Soulful Christmas carols played through speakers as Mary Walker Towers residents played pool and mingled Thursday before a celebration of the building's $4.7 million renovation.
Chattanooga Housing Authority board Chairman Eddie Holmes called it "a grand day for the housing authority."
He talked about being president of the Chattanooga Hamilton County District Layman's Association and being around when the group's women's auxiliary helped former slave Mary Walker learn to read at age 116.
Mary Walker Towers is named for Walker, who was declared the oldest student in the nation by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare -- now Health and Human Services.
The tower, built in the 1970s, is the housing authority's first high-rise for the elderly, said resident and CHA board member Betty Ruth Robinson.
The renovation is the result of an unexpected financial windfall from the Obama administration, CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said.
The renovation included the community room and 100 units in the 411 South Tower building, according to a CHA news release.
It began in September 2010 and was complete in February 2011. It includes new energy-efficient windows, new flooring, painting, plumbing upgrades and new kitchen cabinets. It also has new elevators and is the first local public housing building with a "green" roof.
Seen from the south building's third floor, the roof has soil and plants in rectangular boxes between portions of teal-green painted concrete. The soil helps keep the building cooler in the summer, said Edwards.
"The goal was to have something regal," said Lonnie Edwards, CHA's project manager.
He said all who worked on the project delivered. Hefferlin and Kronenberg Architects did the project design.
Leroy Keith, 83, has lived in Mary Walker Towers for 20 years.
Sitting in the back of the room Thursday, he asked to speak about the building.
"I liked it then and I like it now," he said. "I was here from Day One when they started remodeling."
Robinson also has lived in Mary Walker for 20 years.
"I'm proud to say I live here," she said. "If you want to shoot pool, play dominoes or cards, feel free. You are welcome here."