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Maclellan Building

The Maclellan Building in Chattanooga was built as the home office for Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company. Founded in 1887 in Chattanooga, the Mutual Medical Aid and Accident Insurance Company specialized in providing accident coverage to the "uninsurables"--miners, railroad workers, and lumber mill hands. Incorporated in December 1887 as Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company, the business was an outgrowth of the southern industrial boom of the 1880s.

In 1894 the company founders sold Provident to Thomas Maclellan and John McMaster. Within six years, Maclellan was the sole owner. In an environment of failed insurance companies, he built a highly successful business around the theme of stability. During the twentieth century, the specialized company grew into a strong national company and a large multi-line insurance carrier with its home office in Chattanooga.

Provident leased space in a series of buildings during its first twenty years of operation before moving into the James Building Annex in 1911. By 1919 Provident was ready for a home of its own and selected R. H. Hunt, the designer of the James Building Annex, as its architect. The final design became the Hunt firm's skyscraper masterpiece, a tribute to and symbol of the company molded by the ideals of the owner and architect. However, the symbol was costly: the final price tag of $640,000 represented over one-third of Provident's assets. At the building's opening, the Chattanooga News called it a "monument to courage."

The three-part facade of the Maclellan Building knits the existing James Building Annex into the final composition. A two-story base with attic provided the platform for the thin, brick shaft with limestone trim which springs from the center portion of the base. The use of materials and elaborate ornamentation differentiated the building's vertical divisions and contributed to the impression of the Maclellan Building's height.

The Maclellan Building used symbolism and iconography to reinforce and enrich its message. The Hunt firm's proposal cleverly duplicated the James Building Annex on the opposite side of the site. The two stood as pavilions flanking the thirteen-story shaft infill. Physically and symbolically the old home effectively became part of the new. The building's decorative program contributed to the overall theme of corporate success and stability. The elaborate portal used a colossal Ionic order with decorative sculpture, an eagle holding the earth in his claws, to express the company's strength and economic ambitions. The interior elevators, finished as Pullman cars, were a gesture acknowledging the importance of the city's railroad connections both to Chattanooga and to Provident. Finally, the building itself became a company logo used on letterheads and policies, a symbol of Maclellan's and Provident's success and stability.

The Maclellan Building was also an important civic symbol. The elegant shaft surmounted by the green-tiled mansard roof was the only fully three-dimensional tower in Hunt's Chattanooga work, dramatic and complete when viewed from any angle. The skyscraper continued to house and symbolize the Provident corporation until growth necessitated new corporate headquarters in 1960. Today the Maclellan Building is leased as office space and remains a significant component of the Chattanooga skyline.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » February 21, 2011