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1927-1947 Edward David Bass

ED Bass 1927-1947(Lived March 28, 1873 – March 12, 1960)

Elected mayor in 1927, Edward David Bass became only the second mayor to have been born in Chattanooga. Unlike the other, Hugh Whiteside, Bass’s family was not a family of great wealth.  Orphaned at the age of eleven, Bass left school to begin work along the production line at the D.M. Stewart Manufacturing Plant.  By 1900, Bass had saved enough money to follow in his father’s footsteps and open a grocery on the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue.

In 1906, as a group of businessmen formed the Highland Park Business League and searched for a candidate to run for the Hamilton County Court; Bass agreed to be a candidate.  Upon winning the seat, Bass sold his grocery store and dedicated his life to public service.  In 1911, as Mayor T.C. Thompson led the campaign to change the city government to the commission format, Bass ran for the state senate.  As a Senator, Bass helped pass the legislature that allowed Chattanooga to change its city government structure.  After his senate term, Bass returned to Chattanooga and served as Commissioner of Streets and Sewers for three terms.  During his service as a commissioner, Bass attended the University of Chattanooga’s Law School and passed the bar at the age of forty-six. 

Upon the resignation of Mayor Chambliss in 1923, Bass’s fellow Commissioners elected him mayor.  However, state politics kept Bass from accepting the position.  In 1923, as Governor Austin Peay prepared to appoint Mayor Chambliss to the Tennessee Supreme Court, he was pressured to not appoint Chambliss if it meant that Bass would become mayor in Chattanooga.  Governor Peay then asked Bass to promise that, if elected, he would not serve.  Bass did as the Governor asked.  The motivation for this political action appears to have been pressure from the statewide Ku Klux Klan, who promised to have Chambliss’ appointment blocked if Bass was to step up to the position of mayor in Chattanooga.

During his last term as Commissioner of Streets and Sewers, Bass performed an act that may be the one he is most remembered for; he extended Broad Street past Ninth Street (today, Martin Luther King Boulevard.)  At the time, Broad Street ended at Ninth Street where a row of brick buildings sat upon the southern side of Ninth Street across from Broad Street.  The warehouses, owned by the state of Georgia, sat empty, and Bass worked for many years to negotiate the purchase of the buildings so that Broad Street could be opened to the south.  Georgia officials continually refused to sell the buildings.  On May 6, 1926, a Friday night, without consulting the Mayor, city attorney or other commissioners, Commissioner Bass led a large crew of street department workers in descending upon the buildings and tore them down.  Beginning this mission around 6:00 pm, Bass drove the first car through the opened buildings around midnight.  According to news accounts, word of the escapade spread quickly, and the streets filled with citizens cheering Bass and his workmen.  The Elks Club Band, said to be practicing nearby, appeared and played the song “Marching through Georgia.”  By Monday morning, the length of Broad Street was extended.  The state of Georgia sought immediate action against the city, but the Supreme Court ruled that a state’s sovereignty ended at the state line.  The following Saturday, Commissioner Bass and his crew began the destruction of buildings that blocked Broad Street at Eleventh.  At the end of his project, Commissioner Bass had successfully opened Broad Street south to link with Whiteside Street (which ran from Lookout Mountain to Twelfth Street.)  Today, Whiteside Street is known as South Broad Street.

In 1927, the city of Chattanooga elected Bass as mayor and re-elected him for the next five terms.  Mayor Bass led the city through many events, including the nation’s Great Depression.  Upon his retirement in 1947, Bass said he took great pride in the fact that, during the Depression, Chattanooga was one of the few cities able to meet its debts without issuing city script.  At the time, Bass noted that not only did Chattanooga pay all its debt but continued to pay all of its city employees without raising the tax rate.

In 1929, Mayor Bass oversaw the annexation of many of Chattanooga’s suburbs including St. Elmo, Missionary Ridge, Alton Park, North Chattanooga, Brainerd and Riverview.  These annexations doubled the size of Chattanooga.   

In a press conference on June 17, 1946, Bass announced that he would not seek re-election the following year but would complete his term even though his doctors had asked him to resign from office due to health problems.  On January 10, 1947, three months before his term ended, Bass’s health forced him to resign.

Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea