Remember When, Chattanooga? Perms at The Elite beauty salon were just $7.50

Chattanooga News-Free Press photo by Delmont Wilson via ChatttanoogaHistory.com / The Elite beauty salon was located in the lobby of the 12-story James Building in downtown Chattanooga from the mid-1940s until at least the early 1960s.
Chattanooga News-Free Press photo by Delmont Wilson via ChatttanoogaHistory.com / The Elite beauty salon was located in the lobby of the 12-story James Building in downtown Chattanooga from the mid-1940s until at least the early 1960s.

For a stretch of years from the mid-1940s until at least the early 1960s, The Elite beauty salon flourished in the lobby of Chattanooga's James Building at Eighth and Broad streets.

The post-war years were a golden era in the beauty business as women made appointments for permanent-wave treatments and stylings that started at $7.50.

The photo accompanying this article was taken in 1947 and appears to show staff members of The Elite beauty salon behind a glass showcase filled with beauty products. As many as 12 stylists worked at the salon at points in the 1940s, according to newspaper ad copy.

The 12-story James Building, which has been called Chattanooga's first skyscraper, was developed by Signal Mountain developer Charles E. James and designed by architect Reuben Harrison Hunt in the neoclassical style. Hunt also designed several other notable downtown buildings including the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and Courthouse at 900 Georgia Ave.

The James Building, which now houses law and insurance offices, according to the building's website, was built in 1906 and includes 128,000 square feet of interior space. In 1979 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The photo here was taken by Chattanooga News-Free Press photographer Delmont Wilson. The photo was saved in the newspaper's photo archives and has been preserved at the website ChattanoogaHistory.com.

While the two women in the photo were not identified in the archives, newspaper clips from 1949 note the owner-operators of The Elite then were Inez Shoemaker and Levina Wright. Shoemaker's obituary from 1975 notes she was a native of West Virginia who lived in Chattanooga for 31 years, including her stint as an owner-operator of The Elite.

An ad from the year the photo was made said, "We suggest a gay new hairdo by one of our stylists. A soft, natural-look permanent wave starting at $7.50." Other prices from the era were: haircut, $1; shampoo and set, $1.25; facial, $2; and permanents, $7.50.

The first instance of a newspaper ad mentioning The Elite was in 1945 when the salon sponsored a recruiting effort for the Woman's Army Corp. The last ad appeared in 1959 under the headline: "Hair Ye! Hair Ye! ... How do you look?" In a 1959 society column, Lena Foster was mentioned as the then-owner of the salon.

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Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available. If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

"Remember When, Chattanooga?" is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.