Founders Dr. Charles and Mary Portera bought their first property in Bluff View Art District, the Newell Home, in 1991 not only because of its ideal waterfront location, but because of their family's commitment to participating in the gentrification of the downtown area during the start of Chattanooga's renaissance. The charming French stucco complex and quaint cobblestone fountain courtyard appealed greatly to these Mississippi natives and Gulf Coast enthusiasts, as did the neighborhood's architectural details and overall European feel.
It comes as a surprise to most to learn Bluff View's current operations were never created under the design of some "master plan" or "ultimate vision", not that planning and vision didn"t play some part. The truth is, the Porteras rather inadvertently started the District as a typical American couple looking to fulfill the typical American dream: to be in a position to give back to a community which had given so much to their family while creating a legacy that could be enjoyed for generations to come.
The Portera family was not the first to seek that dream here on what's now a central part of Chattanooga's Riverwalk. At the turn of the 20th century, the Tennessee River Valley was booming with wealth and industry, and tycoons of these profiting businesses as well as influential citizens built their homes and raised their families in this neighborhood on the river known as Bluff View.
Chattanooga's location allowed for prime access to a myriad of thriving Southern cities through strong rail line and waterway systems. This was cause for rapid and sometimes unchecked industrial growth that brought decades of prosperity to the city, but ultimately proved to be its demise.
On one evening in 1969 - considered by most a legendary turning point in Chattanooga's history - Walter Cronkite announced on the national nightly news the EPA results concluding Chattanooga was indeed the dirtiest city in America. From that point forward growth in the city became stagnant. Some key businesses soon faltered and the once-promising city seemed doomed to an economic downward spiral.
Then in 1982 a group of forward-thinking citizens commissioned Vision 2000, making recommendations as to how the waterfront and downtown areas should be redeveloped. Now geared for progress, businesses along the river started to feel a sense of revitalization and were further energized by the groundbreaking of the now-famous Tennessee Aquarium, which actually opened in 1992.
Mere months later, Bluff View Art District's first business was opened: The River Gallery. It was a perfect complement to the neighboring impressive Hunter Museum of American Art as well as the other art museums nearby. As the neighborhood began to grow, it was clear there was as much a need for other services along the newly established Riverwalk. By 1993 Bluff View Inn and Back Inn Cafe were opened in the Martin House, and the breathtaking River Gallery Sculpture Garden opened its gates to the public as well.
The rest of the story unfolds rather quickly as the renovations of the District began to truly take shape. A European-style coffee house known as Rembrandt's Coffee House, now one of the most popular places in Chattanooga, opened its doors in 1994. At the same time, the TC Thompson House was opened, greatly expanding the Bluff View Inn's guestroom offerings. With the Portera's emphasis on quality and artisanal goods, they started Bluff View Bakery, Rembrandt's Pastry Kitchen and Rembrandt's Chocolate Kitchen that same year in order to serve the District's restaurants and valued guests with the freshest and finest products available.
The early cultural and culinary offerings were so well received that the Porteras were encouraged to further expand their operations and open yet another restaurant in Bluff View later that same year. By December of 1994 Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria opened its doors to the public and to this day remains one of the top-rated restaurants in the city. With its award-winning Italian cuisine - including hand-made pasta and fresh-baked table breads - served with its well-noted friendly service, it's not surprising this authentic eatery has undergone some five expansions in order to accommodate its ever-growing popularity with locals and visitors alike.
Renaissance Commons became the District's special event and meeting space after being acquired and remodeled in 1996. It became a focal point in the community due the use of reclaimed building materials salvaged from remodeled homes and buildings throughout the region. Civic organizations and developers along the Riverwalk looked to the building's remodel as an example of green construction.
The Maclellan House (circa 1889) was refurbished in 1997 and became the "main" home and entertainment space for the expansive three-house bed and breakfast, Bluff View Inn. In an effort to provide guests and visitors with a true European experience, the Bocce Ball Terrace was opened in 1998 and its regulation design attracted competitive regional tournaments as much as curious passersby.
Over the years Bluff View's amenities and attractions quickly became an icon in the downtown area and Chattanooga as a whole. As the District became recognized with awards and accolades regularly, Dr. Portera sought out a personal desire that would end up revolutionizing the landscape of the District quite literally. In 1999, the Bluff View Herb Garden was founded. To date, it produces more than 30 varieties of herbs, vegetables, wild flowers and plants that adorn both the Bluff View grounds as well as accentuate the guest rooms of Bluff View Inn, and provide essential fresh ingredients for its kitchens. This completely organic garden has become an ideal model for Chattanooga's green movement.
The last major entity established in the District's recent past is Rembrandt's Roasting Company. In 2003 the roaster was placed in a renowned artist's former glass studio directly below the Bocce Ball Terrace. Like everything created under the Portera direction, the emphasis was on quality. The beans used are fair trade. They are profiled regularly and roasted in small batches in order to ensure consistency and maximize flavor.
With Rembrandt's Roasting Company now in Bluff View's culinary arsenal, it wasn't long before regional restaurants and grocers began requesting access to the host of superior products being made in the District - coffees, breads, pastries, pastas and chocolates. And it was these demands that pushed Bluff View Art District's already noteworthy reputation far beyond the flourishing city's domain.
Today Bluff View Art District entities' artisanal products are in more than 40 different restaurants, businesses, hotels, farmers' markets and grocery stores including Bi-Lo and Whole Foods. The public demand has been so great that in January of 2010 Bluff View Bakery officially opened its doors to the public on a daily basis. The recent acquisition of Executive Baker Alou Niangadou, a nationally acclaimed baker with a most impressive repertoire of 400 bread recipes spanning more than three decades of work, has increased demand ten fold.
With the Portera's constant involvement in the District's day-to-day operations, standards remain high and evolution constant. Those who visit the District regularly are never surprised by the innovations and further perfections on every product and service created for the enjoyment of Bluff View's guests. And those who are newcomers to the area are elated to find this iconic gem in the heart of Chattanooga's downtown where an American dream lives and breathes - and continually evolves while bringing the very best to each and every one of its guests, day after day.
1991 - Dr. and Mrs. Charles Portera founded Bluff View Art District with a commitment to reinvigorate
the once elegant neighborhood into an area that would tantalize all of the senses through art, architecture, scenic views, landscape and food.
1992 - River Gallery was established. River Gallery features fine art and museum-quality craft.
1993 - River Gallery opened River Gallery Sculpture Garden, an outdoor garden overlooking the Tennessee River that features more than 30 pieces of original sculpture.
1993 - Bluff View Inn opened in the former C.G. Martin mansion (circa 1927) offering three private guest rooms. Featured in Southern Living, Country Living and Country Inns magazines, Bluff View Inn offers Chattanooga's finest Bed & Breakfast accommodations.
1993 - Bluff View Restaurant and Back Inn Café also opened in the Martin House. Bluff View Restaurant, located upstairs in the Inn, was a fine dining restaurant. Back Inn Café, a sandwich shop which evolved into an Italian Bistro, was located in the back of the Inn.
1994 - Rembrandt's Coffee House, a European-style café, was established. Rembrandt's cuisine features fresh pastries and hand-dipped chocolates, as well as fresh salads, sandwiches, soups, coffees and teas. Bluff View Inn opened the T.C. Thompson house (circa 1908), adding an additional four rooms and two suites. Tony's Pasta Shop and Trattoria opened in December. Tony's features made-from-scratch pastas, breads and sauces, all prepared at Bluff View Art District.
1995 - Bluff View Restaurant changed to Ledoux's, offering French gourmet cuisine.
1996 - Renaissance Commons, an executive conference center and banquet center opened. Renaissance Commons hosted a variety of events, from wedding receptions to business meetings, as well as an award winning Sunday Brunch. Bluff View Inn's Martin House underwent renovation, closing LeDoux's, expanding Back Inn Café into upstairs and downstairs dining rooms, then adding upper and lower sun porches for additional seating. Now Back Inn Café is an award-winning fine dining restaurant specializing in global cuisine that offers indoor and outdoor seating with breathtaking views of the Tennessee River.
1997 - Bluff View Inn's Maclellan House (circa 1889) opened, adding seven additional rooms, including a honeymoon suite, and banquet space for Renaissance Commons.
1998 - The Bocce Ball Court and Terrace was created next door to the Maclellan House.
1999 - The Bluff View Herb Garden was added at the corner of Georgia Avenue and 4th Street. Many of the fresh herbs that are used in the restaurants are grown there.
2000 - River Gallery opened the River Gallery Glass Studio underneath the Bocce Court Terrace. The
Glass Studio was open to the public and glass blown by the artists was sold at the River Gallery.
2003 - Rembrandt's Roasting Company replaced the Glass Studio underneath the Bocce Court Terrace and roasts all the coffees for Rembrandt's Coffee House and the restaurants. The Roasting Company also provides custom blends for several wholesale clients.
2004 - Bluff View Bakery opens it its new location across from River Gallery Sculpture Garden. It continues to provide table and sandwich bread for the District's restaurants and coffee house, as well as maintains a wholesale business that furnishes artisan breads and rolls for several delicatessens, restaurants, and grocery stores throughout the city.