Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

Main Street Chattanooga, revamped

December 22, 2008


Walk down the sidewalk of East Main Street in Chattanooga, and you’ll see dilapidated, falling apart, crumbling-right-before-your-eyes buildings next to freshly-renovated places open for business. You’ll see graffitied walls next to iron sidewalk sculptures, brick streetscaping next to weeds in the cracks on the curb.


The shell of a brick building, no roof on the top, glass in the windows… or doors, for that matter.

Having recently spent millions building parks and paths along the Tennessee River that runs through downtown, the city has turned its attention to revitalizing a four-block stretch further inland. The idea is to move restaurants, businesses, galleries and art studios into the once gritty part of town, and to encourage people to live there.

Even as I strolled down the street during my visit to Chattanooga last week, change was happening: jackhammers pounded, construction workers in hard hats yelled conversations at one another, signs proclaimed “Coming Soon” and “Will Build to Suit.”


The mural painted on the side of Madia’s Healing Arts studio

Private foundations have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project, and it seems to be working. The Bluegrass Grill was packed with lunch goers eating Greek salads or corned beef and Swiss cheese sandwiches, Madia’s Healing Arts had a full schedule of yoga classes and spa treatments available and people were tapping away at their computers in the office of CreateHere, an organization that supports the economic and cultural development of the city.

I stopped into Niedlov’s Breadworks, an organic, artisan bakery in a refurbished building at 215 E. Main, where the motto is “We love to knead. We knead to love.” The ambiance was simple and nice — wooden tables, walls of exposed brick and pumpkin-colored plaster, a barn-like wooden ceiling — and the baked goods were delish. I had a cinnamon roll made with Indonesian course-ground cinnamon. I could taste the difference. OK, not really, but it was light, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth.


My breakfast

With all the changes taking place on Main Street, I can guarantee a year from now, it will be a completely different — and a really cool — place to be.

Here are a few other pictures of Chattanooga. Sorry, I can’t resist:


The Walnut Street walking bridge across the Tennessee River, which connects the shops and parks on the North Shore with the arts district downtown


The Tennessee Aquarium as seen from the opposite side of the river


The really-old, sort-of-old and new wings of the Hunter American  Art Museum, taken from the Walnut Street Bridge


The Hunter Museum and the Holmberg glass pedestrian bridge. (I hear they put that metal strip down the middle of the bridge so people on the road below can’t look up women’s skirts.)


A glass and iron sculpture around a balcony in the Bluff View Arts District


Broad Street, from the Tennessee Aquarium


A bench and trash can in front of a grassy hill in Renaissance Park


My sister Laura on the stadium-seating steps at Ross’ Landing, in front of the aquarium. (This is right before she broke out in a dance routine to the Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.”)


Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Eww.

October 15, 2008

“Here, we fill our spirits, seek inspiration, and continue the journey toward what we know is right. In Gatlinburg, we Reach Higher Ground.”

– The Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce

If the Smoky Mountains National Park were to have an opposite, it would be Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the city at its doorstep. In just a few short blocks, the tourist trap contains 400 shops and five malls, plus a mess of arcades, mini golf courses, wax museums and mirror mazes. Though Gatlinburg claims to be about “the simple goodness of small town life,” where people gather to “stand in awe of nature’s glory,” the only thing green inside the city limits is the bills constantly changing hands.

My friend Cheri and I ventured into the Smoky Mountain town to grab dinner before a backpacking trip this weekend. We ate burritos under the beer flags on the No Way José’s Cantina patio, then strolled along Greenbrier Road, the main strip, to take in the sights.

Things you’ll find along Gatlinburg’s main strip, over and over and over again:

  • That “Grandma’s Punkin” airbrushed T-shirt you’ve always wanted.
  • Leg lamps (which can make “the soft glow of electric sex” glow from YOUR window TOO!)
  • Sailboats, elephants and unicorns sculpted of clear glass, perfect for the top-lit curio cabinet in your living room.
  • Chinese knives, swords and cutlery (because… this makes sense in a Tennessee mountain town?)
  • Hotels advertising their dance floors, hot tubs — and AARP specials.
  • Pancake houses. Seriously, there are like 15 in five blocks.
  • Tuxedo and wedding gown rental shops beside white-washed wedding chapels.
  • People pushing their dogs in strollers.
  • Old Tyme Picture Shops, where you can have your photo taken in a saloon or with the money bags from the bank you just robbed.

As we passed the front door of one of these picture shops, we saw woman in a frilly red dress posing in front of the saloon backdrop with a man who was completely naked, save the top hat he held as a codpiece. A fellow passerby, a woman in her mid-40s, yelled at him from the street. “Tip your hat!” she said. Then she clarified, “Not your HEAD, your HAT!”

Once you leave Gatlinburg and enter the national park, you will fall to your knees and weep with relief, if you’re not too sick from all the fudge and candied apples. And then you’ll feel like you’re a whole lot closer to Reaching Higher Ground.

I say “Chatta,” you say “nooga”

August 7, 2008

Whenever my friend Amy introduced me to people we encountered in Chattanooga, she would say, “This is my friend Christina. She’s just got back from South America. She was there for nine months, the length of a pregnancy.”
The person would look at me.
“Just a coincidence,” I would say.
Before I headed south a gestation period ago, I lived in Chattanooga for two years. I knew nothing about the city when I moved there to take a job at the newspaper, but I quickly grew to love it for its downtown parks, hilly old neighborhoods and position on the slow-moving Tennessee River at the base of Lookout and Signal mountains.

Coolidge Park and its carousel, on the river

I went back to visit my friends there last weekend and found the city a lot like I left it and a little different.

Things that did not change while I was gone:

  • The same stained white curtains are hanging in the bottom half of the nine-foot, wavy-glassed windows of my dear old apartment at the corner of Mississippi Avenue and Summer Street.
  • My former landlord, a bleached blond in her late 30s, is still crazy. The last time I saw her before my move, she proudly shouted to me — and everyone sitting on the grass behind me at an outdoor concert — “I got new boobs! Check ’em out!”
    When I ran into her this time, she introduced the man on her arm, then performed a song and dance. “I got a boyfriend, I got a boyfriend!” she yelled, shaking her hips back and forth. The man on her arm looked mortified.
  • The cathead biscuits, omelettes and grits at the ever-popular North Chattanooga establishment Aretha Frankensteins are tasty as ever. Stuffed crows, movie villain heads and rock ‘n roll posters decorate the walls of this turquoise house-cum-restaurant perched on the steep side of Tremont Street. The porch, patio and inside tables are still packed on weekend mornings.

  • The homeless man with a bushy white beard still sits on the bench at the end of the Walnut Street walking bridge that spans the Tennessee River (he has a new pair of overalls, though).
  • Friday evening Nightfall concerts at Miller Plaza downtown still draw a crowd that’s not afraid to dance. Texas-based soul singer Ruthie Foster performed while I was there and completely rocked the place.
  • The Pickle Barrel, a rickety downtown pub with rooftop seating, will still give you Tater Tots in place of French Fries, and it will still make your night.
  • My running route along a section of the 10-mile downtown-to-dam riverwalk still makes me happy. As do the hiking trails on Lookout and Signal mountains, which overlook the river valley as they weave through hardwood forests and granite formations.
  • I still wish I could rollerskate through the Times Free Press newsroom, which has expansive hardwood floors that just BEG to be skated.

Things that DID change since I left:

  • Holy riverfront condos! Honestly, are there THAT many people clamoring to live in condos to justify building 50 MILLION of them along the river’s edge?
  • The Yellow Deli, run by the long-haired members of the Twelve Tribes Christian sect, is back in town. The religious community opened the original Yellow Deli in 1973, but left town after stirring up controversy and arousing suspicion they were a cult. They returned to the Scenic City this spring for Try #2. Tribe members, dressed in modest handmade clothing (which means long, flowing skirts for women), serve dishes like fresh chef salads, reuben sandwiches, papaya smoothies and carrot cake. Every aspect of the building — from the doorways to the walls to the banisters — has been meticulously hand-carved or painted. The quality of the food and décor is almost enough to make you forget the misgivings you have about the group that runs it.
  • Greenlife Grocery closed its store down the street from my former apartment and opened a big new megastore closer to the river. With the addition of second-story restaurant seating, there’s really no reason to ever leave. Pick up breakfast burritos from the hot bar, the best blueberry muffins in the world (I’m not kidding), made-on-the-spot sushi, gourmet salads, smoothies, fruit, whatever, and hang around.
  • And, perhaps the biggest change of all: VW is coming! VW is coming! The German automaker Volkswagen announced last month they’ll be building a $1 billion production facility in the Scenic City in 2011. This means an additional 2,000 jobs in the area. Everyone is elated about the economic boost the automaker will bring to Chattanooga. “Willkommen” signs hang from the side of all the street lamps downtown. I can only hope the city plans its growth and expansion wisely and with taste and that it doesn’t ruin its charm by erecting cheap, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, strip malls… and more condos.

Arethas photos by Dorie Turner

Fleeing to the falls

August 26, 2007


When you break a sweat picking the newspaper from the front yard at 7 a.m., it’s time to visit Foster Falls, a 60-foot waterfall in Marion County, Tennessee, about 40 miles northwest of Chattanooga.
That’s exactly what I did today, in the company of four friends, who, like me, craved the sweet relief of something cold.
We panted and sweated down a boulder-strewn trail to the edge of a large pool — and gazed skyward to behold… a tiny trickle of water, splattering down from the top of a sandstone cliff.
Ok, so the drought has not been kind to Foster Falls. But that didn’t make the water at the bottom any less refreshing.
Foster Falls is in the Tennessee Valley Authority Natural Area and is the ending point of the 12.5-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail, known for its exceptional views, spring wildflowers and winter ice formations. The cliffs along the trails in the Foster Falls area draw rock climbers from all over who like sport climbing and the challenge of overhangs.
This afternoon, we treaded water in the deep part of the pool and watched, sometimes cringingly, as climbers ascended the rock face behind the waterfall and released, kawoosh, hitting the water. Around the banks of the pool, some sunned on the rocks and others threw sticks for their dogs to fetch.
After a while, we wrapped ourselves in beach towels and climbed the trail back to the parking lot.
We hit the Dairy Queen in Jasper about 15 minutes down the road back to Chattanooga, just in time to buy an ice cream Blizzard before we dried off completely.