Suggest that they are visionaries and Dr. Charles and Mary Portera, founders of the Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will just laugh and shake their heads.
“There was no vision involved,” insists Dr. Portera. “It just happened.”
During my recent visit to Chattanooga I was fortunate to share dinner with the Portera’s at the Back Inn Cafe, where we munched on scrumptious appetizers and watched the sun set over the Tennessee River as the couple explained how the district came to be. In 1991, in support of the revitalization of the Riverfront in downtown Chattanooga, they purchased the Newell Home, an historic property on a high rocky promontory overlooking the river and downtown Chattanooga. Located just steps from Chattanooga’s famous Hunter Museum of American Art, it was an ideal location for an art gallery. They restored the charming French stucco property, named it simply the River Gallery, and began sourcing unique works by local artists to fill its myriad rooms and alcoves.
When the Martin House became available the Porters acquired it as well. This second historic building was converted into the Back Inn Cafe and three guest rooms, the couple’s first foray into the Bed and Breakfast arena.
“In those days, we didn’t know that you need more than three rooms to make money in the hospitality business,” says Dr. Portera.
Seeking economies of scale that would allow them to operate profitably, they purchased a yet another property and converted it into a dedicated B&B.
One thing led to another and by 2004 the couple had acquired every building in the bluff area. Today the district encompasses 1.5 city blocks and includes 17 guest rooms in three turn-of-the-century restored homes; Rembrandt’s Coffee Shop, where guests of the B&B enjoy fresh coffees, breads, and pastries for breakfast each morning; two restaurants; a meeting/event facility; the Bluff View Bakery, specializing in fresh-baked artisanal breads; Rembrandt’s Pastry and Chocolate Kitchens; and Rembrandt’s Coffee Roasting Company.
During my visit I sampled much of what the district offers. I began each morning on my private balcony in the penthouse suite of the Maclellan House, watching the Tennessee River roll placidly through the valley as I sipped my morning coffee. By 9 a.m. I was comfortably ensconced at a table in Rembrandt’s Coffee House, swooning over fresh yogurt, granola, a fresh croissant, and more of their rich coffee.
Some mornings I walked across the glass bridge that connects the bluff area with Chattanooga’s downtown, where I explored the city’s vibrant Riverfront or continued across the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge to the artsy North Shore neighborhood. Other days I opted for a stroll through the art district’s River Gallery Sculpture Garden, where more than 30 original sculptures grace a hillside overlooking the Tennessee River. With more time, I could have hiked the Tennessee RiverPark Trail, which runs for ten miles along the south shore of the river and is directly accessible from the Bluff View Art District.
The Portera’s may demur when they are accused of being visionaries, but few would argue that they have created something very special that has not only preserved and protected an historic enclave, but is also a tremendous asset to Chattanooga and the ideal base from which to explore the city.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau during my stay in Chattanooga. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.