Treasures Unearthed during Chattanooga City Hall Renovation

By Duvall, Cherie | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Treasures Unearthed during Chattanooga City Hall Renovation


Duvall, Cherie, Nation's Cities Weekly


Chattanooga, Tenn., Mayor Ron Littlefield speculated the search for a time capsule in the town's city hall would end up a lot like Reporter Geraldo Rivera's television special in the 1980s. Centered around the opening of noted gangster Al Capone's secret vault, the event on the show was greatly hyped, but the vault was ultimately empty.

Much to Littlefield's delight, this was not the case in Chattanooga.

With artifacts from nearly 100 years ago recovered in the time capsule, this finding only added to the excitement of restoring the city's real historical treasure: its city hall.

Celebrating Past and Future

In late May, two years after renovations started, Chattanooga's city hall reopened its doors with a grand bash attended by an estimated 3,000 people--many of whom dressed in 1900s garb. The celebration was fashioned in that era to recreate the period when the 99-year-old City Hall was constructed.

"We wanted to do something similar including a community-wide fashion show of clothes of 1908," explained Littlefield. "My wife [Lanis] and I arrived by horse drawn carriage. I wore formalwear and a top hat that I rented, but my wife wore a dress that she made from a pattern from 1908."

Much like the intricate detail that went into designing the dress, construction workers uncovered many of the finely wrought decorations that City Hall designer R.H. Hunt used when he created the building nearly a century ago. Many of which had been lost over the years due to reconstruction projects. The last renovation took place in the late 1960s.

In the recent $12 million renovation, many elements of the original building were uncovered and kept, such as plaster ceiling medallions and a large public area on the 3rd floor, along with additions to bring the national registered historic place up to code and into the 21st century. These additions included revamped office spaces and conference rooms; upgraded heating, cooling and electrical systems; security cameras and elements to make the building handicap accessible.

In celebration of the building's old and new components, attendees of the reopening enjoyed performances, tours of the newly remodeled structure, a petting zoo, an antique car show and, of course, a display of the items that were discovered after opening the elusive time capsule. …

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