the UTC campus, the National Register listed Engel Stadium (1930) is included in the school’s 2023 UTC Campus Master Plan. The plan states that “a historically appropriate renovation of the Engel Stadium” should occur to prepare the site for new athletic uses. Until renovation is complete, the historic site will remain on our vulnerable list. Downtown’s Jazzy Buildings (1890) at 619 and 621 Market St. have been sitting vacant for many years. The senior class of UTC’s Interior Architecture and Design program focused their 2024 thesis projects on the buildings, proposing a myriad of adaptive reuse concepts. The Jazzy Buildings are contributing structures to the Downtown National Register District.

Further south at 819 Market St. stands the Burchay Building (1890). While the Burchay has undergone weatherization and stabilization improvements, no use for the structure has been developed and the storefront remains boarded up.

Two iconic R.H. Hunt designed schools were on the 2017 list, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) and Brainerd Junior High School. CSAS (1920) is still an active part of Hamilton County Schools, however a 2020 Facilities Master Plan by MGT Consulting Group recommended closing the site and relocating CSAS. This raised community concerns and Preserve Chattanooga responded to a request by alumni to apply for Local Historic Landmark designation for the National Register listed property. The Chattanooga Historic Zoning Commission passed a resolution recommending the designation to City Council. The initiative has not received support from Hamilton County Schools. Preserve Chattanooga continues to advocate for the Landmark designation because three other R.H. Hunt schools have been demolished: Chattanooga High School, Central High School, and the H. Clay Evans Elementary School. However, it was recently announced that CSAS, Hamilton County's oldest school facility, will receive a $410,000 grant from TVA for energy upgrades.

The Brainerd Junior High School (1930) was purchased in 2019 with plans to open as the Midtown Community Center. The architecturally striking school was vandalized in May of 2023.

The Ellis Restaurant (1930) at 1443 Market St. endeared itself to many Chattanoogan’s with its landmark sign featuring neon jumping frogs. The restaurant closed in 1979 and the notable sign remains but is in need of extensive repairs. The building itself has been empty for years and is in a significant state of disrepair. The Tadley Building (1928) at 432-436 M.L. King Blvd. was once a physician’s office with a roof garden dance hall that could accommodate up to 800 people. It was a central figure in the “Big 9” district’s music scene. The building has been boarded up for many years with no plans in place for rehabilitation. This is significant because the nearby Whole Note and Half Note buildings have been threatened with demolition. All three structures contribute to the M.L. King National Register District which has been devastated by building teardowns over the years. Only a fraction of the buildings remain from the original National Register’s 36 contributing properties.

Saved

What is believed to be Chattanooga’s oldest existing building, the Ross Meehan Foundry (1875), got a new lease on life in 2019. Cornerstone’s received the building as a donation and facilitated finding a new owner. Today, the historic site is home to Naked River Brewing Company. The structure was built to be the Wasson Car Works which built open trolley cars for the first Incline to Point Park.

Early efforts to protect the historic Brown’s Tavern (1803) were unsuccessful until The American Battlefield Trust purchased the property in 2020. Brown’s Tavern is the oldest standing structure in Chattanooga, erected prior to the city’s founding. Cherokee leader John Brown ordered the construction of Browns Ferry Tavern in 1803. By the 1830s, Brown's land formed the boundary of the Cherokee Nation.

The former Industrial YMCA (1928) was purchased by two Virginia businessmen in 2020. Located at 1517 Mitchell Ave., the historic building was designed by Chattanooga architect Clarence T. Jones. After sitting vacant with an uncertain future for many years, it is now home to the Common House social club.

Preserve Chattanooga’s mission is to protect the heritage of Chattanooga through historic preservation education and advocacy. More information can be found at www.preservechattanooga.com.

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