On Friday, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the renamed and renovated Patten Square in downtown Chattanooga — formerly Patten Parkway — officially will be reopened.
The former block-long linear park that runs between Georgia Avenue and Lindsay Street has been refashioned as a plaza where music, entertainment and commerce can mix, where there can be a more natural crowd flow from nearby Miller Park and Miller Plaza, and where the street can more easily be closed off for singular events.
Trees along the plaza eventually will provide shade, concrete benches afford seating and the $300,000 "Radiance," a large-scale public art piece that resembles the trumpet-like opening of flowers by the group Futureforms, gives the space a focal point.
What's missing from the $4.9 million renovation are the three military-related memorials that once seemed to give the parkway its reason for existence.
Oh, don't get us wrong. The memorials would look out of place in the current space — like tailfins from a 1957 Cadillac on a new Tesla.
But the memorials weren't there as pieces of public art. They stood for something; in actuality, they stood for some ones.
Once in the center of the parkway, a Tennessee quartzite and Georgia granite monument stood in memory of the 680 Hamilton County residents who lost their lives in World War II. That was the little skirmish the U.S. became involved in when its naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed 80 years ago this year. You might have read about it.
In the end, the U.S. helped liberate Europe, the Pacific and then helped rebuild those areas for the future. It was kind of a big deal.
The second of the memorials was dedicated to Hamilton County Marines who have given their life in service to the country. Fortunately, we don't hear about a lot of Marines being killed in action these days, but it was only six years ago this month that four Marines were killed in a terrorist attack at a local military installation. So the significance of the statue is as important today as it was the day it was installed.
The third memorial was a flagpole placed at the former parkway in 1949 by the local American Legion Post 14.
Patten Parkway was dedicated in 1943 to the memory of the late Zeboim Cartter Patten, a civic leader and founder of Volunteer State Life Insurance Co., which was located next door in what is now the Chubb Building but what was formerly the Volunteer Building.
Forty years ago, in 1981, Mrs. Cartter Patten, a relative of the late Mr. Patten, expressed disappointment at a then-plan to "open up the area."
"I don't think we ever approved the plan," she said, according to newspaper archives. "I am very eager to have Patten Parkway as a war memorial."
But times change. The city owns almost the entire parkway, and the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) gave permission to relocate the monuments.
When the monuments were removed, tentative plans had them eventually being relocated to a small plaza created across Lindsay Street from what is now Patten Square — if an easement could be given from the private-property owners — or to Phillips Park at the corner of McCallie Avenue and Georgia Avenue in front of the old first Methodist Church stone steeple.
Since both of those sites were problematic, a third option, with the blessing of the city and the THC, was pursued. Public input from a series of forums several years ago favored city-owned property that would afford a comprehensive memorial plaza on the river side of Riverfront Parkway near the Olgiati Bridge. The plan was for the plaza to be completed by 2022. But then COVID-19 hit.
So, said Linda Moss Mines, a liaison between the committee tasked to find a spot for the memorials and the THC, the process toward confirming the site could pick up again in the fall. And THC has extended the deadline for completion to 2024.
Mines said the WWII monument would be slated for the plaza and perhaps the Marines memorial. The flagpole, she said, likely will stay with Post 14. But she said there is no central Vietnam War memorial in the city and no memorial for wars since then, so the riverfront plaza could serve as such a comprehensive site.
"We want to look at pulling it all together," she said.
The future plans for the monuments were not mentioned at the unveiling of plans for the renovation of Patten Parkway in 2019, and they seem to be absent from any celebration about the official reopening of the now-Patten Square.
The veterans memorials wouldn't be appropriate in the middle of what now seems to be more of an entertainment plaza, but we think the public deserves to know they haven't been forgotten, nor those who gave their lives in service of the country.
Without such reminders, nearly 80 years after the beginning of the U.S. involvement in WWII, we remember that, as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."