Ideas about the next chapter in the story of the 105-year-old St. George Hotel emerged Friday as the future use of the vacant art-deco structure across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo picks up steam.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga architecture and design students showed off their visions under the Choo Choo's terminal dome, imagining everything from returning the building to its former historic status as a hotel to concepts with a more modern flair such as holding open office space.
The St. George is one of a number of historic structures that the local group Preserve Chattanooga aims to save and put to uses which also make economic sense, said Todd Morgan, the entity's executive director.
"We'd love to see something happen to the St. George building," he said in a telephone interview about the four-level former hotel on Market Street. "It's a great building in a vibrant location."
Chattanoogan Donnie Hutcherson, who owns the building, said he doesn't have firm plans for the St. George but hopes to clarify those in the next few months.
He said he's interested in seeing what the UTC students came up with concerning the old hotel as they undertook their senior thesis projects, adding that he earlier talked with them about the site.
"Plans have taken longer than I thought," said Hutcherson, managing partner of the Chattanooga office for certified public accounting firm HHM, in a phone interview about the structure.
The accounting firm has its offices in the historic Freight Depot building not far away in downtown's Southside, though Hutcherson said there are no plans to shift any of HHM's operations to the St. George site.
"I'm interested in the downtown community, just being a part of the revitalization of the area," he said. "We've enjoyed the renovation of the Freight Depot here."
A list of places on Preserve Chattanooga’s website which it says need to become the city’s next preservation success stories:* St. George Hotel - 1349 Market St.* Jazzy Buildings - 619 and 621 Market St.* Littleholme (Hardy-Williams House) - Near Craven’s House on Lookout Mountain* Tadley Building - 430 E. M.L. King Blvd.* Levin Brothers Building - 100 E. Main St.* Old Town Brainerd - Neighborhood business district at base of Missionary Ridge* Ellis Restaurant - 1415 Market St.* Engel Stadium - O’Neill and Third streetsSource: Preserve Chattanooga
Kristen Donnell, a UTC interior architecture and design major, said her concept of the site was to keep it as a hotel on the upper floors but to put in a restaurant and lounge on the lower level. She said she imagined reconstructing the exterior into something as it appeared in the 1930s based on old photos.
"It was very difficult to find people who remembered it," Donnell said.
She said research showed that a restaurant that opened in 1945 at the hotel was one of the few Black-owned businesses in the city at the time.
Elizabeth Hoilman, also a UTC interior architecture and design major, said she, too, kept the art-deco facade. She said she had a more modern concept inside that didn't return it to a hotel, but the interior design included elements recalling the building's historic nature.
Also inside, Hoilman said she sees a restaurant along with retail space for use by local businesses on the ground floor. The second level could hold fitness space, and the upper two floors could be used as open offices.
"It's a great way to bring money into the community," Hoilman said.
Morgan joined Preserve Chattanooga, formerly known as Cornerstones Inc., late last year. He came to Chattanooga from Knoxville, where he had directed Knox Heritage, which is that city's preservation group.
Ideas for the future of historic St. George Hotel
"Our built environment is something that makes our city unique," Morgan said. "The historical buildings are original creations. You won't see them anywhere. You remember those places because of them."
He said that's unlike what occurs in many suburbs, which often look alike.
"You can't get a sense of identity, of history," Morgan said.
The St. George Hotel began as the Glenn Hotel, according to Preserve Chattanooga. By 1930 the 60-room building had changed its name to the Hotel Walden, and in 1948 it was renamed the St. George.
Situated across Market from the Choo Choo terminal, the property was an excellent location until train travel gave way to cars, Preserve Chattanooga said.
It said the St. George was abandoned in the 1980s and a fire in 2004 destroyed the rear section and left a much smaller footprint.