Local artist, philanthropist and veteran Terry Davis leads efforts to rebuild St. Andrews Center.

This is a story of starving artists who are starving no longer.

Of a building — one of the most beautiful in the city — once in turmoil, now beginning to thrive.

And the man — the really great man — holding it all together.

In 1907, the Highland Park Methodist Episcopal church was built. Nearly a century later, it closed, only to be reopened as the St. Andrews Center.

Nestled near the futsal fields and Chattanooga Prep, the building — named to the National Register of Historic Places — is now a multicultural center.

Not long ago, it was in dire straits.

But now?

In 2015, a local veteran, philanthropist and artist named Terry Davis moved his nonprofit into an upper room at St. Andrews; things were not good. Leadership and money issues. Tenants began leaving. Quietly, Davis began to hold things together, mending both broken heaters and relationships.

He's always been like that. The glue. The peacemaker.

Growing up in East Lake, Davis would walk a few dollars to Kay's Kastle, buy a hot dog or cone for himself, then three more for homeless folks in the nearby woods. At school, he was a friend to bullied kids.

Graduating from Kirkman Technical, he turned down a college scholarship to join the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm. In Kuwait, other soldiers would go drinking during downtime; Davis went into villages, talking with folks, making community.

"I was in Kuwait looking at missiles but I wasn't scared," he jokes. "I grew up in East Lake Courts."

Back home, a Wheland Foundry job helped him purchase a home in Highland Park; the G.I. Bill sent him to college, then to work at a local mental hospital for adolescents. One day, someone asked a disruptive boy what he wanted to be in life.

A dope dealer, the boy said. Or a pimp. Or a rapper.

Davis was stunned, yet understood why.

"What you don't see is what you won't be," he said.

So he created UnaVerSoul KidS — — which has done more than my words can describe, especially at Woodmore Elementary.

He needed a place to house the nonprofit.

Four years ago, he moved into St. Andrews.

"I just walked into my destiny," he said.

Today, Davis has become its leader.

And St. Andrews is being reborn.

In January, the board named Davis as building manager.

"I would have done it for free," he said. "I love helping people. I love this building."

Building partners — tenants — have returned.

Davis — remember his Kirkman degree — keeps things running: heaters, lights, repairs and so on.

"All the things I learned," he said, "I now use to save thousands of dollars. God knew."

St. Andrews currently houses 27 building partners.

There are ESL and literacy classes. A professional chess teacher. Rehab and recovery, in English and Spanish. Ministers and activists.

Most of all, artists.

"We want this to be an artists' colony," said Charley Spencer, board member.

St. Andrews is providing what others cannot: affordable studio space for Chattanooga artists who can't afford downtown rent.

Studios, or spaces, range from 75 square feet to 1,000.

Currently, there are seven open studios remaining.

"It gives me a space to work. I wouldn't have anywhere to work," said Mary Badillo, a sculpture artist and recent graduate.

"We've often said if it wasn't for St. Andrews, we wouldn't be able to do this," said Dylan Pew, also a sculpture artist and recent graduate.

Yet the best space of all?

The St. Andrews sanctuary.

"When most people see this, they sign a lease," said Spencer.

The sanctuary, with its domed roof, wooden pews, sloping floor and gorgeous windows, could be beautiful once again. Imagine: destination weddings. Church services.

But St. Andrews needs major grants for restoring the sanctuary ceiling.

"100 years ago, this was ground zero for the Methodist church," Spencer said.

And today?

With the good-hearted and good-handed Davis leading the way?

With the creative energy of artists re-animating the center?

"We're like a phoenix," said Spencer said. "Rising from the ashes."

For more information, contact St. Andrews at 615-933-8747 or

* * *

Essence magazine just released its list of Top 100 "Woke" women in America.

Michelle Obama made the list. As did Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, journalist Karen Attiah, actor Jada Pinkett Smith and CBS anchor Gayle King.

So did Chattanooga's Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson.

Henderson, once part of our city's Concerned Citizens for Justice, is now the executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, famous for building grassroots activism. Before her bus boycott, Rosa Parks attended a Highlander workshop. Dr. King spoke at its 25th anniversary.

A fire in April destroyed much of its library and main office; a white-power symbol was found spray-painted on the parking lot.

"Henderson vowed to rebuild," Essence declared.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at