Old Dairy Gold Sign In Red Bank Uprooted

RED BANK | Tuesday, January 15, 2008

t almost the same time some historic Red Bank commercial buildings near Red Bank Baptist Church were leveled, a historic sign on the south end of Dayton Boulevard was also removed.

The familiar Dairy Gold sign at the now-closed ice cream and hamburger eatery near the intersection with Signal Mountain Road was recently removed. In its place is now a sign for SGO Designer Glass, which is scheduled to open in the former restaurant building on Monday after relocating from 6425 Hixson Pike. SGO franchisee Ethan Moore -- whose business designs, builds and installs custom architectural decorative glass for residential, commercial and religious buildings said he still has the historic Dairy Gold sign.

"I am going to hold on to it for now," he said. "I haven't decided what I am going to do with it." Wes Schultz, a contributing photographer for the Chattanoogan, had taken a picture of the sign from his car on Jan. 11 after noticing a temporary SGO sign hanging over the north face of it.

When he returned the next day, the entire sign was gone, he said.

The red and yellow Dairy Gold neon sign -- which resembles the sun -- had originally been designed to catch people's attention and get their mouths watering for hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream treats.

In recent years, as the retail world changed around it, the vintage-looking sign also brought reflections of a simpler time, particularly that period when drive-in restaurants were in their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.

This particular restaurant was first listed in the Chattanooga city directory in 1953, which means it opened in either late 1952 or 1953. And the sign is believed to date to then.

The Dairy Gold on Dayton Boulevard was actually the fifth of six that had opened by the 1950s in various areas of town. The first was at 4600 Brainerd Road, near the intersection of Germantown Road in 1949. When it opened, Dairy Gold was headed by a young John Klein, whose parents-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kollmansperger, owned Kay's ice cream shops for a number of years. Some of the Kollmansperger family members were also officers in the Dairy Gold operation. Dariy Gold over the years specialized in soft-serve ice cream and was also a drive-in style restaurant, while Kay's served the traditional hand-dipped variety of frozen dairy products.

By 1951, two other Dairy Golds had opened. One was at 1112 Hixson Pike, where the Riverview Food King and Greenlife grocery stores have been in recent years. The other was at 2220 E. Main Street, between South Kelly and South Lyerly streets. The rear of the Main Street store also served as the company office for a number of years. By 1952, one at 3748 Ringgold Road between Bales Avenue and Wimberly Lane had opened.

After the Red Bank store opened a short time later, one at 3116 South Broad Street opened in the mid-1950s.

Also during the mid-1950s, the one on Brainerd Road was literally relocated to 3904 Brainerd Road to the corner of Moore Road. Michael Standifer, a maternal grandson of the Kleins, said he has seen movies of the event.

"They picked the building up out of its foundation and rolled it on a truck of some kind down Brainerd Road," he said. "We have some clips from home movies of everyone the five Klein kids -- and my grandfather walking down Brainerd Road behind the store. I remember that always being talked about as a big deal in Chattanooga back in the day." A Krystal was later constructed at the old location.

By 1965, the Ringgold Road Dairy Gold had closed, and by 1970, only the ones on Brainerd Road and Dayton Boulevard remained open. In the late 1970s, the one on Brainred Road closed and a Waffle House was built at the location.

The Red Bank store continued to thrive and gained a new generation of fans who never saw the other Dairy Golds. Like Krystal, it attracted customers from all walks of life. When I was a student at Baylor School in the 1970s, Dairy Gold was about the only fast-food restaurant in that immediate area. I would occasionally eat there as a student but more frequently as an adult. They had some of the best French fries and hamburgers I ever enjoyed. I also enjoyed the great milkshakes. A Valvoline Instant Oil Change later bought the Dairy Gold property and moved next door. This eliminated Dairy Gold's drive-in bays although curb service continued to be offered until a drive-through window was opened. The Kleins live on Signal Mountain in the Alexian Brothers complex, and Mrs. Katy Klein said this week that they had not operated the restaurant in more recent years.

The operator at the time of its closing on Aug. 23, 2006, was Shane Brown. SGO Designer Glass operator Mr. Moore said the kitchen and cooking equipment of the Dairy Gold has also been removed from the building. Parts were taken to the Emanuel orphanage in Honduras with the help of Red Bank Baptist Church, while the rest is being used in a kitchen at Midway Baptist Church in Ringgold, Ga., Mr. Moore said.

And the sign is finally gone as well. While Mr. Moore is not sure what he plans to do with the neon piece of Americana, he definitely knows how the closed restaurant ranks in people's consciousness.

"Everybody talks about it, where they hung out when they were in high school," he said.

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