I remember going to Bill’s Varsity when it was across the side street from Central. I was not even going to Central at that time. My brother was (class of ’58), and after going to the Varsity the first time, I knew that I had to go to become a “PURPLE POUNDER”. Fall of 1959 I started Central, and stayed, (if I could have it would have been forever). It was mentioned about Bill being “shunned” by the powers at Central. The reason, I heard one time was that the school had this notion that Bill sold “drugs” and such. Of course, Bill was way ahead of his time the same as others that promoted, that thing that was to be the “RUIN OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE”………..ROCK AND ROLL. As most of us can witness, when we see one another, especially at the Connection Luncheons, we turned out pretty good. The day after I graduated in 1962, I went to work for Bill at the Hamilton County Park, “flippin burgers”, worked there all summer, till I was “old enough to get a “real job”, I turned 18 in September. I then went on to bigger and better things. And as they say, “the rest is history”. How I loved those wood floors in the Varsity, and always a greeting from Bill and all the other “kids” when you entered. Memories are wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Varsity Varsity, located across from Central, was where you wanted to be. It was the first place to go every morning before school, to meet your friends and listen to the latest jukebox hits of the day. It was also the perfect place to end the school day before heading home. You could drink a Coke, make new friends and of course, enjoy the music while learning the latest dance steps. Bill Hay the owner, always made you feel welcome. He allowed us to bring in new records for the jukebox and if it proved popular, it remained. He provided great selections of gifts and Valentine’s candy and was kind enough to let us charge it, if we spent more than we had in our pocket. I usually bought 5 or 6 heart shaped boxes for my best girl friends. However, the center of attention was always the jukebox, because it attracted the girls who wanted to dance. That’s how I managed to get free dance lesson’s in those days. Sometime, during the year of ’62, Bill bought a new 1963 Corvette. From my fading memory, I think it was silver. We joked with Bill about how we actually helped pay for his new car with all the money we put in that Jukebox over the years. At the time, he said the salesman told him it would be a classic. With it’s split back rear window, it proved to be a classic indeed. However, that design was never used again because of complaints about visibility through the rear view mirror. Good thing it had side mirrors! Bill Hay often was invited to attend some school functions like parties and proms. I remember him getting up and singing at one of our proms. He loved to sing, “That Old Black Magic,” especially if we goaded him enough. Historically, as I understand it, the Varsity originally opened on the corner of the Central property around 1956. It later moved across Dodds Avenue when Central bought the property to make the school’s baseball field. Bill later opened a place in East Ridge, near Kingwood Pharmacy some time in 1967 or 68. This probably means the Varsity closed in 1966 or 67. This seems to coincide with the demolition of our Central. The Varsity was an important social addition during our time at Central. A time that gave us all some wonderful memories. Good friends, beautiful girls and happy times. Marshall Harris, Class of ‘62
I started my first year at Central in the fall of 1955 and at that time Ridge Drugs was still in operation there. I can remember this pretty well as I was a manager for the football team that year. A few games into the season while playing Portland we lost Charlie Cantrell to a career ending knee injury. I was assigned to the equipment room next to the gym, and while the team and coaches were at Frawley Field practicing I stayed back at school and did various things. After Charlie got hurt he would stay around, mostly in coach Farmers office. On most days when nobody was around except me, Charlie and maybe another guy or two, Charlie would say, “Little Richey run down to the drug store and get me a nickel cigar” which I promptly did. Charlie would sit at Farmers desk with his moccasin clad feet on the desk and enjoy his cigar, that is when he wasn’t hanging out the window giving the McCallie players practicing below and across the street from us pure hell.
The following summer (1956) the drug store had closed and I met Bill Hay for the first time as me, Eddy McGhee, Butch Gross, Doc Weller and a few more of the neighborhood boys were on the way up to McCallie’s baseball field to play some barnball and Bill was there getting Bills Varsity ready to open. Bill was driving a 56 chevy at the time and stopped working long enough to talk to us and tell what he was putting in the old drug store. He was open in a few day’s and that became a regular hangout for us well before school started back in the fall of 56. Bills Varsity stayed in the old drug store building until the county bought the remainder of the block in 1960 and started tearing down all of the houses, Westminister Presbyterian Church, and then the Varsity which was in a duplex building with W.H. Gerens Hardware Store located in the North side of the building.
Bill moved across the street next door to Scholtz’s Grocery Store where there had been an older fellow there who worked on tools, saw sharpening and such. I think that this happened during the summer of 1960 as I know that Central didn’t play any baseball games on their new field until the 1961 season. Bill had bought a new chevy in 59 and another in 62 after me and Byron Strickland had bought ours, mine being black, Byron’s red and Bill got a light blue metallic. In about June of 62 I had ordered a 63 Impala Super Sport from Newtons Chevrolet, and early September I was at Newtons checking on delivery date for my new Chevy when the first Sting Ray arrived on a truck along with several other cars. Of course everyone went out to look at the new Vette, awesome I thought, but I also knew it wasn’t practical for dating. I called Bill from Jim Smalls (salesman) office and began telling him all about what it looked like and so on, it was silver with black interior and totally different from earlier Corvettes and they were calling it a Stingray, boy was it something. Bill asked me if I thought he should buy it, and when I answered absolutely, Bill told me to put Jim back on the phone. The end of this story is that Bill bought that Stingray on my word sight unseen.
I’m not sure exactly when he closed the Varsity but sometime in 1964 I loaned Bill some money to help him get The Coat of Arms up and running. He told me soon after opening that he could pay me back anytime, but I waited until later when I was ready to buy my wife to be an engagement ring. The Coat of Arms was still operating until sometime after my twins were born in December 1967 and I’m not sure when he finally closed it. Bill and I stayed friends while he later worked at Leonard’s for several years and then he opened a hamburger place in East Ridge called Bills Place. It was while there during the 80s that he developed Alzheimer’s and had to give up working, eventually the end came when he was still what I now call a young age.
We attended the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC with the Band and CM Chandler as director. I was a freshman at the time and we were there when Regan was shot and were able to go by the place. Then as we were Seniors we were able to go back and revisit the same places and march in the parade again. I would love to see if the pictures of the entire band were still hanging in the Band Room or if we could see them….. Thank you for asking Chattanooga Central!”