EPB’s holiday window displays continue a 70-year-old tradition
Christmas is coming! What’s your favorite thing to do? Is it looking at the Christmas lights? Today, anyone can have a huge display in their yard. That wasn’t always the case, however.
The Electric Power Board windows have been a tradition for over 70 years, according to EPB spokesperson John Pless. That’s about as specific as anyone can get on the subject of when the display started. The former EPB building at the corner of 6th and Market streets, which has since been demolished, was opened in February 1942. World War II ended in 1945, so it’s likely one event or the other began the tradition for the EPB. At the time, the Electric Power Board’s brand-new building featured showrooms full of the latest electric appliances.
Many homes were still heated with gas or coal furnaces, and many homemakers still cooked on wood-burning stoves. Some homes still had an ice box to keep food cold; the displays were to convince people that their lives would be better with new, electric appliances!
The Christmas windows were both a gift to the community and a way to draw attention to EPB products.
It was a different era—there were fewer cars on the roads; even police officers walked their beats. There were several major department stores: Miller Brothers, Loveman’s, Sears and JC Penneys all had large, multi-level buildings in the heart of downtown. Each had its own Santa. Longtime local residents say some stores had still scenes, while others featured the animatronics that are a hallmark of the EPB displays.
A 1965 Chattanooga Times article profiles a puppeteer from New York hired by Miller Brothers to perform in their window for the Christmas season. It was his second year doing the show—all day for several days during the Christmas season.
By 1977, an article on the Miller’s windows indicated that they had shifted focus to fashion, rather than entertainment. The windows featured mannequins wearing holiday attire, and a few animatronics and Christmas trees were more background props than the star of the show. This was likely due to the fact that Eastgate and Northgate Malls were open, and fewer people were going downtown to shop. A 1978 article, however, mentions that some of the animatronics had dates on them, going as far back as 1954.
Thanks to the shopping malls, by the 1980s, downtown department stores were on their way out, and by the early 1990s, they were gone. Yet some things have stayed the same.
The EPB is now the only facility doing full-scale windows. Not only are the scenes different every year, most of the fabricating and ideas come from the employees of the Electric Power Board. Employees from all divisions of the EPB come together to produce a labor of love as their gift to the citizens of Chattanooga.
In addition, they’re working with students from the STEM school, incorporating the school’s mission while gaining inspiration from the students. What started as a gift for the community is not only still giving, it’s giving back.
Merry Christmas, everyone.