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This 1975 Chattanooga News-Free Press photo shows former Chattanooga mayor Robert Kirk Walker holding a sketch of the downtown park (later named Miller Park) which opened the following year. Photo from the Chattanooga News-Free Press via ChattanoogaHistory.com.

In the late summer of 1975, Chattanooga was abuzz about a new city park.

For several years, city leaders had been planning a green space across Georgia Avenue from the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building, home of the downtown post office and federal court offices.

When this photo was published in the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Sept. 3, 1975, the 1.1-acre property was in the design phase and was known generically as the downtown park.

When it opened in December 1976, it would bear the name of the family of Chattanooga philanthropist Burkett Miller, one of the leading proponents of the park.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Miller Park was an urban oasis of trees and fountains that some say helped spark the downtown renaissance that continues more than 40 years later.

Before the Tennessee Aquarium appeared as a tourist magnet in the 1990s, and the 21st Century Riverfront Project layered on development in the 2000s, Miller Park was a focus of intense Chattanooga pride.

"The park began the transformation of downtown," Pat Wilcox, a Chattanooga Times journalist and opinion writer, wrote in 1998. "It set a standard of quality in design and created an oasis of green in a downtown needing revival."

Miller Park underwent a $10 million redesign in 2018, and many of the original water features and trees were removed to give it a flatter, more open look.

This photo was recently uncovered in a box of slides from 1975 found at the offices of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It and other slides from the box are viewable at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by local history buff Sam Hall.

ChattanoogaHistory.com

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 non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

The photo, which shows former Chattanooga Mayor Robert Kirk Walker holding a sketch of the park, was published under the Page 1 headline, "Preliminary Plans Approved: Safety Pledged in the New Downtown Park."

By the time this photo was published in September 1975, Robert Kirk Walker had just finished his four-year term as mayor and was serving as the chair of the Downtown Park Board.

The sketch is a rendering of the park which was under the direction of James Franklin, architect, and Clifford Betts, engineer. The park is bordered by 10th Street, Georgia Avenue, Ninth Street (now M.L. King Boulevard) and Market Street.

A newspaper article in the News-Free Press in 1975 noted: "Local officials hope the park will be a place for relaxation and reflection for those who are part of the downtown scene."

And indeed, the park became a popular lunch spot for downtown workers. It was also the landing spot for an annual visit from the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band, which would play a midday concert each fall while in transit to an "away" SEC football game.

The park was first announced in 1973, but it took several years to acquire the property and complete construction. Businesses formerly on the block included a savings and loan office, a sandwich shop and a furniture store.

 

MYSTERY SOLVED

Last week we asked Times Free Press readers to help identify seven University of Tennessee at Chattanooga cheerleaders in a 1975 photo. Several emailed to provide the names. The cheerleaders pictured were Susan Eady, Mark Shanks, Gale Cary, Janet Wandell, Leslie Bridwell, Hans Humberger and Melia Brooks. The photo was shot by Walter Strickland.

Follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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