CHATTANOOGA: BLUFF VIEW ARTS DISTRICT & THE NORTH SHORE

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While you are in Chattanooga, make sure to visit the Bluff View Arts District.  Why?  For starters, click on the link and check out the aerial shot, so you can get a feel for the location and views.  There are some nice views from the bluff, so the district was aptly named.  In the lower right corner of the photo in the link, there is a small park with sculptures.  It was really nice strolling around the park, enjoying the sculptures and views.  These are some of the things you may see while you are there:

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For details on the galleries, museum, restaurants, and shops; the website describes it quite well, so have a poke around the site.  I can tell you that when we were there, there was plenty of free parking, and it was a wonderful place to see on foot.

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Hunter Museum of American Arts (also located in the modern building to the left)

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This sculpture by Deborah Butterfield stands in front of the museum.  It looks like driftwood, right?  We thought so and actually had to touch it to believe that it was cast bronze, as was stated in the plaque.  Amazing!

We were also pleased to see that just beyond the Hunter Museum of American Art, we were able to access the beautiful Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.  Built in 1891, it has such style and was quite photogenic!  Accessible only to pedestrians (and their dogs!) as well as cyclists, it was a safe and enjoyable way to get in some exercise while taking in the views of downtown Chattanooga and the North Shore while crossing over the Tennessee River.

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A view of Walnut Street Bridge from the Hunter Museum of American Art.

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We took this bridge that crossed over the street to access the Walnut Street Bridge.

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The view from the street bridge of both the modern building of the Hunter Museum and the Walnut Street Bridge.

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After crossing the street bridge, we came across this handsome fella.  High paw!

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A view of the Hunter Museum from the Walnut Street Bridge.  I loved this walkway they built to take pedestrians all the way down to the river!

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Bruce, checking out the view form the Walnut Street Bridge.

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A view of the North Shore from the bridge.

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The city did a fantastic job developing the area where the bridge begins, as you can see in these photos.  It is very pedestrian friendly!

Across the river on the other end of the bridge is the North Shore.  You will get a nice view of Coolidge Park.  Make sure you spend some time checking out the fountain and the Coolidge Park Antique Carousel before you head into town.  I’m willing to bet you have never seen such an interesting variety of animal and reptile species represented on one carousel!  Bring your cameras; it’s a hoot!

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The North Shore has a very hip, cool, and artsy vibe, so allow some time to poke around the shops and grab some lunch at one of the restaurants.  Although I am known in our household as the “Aqua Dog,” we passed on the hot dogs at Good Dog and opted instead for some unusual tacos at Taco Mamacita.  The various taco combinations offered on the menu were so tempting, but we ordered just two different tacos a la carte for a light lunch.  Delicious!

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Want to dance off your lunch or learn a new dance step?  If you don’t mind learning in the middle of the sidewalk as pedestrians pass by, there are instructions on five different dance steps located right in front of the shops and restaurants in the main part of town!

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Our time spent in Chattanooga was so enjoyable that we are planning to return in May when “Nightfall” (described in my previous post) starts up again.  It was a great getaway spot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHATTANOOGA: ALL ABOARD!

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Hearing the name, “Chattanooga,” always puts a smile on my face, because it sounds so funny to me as many Indian names do.  “Chattanooga,” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point.”  This refers to Lookout Mountain, one of the city’s major attractions.  Although we fully intended to take in the views from Lookout Mountain, the haze over the region during our visit kept us from even getting out of our car.  We took a quick drive around, and then headed back down to the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

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The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Chattanooga is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the former train station that became a hotel in the 1970’s.  Terminal Station, as the train station was originally called, was a large and modern station for its time.  It became especially famous when Mack Gordon (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music) wrote about it in 1941 in their tune that Glenn Miller recorded, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  The song describes the journey of a train traveling from New York City along the Eastern Seaboard until its end at Terminal Station.

Unfortunately, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, rail traffic decreased and the station was ultimately closed.  Then, in 1972, a group of businessmen bought the station and surrounding property.  They renamed it “Chattanooga Choo Choo” after the Glen Miller song, and they opened up a hotel. 

We didn’t stay at the ‘Choo Choo, because the reviews on Trip Advisor were a mediocre 3-1/2 out of 5.  Anything less than a “4” rating on Trip advisor is an indication to me to give a place a miss for overnight stays.

The ‘Choo Choo, however, did serve as an excellent base for our daily visits to the city during our three-days in town.  Adjacent to the hotel, there is a large covered public parking structure with reasonable parking rates that are less expensive than in the heart of downtown.  In addition, CARTA’s free downtown electric shuttle departed from there, so we ditched our car in the lot each day and hopped on the shuttle for our trips to downtown and the North Shore across the river.  It was a great way to get around, and we were impressed with Chattanooga for offering this green option that keeps a lot of cars off the downtown streets.

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Before heading out on the shuttle, we first had a look around the ‘Choo Choo, so we could get a feel for what Terminal Station must have been like in its glory days.

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Domed ceiling skylight

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Downtown Chattanooga was a nice place to walk around, especially in the Riverfront district where the Tennessee Aquarium is located.  The city did a wonderful job developing the riverfront with plenty of walking and biking paths, public art, and park space.

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This clever brick work was in the Tennessee Aquarium plaza.

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Tennessee Aquarium

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If you visit Chattanooga between early May and late August, try to plan your visit around “Nightfall,” the free downtown concert series that is held in Miller Plaza each Friday, between the first Friday in May and the last Friday in August.  The opening act starts at 7 PM followed by a nationally touring headliner at 8 PM.  It’s kid friendly and pet friendly, so grab your dog’s leash and bring your lawn chairs (unless you get there early enough to snag a provided chair), and spend the evening.  There are food trucks and beer available, or you can bring your own picnic.

We opted instead to have pizza right next door at Community Pie, where they offer New York style, Detroit Style, and Neapolitan style pizzas you can watch them make behind the big glass kitchen window.

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Actually, to be honest, we didn’t even know about the concert series.  We had planned on eating at Community Pie, and the concert was a happy surprise.  When we left the restaurant, we heard a live band warming up, so we wandered over to see what was going on.  Cool!  A free concert!  While we waited for the music to start, we grabbed ourselves front-row seats and people-watched.  I also headed over to the grass area to see the craft booths that were set up for the event.  There was also a motorcycle show in the blocked off street near where the food trucks were parked, so I grabbed my camera and went to explore.

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The entire scene of the well-planned event was just so perfect!  What started as a nice surprise turned out to be a very enjoyable way to spend a summer evening.  Watching the people happily listen or dance to the music, seeing the children and dogs having a good time, and observing a wide mix of people peacefully congregated to have fun was just a really pleasant, happy feeling.

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Good on Nightfall and its sponsors for making that happen.  Wrapping up its 32nd season, over the years, Nightfall has brought in a diverse line-up of artists representing many genres of music, and they have developed it into a great series for the entire community.

In my next post, we’ll visit the Bluff View Arts District and the North Shore.

CHATTANOOGA: SONGBIRDS GUITAR MUSEUM

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To celebrate Bruce’s birthday, we hit the road to Chattanooga for a three-day visit.  Located less than three hours away, it was a very doable drive for a short get-away.  The draw?  Songbirds Guitar Museum, located in the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo complex.

As a former drummer, harmonica player, and singer with Anthem, a 1970’s-era San Diego-based rock band, Songbirds pulled on Bruce’s heart strings.  This was the perfect opportunity for Bruce to be in his happy place on his birthday.

As the Songbirds website states, “The Songbirds Guitar Museum not only brings our unparalleled collection of guitars to life through audio accompaniments, but the exhibits also embed these fretted instruments in pop culture vignettes with period-specific items of historical significance and relevance to the development of the guitar.  Guitars are grouped by brand, time frame, and linear progression.  Acoustic, electric, jazz, bass, mandolin, banjo and mandocello models- their stories are here for you.  Songbirds Guitar Museum is historically accurate, educational and fun for both guitar enthusiasts and those new to guitars.”

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The exhibits cover fretted instrument history from the 1920s to the 1970s, with a heavy focus on collector favorites like custom color models and other rarities from Fender, Gibson and Gretsch.  At any given time, there are over 300 instruments on display.  In all, the museum owns a collection of over 1,700 instruments, and the exhibits rotate on a regular basis.

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The combined value of the collection is worth over $200 million, with the value of individual pieces ranging from $10,000 USD to $1 million.

This incredible American-made collection is owned by the Songbirds Investment Group, a group that includes David Davidson, a partner with We Buy Guitars in New York City.  He worked for years to build the collection and find it a home.

Guitar aficionados consider the collection to be the premier private collection of rare guitars in the world.  Some of the crown jewels of the collection include 34 Gibson Les Paul “Bursts” from 1958 to 1960 (about 2% of all the “Bursts” in existence), around 300 custom color Fenders and 75 custom color Gibson Firebirds, rare early Gibson Flying V and Explorer specimens, a 1941 Martin D-45 and a set of instruments all made on the same day by legendary luthier Lloyd Loar.

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This 1958 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst was displayed in a glass case in the Vault, a highly secured room only accessible while on a guided “All Access Tour.”  This is where the museum’s most valuable guitars are displayed in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.  This particular model guitar sold for a few hundred dollars when it was new and is now valued in the mid-six figures.  Read more about these vintage guitars here.

The best way to see and enjoy the museum is to spring for a guided “All Access Tour” ($38) that includes the Green Room and Vault.  On the day we visited, there were just two other people on our tour that lasted almost two hours.  (Normally, the tour lasts about 90 minutes; however, our guide was happy to answer all the questions we threw at him!)

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This is the Green Room, only accessible on the guided All Access Tour.  The highly-secured Vault is in the back of the room.

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The Vault had the most elaborate (and expensive!) security I had ever seen outside of a bank.  The most valuable guitars in this room were worth up to one million dollars!  Since only 300 instruments are displayed at any given time in the museum, the remaining 1,400+ instruments are stored somewhere off-site.  The location is a highly guarded secret.

The stories behind the guitars in the Green Room and Vault were fascinating, even for the two of us non-guitar players.

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These are prototypes.

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