This is the weekend of the Happy Hollerpalooza. Happy Holler has gotten so much interesting attention in recent years that you’ve almost certainly heard of it. If you haven’t gotten to know it, this annual neighborhood street fair--the 11th, we think--might be a great introduction.
Happy Holler is a hollow, a low spot, along North Central, only about half a mile northwest of downtown. According to lore, it was around the 1880s when an Irish immigrant named Cavenaugh noticed how many farm wagons were having trouble with the steep up and down here, getting bogged down in mud, sometimes turning over. He thought it would be a great place for a saloon where, if you couldn’t fix your wagon, you could at least feel better about it. The saloon was a success, and attracted others.
About the same time, the vicinity became important to a very large textile factory, a weaving mill known as Brookside, which was located along West Baxter, an easy walk to the southwest. Many of Brookside’s thousands of employees--at one time it employed 3,500--built houses along Central, Baxter, Oklahoma, Anderson, and Scott Avenues. Especially in the neighborhood now known as Old North, managers built large houses, workers small shotgun-style houses. But they all had one thing in common, and that was this little business district.
By the very early 20th century, it was known as Happy Hollow, or Holler. It’s assumed the name had something to do with its saloon tradition--which, beginning with Prohibition, became a bootlegging tradition.
By 1917, Happy Holler was offering other ways to be happy, like a 400-seat movie theater, which was on North Central near Anderson until 1955. With other stores, like a grocery, bakery, cleaner, pool hall--but always bars--it was a downtown away from downtown.
There are lots of legends about Happy Holler that may or may not be true, but it was central to the childhood of major Hollywood director Clarence Brown (1890-1987), who was prominent at MGM from the 1920s until the early 1950s, especially famous for his early work with Greta Garbo--and who years after his retirement bestowed a major endowment on his alma mater, UT, resulting in the modern theater that bears his name. His father was a manager for Brookside, and the Brown family lived in four locations around the Holler, finally settling in a nice big house on Scott, which is still standing. (The three others have been torn down, one fairly recently.)
Happy Holler was also the site of a second-floor boxing ring where Big John Tate (1955-1998), the 1979 heavyweight champion of the World Boxing Association, trained.
Today it’s a downtown that’s not downtown, and a place that feels free to be a little offbeat. The Time Warp Tea Room, which has been there for 14 years now, is a restaurant / coffee shop / motorcycle and pinball museum. Toots is a popular karaoke bar, and Flats and Taps is a large restaurant with a patio, and often crowded, and on the fringe is the Three Rivers Market, Knoxville’s main food co-op and the city’s largest grocery dedicated to celebrating the local.
But a much older institution is the Original Freeze-O, which offers the essentials, like hot dogs, ice cream, and tamales with chili, for a walk-up clientele.
This laid-back street fair offers a good chance to get acquainted, and, if you’re lucky, get happy.