Days are numbered for former Discoteca building on Southside

Authored By Mary Barnett

A little more than a year after several Chattanooga artists took over the exterior of an empty building on Main Street fated for demolition and made it into a vibrant and evolving canvas for murals and graffiti, that building’s days are now officially numbered.

Leaders with the River City Company, which owns the former Discoteca property, are cleaning and clearing the site for the future owners. They said demolition will begin as early as Friday.

Although the artists took many months to create multiple layers of murals on all four exterior walls, plus the roof and the surface of the parking lot, Jim Williamson, River City’s vice president of planning and development, said it shouldn’t take longer than about half a day to take down the structure and remove the debris.

“It will be there one day and gone the next,” Williamson said.

Shaun LaRose, who started the initiative to paint the entire building last year, said seeing it all go away eventually was a part of the process.

“My thoughts are it really accomplished what we set out to do. Our hope is that when it comes down it creates a void for that [art],” LaRose said. 

Although the art that is viewable now was not created by the original group of artists and students involved in the effort and completely covers the layers of previous designs, muralist Kevin Bate said that kind of evolution probably couldn’t have been avoided.

Bate’s large portrait of Samuel L. Jackson is long gone now, with layers of black spray paint and stylized tags in its place.

“I went into it knowing that my work would be destroyed. Either the building would come down, or someone would paint over it. Personally, I like the fact that we’ve attracted a lot of good street artists to the building,” Bate said.

Williamson said there has been some interest in salvaging some of the painted bricks after the structure comes down, but so far, there are no definite plans to save anything.

Bate said he has also seen comments surfacing on Facebook from people who would like to repurpose some of the bricks and build benches for the neighborhood or create some kind of “giant Lego” project.

Williamson said once the site is cleared, the new owners can begin construction in the coming months for the planned relocation of the Center for Integrated Medicine.

Check out Nooga.com’s photo gallery from early installations on the building last summer.