Historic North Chattanooga fire hall for sale after restoration

Historic North Chattanooga fire hall for sale after restoration

June 4th, 2013 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

Tommy Austin, property owner who started a historical restoration of the 1935 North Chattanooga Firehall, leads a tour of his property, which is up for sale.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

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NO. 12 FIREHALL AT A GLANCE

Location: 880 Forest Avenue

Built: Around 1929

Size: 3,500 square feet

Sales price: $399,000

Seller: Tommy Austin, Austin Real Estate

Zoning: Residential, multi-family (R3)

Fire trucks too big for 84-year-old hall, but developer sees residential prospect of Forest Avenue building

Chattanooga firefighter Commander Donnie Eaves inherited the old Number 12 Firehall on Forest Avenue because he was the city's youngest commander and no one else wanted it.

The neighborhood was hot in the 1980s -- three house fires a week, at least -- and the building was old. And, some said, haunted.

Doors and drawers opened by themselves. Sometimes at night it sounded like someone was starting the fire truck's engine. Once, Eaves and his crew were downstairs watching TV when they heard footsteps upstairs.

"You could hear as plain as day someone walking around the upstairs," he said. "It sounded just like footsteps going across the floor. And there was nobody up there."

The historic firehall was built around 1929, according to the Chattanooga Fire Department, and was used until 1997, when a new station opened just down the street. The building has been mostly empty and used for storage since then.

But now, a Chattanooga real estate agent is pouring money into the firehall in order to restore it and sell it as a residence or work-at-home business.

Tommy Austin acquired the property in a trade with the city and has spent about $100,000 to restore the firehall over the last year. He's added a new roof, new windows and new electrical lines. He's restored the building's big red doors and intends to put an original fire pole back in.

The 3,500-square-foot, two-story building has concrete floors and brick walls. It's listed for sale at $399,000.

A stairwell in the North Chattanooga Firehall.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

"Basically the whole shell and the grounds are ready, it just needs somebody to come in and finish the inside," he said, standing in a small rectangular room where the fire engine used to be parked.

Parking the fire engine in that room during the 1980s and 1990s was not simple, Eaves said. The room and bi-fold doors were built to accommodate the much smaller equipment of the 1930s, not modern fire engines.

So the crew had to use a modified engine -- with cut springs and lower lights -- in order to fit inside. New drivers always were scraping the engine's mirrors on the edge of the doors, and everyone had to coast the engine out of the station and engage the clutch outside to avoid getting stuck.

"If you look at those old barn doors, there's a notch cut out," Eaves said. "That was for the bubble on the fire engine to clear."

The station's original fire pole was taken out to make room for the longer engines, he said, adding that he's glad the firehall is being saved and repurposed.

"It's historical," he said. "I'm glad they're saving it."

And despite the strange noises, Eaves said he still doesn't believe in ghosts.

"I slept there and worked 24 hours and I didn't think it was haunted, but there was some weird stuff going on," he said. "I wasn't scared to work there. But the young boys were nervous because of all the stories."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525.