Eastdale reunion first step in rebirth

Eastdale reunion first step in rebirth

August 26th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

(Clockwise from top) Marina Robards, Rosie Hart-Russell, Yvonne Thomas, Belinda Smith and Lily Dunnigan discuss plans for the Eastdale Elementary and Community Annual Festival at Eastdale Recreation Center on Thursday.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Rosie Hart Russell and Belinda Sears Smith remember when Eastdale was a place where families helped to raise each other's children and kids made sure they were home before the streetlights came on. The women want to celebrate that foundation, and they want Eastdale to be known as a family-oriented neighborhood again.

"We want people to know the history and wealth of this community," said Russell, who lived in the community between the Brainerd levee and Wilcox Tunnel for 11 years. "This is not just a place for gang bangers. We want people to celebrate the positive."

Smith lived there for more than a decade before moving to next-door Woodmore. Now the two are planning to host an Eastdale reunion Aug. 31, the same day Glenwood and Lincoln Park will hold neighborhood celebrations. The goal in Eastdale is to recognize families still in the neighborhood and create so much fun and unity that they reclaim the area from crime.

"We want the public to know Eastdale wasn't all about shooting and turf," said Greg Walton, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years. "We had the Sears family who started Sears Grocery Store. We had H and H Grocery Store on the corner of Greenwood and Through streets, and Al Miller had Al Miller Music Store."

That was between the 1960s and the early 1990s, when people in the neighborhood owned their homes. Now most homeowners are elderly and on fixed incomes, and about half the homes are occupied by renters.

The median household income is about $13,000, said Walton, and Eastdale homeowners saw their property values fall an average $10,000 in the reappraisal this year.

The problem is crime, he said. About three years ago, three people were shot, two fatally, at the Kanku's gas station on Wilcox Boulevard in an eight-month period. One person who died wasn't even a target, just someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, Walton said. The string of shootings drew citywide attention.

Crime has been escalating since then, he said. A resident was robbed while putting up an Eastdale Neighborhood Association sign. And last year a child was shot in the arm while looking out the front door of the Eastdale Recreation Center.

Wallace believes the shutdown of public housing complexes in different parts of town is causing people from different gangs to relocate in Eastdale.

"When the (Chattanooga) Housing Authority closed Alton Park (Spencer J. McCallie Homes) and Boone-Hysinger (Harriet Tubman housing development), they came to our community," he said. "We never experienced such a rash of robberies."

But residents say they will bring Eastdale back to its former glory.

Smith exudes pride when she talks about how her brother, Jeff Sears, was the first to integrate Eastdale Elementary School, now the site of the Eastdale Recreation Center. And Russell discusses the matriarchs and patriarchs who come to the reunion and tell stories of the neighborhood.

Some business owners in Eastdale have donated to the reunion. Smith said John Taylor, of Taylor Funeral Home, is bringing chairs, and Moss's Place Restaurant is bringing food. The Curl Up and Relax salon will donate hair services.

The group also will have a bounce house, games, food and clean entertainment for youth.

The reunion is only the first step in reclaiming the neighborhood, said Walton. He said the group also is reorganizing the Eastdale Neighborhood Association.

"We're going to play the game like everybody else. We're going to address the problem and make suggestions to our council to make the community like it was," Walton said.

"We have a mayor who says he believes in putting the neighborhood first and we're going to put it to the test," he said. "You've done Main Street. You're doing Glass Street. Try Eastdale."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@times freepress.com or 423-757-6431.