Hayden Seay, Chattanooga, Tenn. – A seemingly simple search for a picture of the old Rivoli Theater on Glass Street inspired David Moon.
“One person had posted something about the Rivoli Theater in Chattanooga, and I’ve always loved old movie theaters,” said Moon, a Haddon Heights, N.J. native who moved to Lafayette, Ga. in 2005. “And of course I’ve always loved history just as a general thing.”
As it stands today on Glass Street, the theater is just a hollow shell marked by an extremely faded marquee sign.
“It just seemed really odd that this poor abandoned theater [nobody] really cared much about, I wanted to know more about its history,” explained Moon. “At that time, I had just [finished] some genealogy I was doing on my family, etc… so I was kind of in research mode.”
After researching his family’s history, Moon pursued historical research as a pastime.
“It’s just a little neighborhood theater in East Chattanooga on Glass Street,” said Moon, who was living in Walker County, Ga. at the time. “The more I dug, the more I realized Chattanooga, because I was remote, didn’t have much online resources to find out information about history.”
Moon dug deep enough to find the daughter of the original builders of the theater, which was built in the 1920s; however, no photos were discovered.
“I was looking for a photo; what did it look like before what it looks like now?” asked Moon. “It’s just kind of an unassuming, run-down building with a very faded marquee-ish sign, you wouldn’t know it was a theatre unless you thought about it.”
Instead of resigning in the face of lost history, this moment sparked an idea.
“All of a sudden I thought, well, gee wiz, there really isn’t an outlet online for history,” explained Moon. “At that time,the Chattanooga History Center was still doing their capital campaign to fundraise.”
He contacted as many people and places as he could to find this photo, including the Chattanooga Public Library and the Chattanooga History Center, but no one had a photo.
“I was amazed by why somebody wouldn’t have a photo, and I figured, if there’s a photo somewhere, it’s out there in somebody’s shoebox in a closet,” said Moon. “That’s kind of where I came up with the idea of Picnooga.”
Originally a way to crowdsource photos from people who have history crammed in every nook and cranny of their homes, Moon developed a mechanism, named Picnooga, where photos could be brought in, scanned and catalogued.
“It’s what we called the ‘undiscovered layer of history,’ which I think everybody has in a basement or attic or closet or trunk,” said Moon.
But Moon always envisioned the creation of an online archive, even before launching Picnooga in 2014.
Earlier this month, he launched a campaign to raise funds to launch the online archive. The total amount they need to reach is $18,160, a nod to the creation of Ross’s Landing, a settlement on the Tennessee River, 200 years ago in 1816. If fully funded, Moon expects the museum to launch in June 2017.
“I think it was always kind of in the plans, and it was a matter of just seeing where the [Chattanooga] History Center was going,” explained Moon. “We partnered very early on with them, and they provided a lot of images that otherwise would probably not have been seen over the last three years.”
Although Picnooga’s main focus is with photos, Moon has also partnered with the Tennessee State Library and Archives to plan a digitization of issues of the Chattanooga Daily Times, the Chattanooga Star and several other newspapers, dating as far back as 1838 and as recent as 1907.
“It really got me thinking, really, something needs to be done,” Moon said.
He attempted to form a partnership with several local libraries, and no photo collection agreements could be reached, but it didn’t stop him. He’s tackling the creation of the museum on his own.
“Originally I thought this was all going to be digital, and it’s kind of turned into a small collection, we have about 500 glass plate negatives from Chattanooga,” said Moon, who has another 700 photos and objects in his collection. “There’s plans beyond the 1300, 1200 items we can put on there now, that will take years to put on.”
“These images are Chattanooga’s history,” said Moon.