In the fall of 1953, Chattanooga's central business district — roughly sandwiched between Market and Broad streets — was a beehive of retail, government and entertainment activity.
The accompanying 1953 photo, from the archives of the Chattanooga News-Free Press, was shot from a bird's-eye view. It shows a four-block area framed by Eighth and 10th streets on the north and south, respectively, and Georgia Avenue and Broad Street on the east and west. The grid is bisected by Ninth Street, a busy corridor that was renamed M.L. King Boulevard in 1981.
Even though the photo was made 70 years ago, many people will recognize several architectural landmarks that survive.
Perhaps the most visually prominent is the Joel W. Soloman Federal Building (upper right in the photo), which serves as a post office and home of the U.S. District Court here. The steel and marble building, built in 1932-33, is slated for replacement. Earlier this year, the U.S. General Services Administration announced three potential sites for a new $218. 4 million federal building.
When it was built in the 1930s, the U.S. Post Office and Court House, as it was called then, was one of Chattanooga's most iconic architectural gems. It was designed by Chattanooga architect Reuben Hunt, who "designed every major public building constructed in Chattanooga between 1895 and 1935," according to the U.S. General Services Administration's website.
In the 1930s, the construction cost for the five-story Art Moderne-style federal building was $493,000, about the cost of a nicer single-family home in Chattanooga today. (Of course, adjusted for inflation, $493,000 in 1953 is equal to about $12 million in today's dollars — still a far cry from the $218 million set aside for a replacement building.)
Another prominent building, the Volunteer State Life Building (now the Chubb Life building), can be seen on the corner of Georgia Avenue and M.L. King Boulevard. The 11-story building was built in 1917 in the neoclassical style.
Also interesting in this photo are the businesses along Market Street, directly in front of the federal building, that would be torn down in the 1970s, opening an entire square block for Miller Park, a green space that opened in 1976 and was redesigned in 2018. Eventually the block across M.L. King Boulevard from Miller Park was opened and turned into a companion public park called Miller Plaza.
In 1953, the 900 block of Market Street, which gave way to Miller Park, included the popular Dixie Theater as well as an array of credit-friendly clothing stores including Moskin's Clothing. In 1950s, credit cards were not in everyone's wallet and in-store credit was a way for consumers to pay for clothes over time.
Also in the photo, further north on Market Street, were Uncle Herman's Shoe Store (820 Market St.) and Pickett's department store, which employed the tagline "because you like smart things."
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.