6 (continued): Billy Hull and the Tiki Palace
This is a bit of a departure from my usual formula. There was a murder, but that’s not where my focus is on this one. Plus, I wasn’t very successful in tracking down the facts of the case. So after I give you the basics, we’re going to talk about a house.
Billy Hull owned Chattanooga strip clubs, The Castaways Club and Lion’s Den, which I believe were connected or right next door to each other. In the mid-70s, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for hiring a hit man to kill his wife’s boyfriend. Roland Hargis, Gloria Hull’s boyfriend, was shot when leaving the Tradewinds Night Club in the early hours of May 3, 1973. The gunman, Larry Parker, was convicted of manslaughter.
Hull also allegedly tried to have another of his wife’s boyfriends, Jerry Mitchell, killed. I don’t have any details on that other than the fact that the murder never happened.
Hull had a number of other legal problems. He got into trouble for tax evasion in the 60s or the 80s or maybe both – again, the information I found was sketchy. At one point he told an interesting tale to the tax court about having helped his grandmother with her whiskey bootlegging business. He claimed that she gave him a lot of money and extravagant gifts, explaining why his lifestyle didn’t line up with what he told the IRS he was bringing in. He even claimed that, as doctors were working to save his grandmother’s life minutes before she died, she had the presence of mind to tell him where she had buried jars containing large sums of money.
In the summer of 1976, a former Chattanooga police officer made allegations of corruption in the police department and district attorney’s office – one of those claims was that the ADA picked up alleged sex workers at Castaways and brought them to Billy Hull’s house. The officer who made the allegations had at some point worked at the Castaways Club. During Hull’s murder trial, an allegation was made that this same cop had set up the victim so Hull could get a mug shot of him. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was, unless he needed a picture of the guy to give to the hit man.
A six-month investigation into the corruption allegations was concluded in March 1977, and no merit was found in the claims. The report from the investigation said that people paid by Billy Hull were the source of many of the allegations in an effort to take down the sheriff. No charges could be brought against Hull since paying people to lie wasn’t against the law, and no one made the allegations in open court.
Hull was acquitted of an arson charge in November 1977 when the star witness for the prosecution recanted his claim that Hull had paid him to burn down the Light Fantastic Lounge, a competing club, in April 1973. Another witness – who was also involved in the murder-for-hire plot Hull orchestrated – said Hull had talked with him about burning the competing club. However, Hull’s lawyer attacked the additional witness’ credibility due to his extensive criminal record.
In April 1979, 32-year-old James M. Corvin’s body was found in the trunk of a stolen car at a Chattanooga hospital. Corvin had been shot, and the body had likely been in the car for several months. Sixteen years later, a Crime Stoppers program led to the arrest of James Steven Turner of neighboring Ringgold, Georgia. Turner was charged with Corvin’s murder.
The significance here is that Corvin was a defense witness in Billy Hull’s murder trial. In one of my sources, I read that Turner was a friend of Hull’s, but it didn’t come from a news story, so I can’t be certain of the accuracy of that. I’m also not clear on what motive Hull would have if he happened to be behind this killing. Still, it raised my eyebrows.
I don’t know whether or not Gloria and Billy Hull ever divorced, but I was unable to find any indication that either of them had died. If they are still alive, he would be in his 80s, and I believe she would be as well.
Before I go on, I want to reiterate the whole sketchy details thing. I found a few legitimate news articles and legal briefs, but most of what I found came from blogs, comments, forums, and tabloids. It was easy to see where people played fast and loose with the facts, and sometimes I ran across conflicting information. When I describe Hull’s home, some of my information comes from those sources, and could be inaccurate. For the most part, though, I tried to make sure my details were accurate by viewing photos and videos of the place. I was able to add a few of my own observations that way as well. If you know for a fact that I got anything wrong, please get in touch so I can make a correction.
What I really want to talk about today is the home of Gloria and Billy Hull, known as the Tiki Palace. A lot of features I found on the internet about this place referred to it as “the Swingers’ Tiki Palace.” I found no information about whether or not the Hulls actually were swingers, but this place sure seems like some sort of a sex house, so take that as you will.
The home, located at 25 North Crest Road, sits on Missionary Ridge, overlooking Chattanooga. The planning took two years, and once a builder was selected, it took another 14 months to complete. Construction concluded in 1972. I saw it mentioned somewhere that it was renovated in the 90s, though I don’t know what was done. In the numerous photos I’ve seen, it still had a very 1970s vibe overall.
A 1972 issue of the trade publication Electricity in Building Magazine listed it as 6500 square feet. The rest of my sources where it came up said 5600 square feet. I don’t know which is accurate, but that will give you a general idea.
There are two large Tikis flanking the front doors on the exterior of the house. Step inside and find the hallways and bathrooms covered in marble. Whether or not it’s real marble, I don’t know. It won’t really matter when you get the whole picture. Some rooms have wallpaper. Hideous wallpaper. There are a lot of mirrors. Mirrored walls, mirrored cabinetry – you name it. I guess that plays into the sex house theory quite nicely. Some rooms have deep red carpeting, and there are chandeliers all over the place. Much of the house has faux stone detail, mostly on the walls. One shot I saw – which came from a set of photos where the home was staged for sale in (I believe) 2014 even showed what looked like a pretty old tanning bed. Hopefully you’re beginning to get the tacky picture I’m painting here.
The focal point of the Tiki Palace is the 20’ by 40’ pool, which took up the bulk of the house and reached up to a 12’ depth. Virtually every source says it is “Playboy bunny-shaped,” which I don’t see. The two swimming tunnels at the top (which lead to bedrooms) are reminiscent of bunny ears, but the shape as a whole is not like the logo at all. However, the pool floor does feature the magazine’s logo set in tile with the word “PLAYBOY” below it. There is also a rock waterfall at the other end of the pool.
A 1972 photo of Billy and Gloria Hull standing by the pool seems to show either shag carpeting or some sort of grass on the footbridges that went over each “bunny ear” of the pool. Let’s hope it was grass. My lungs start to hurt every time I see those pictures of Jayne Mansfield’s floor-to-ceiling pink shag carpeting in her bathroom – I mean, it looks cool AF, but it’s not like mold is a new invention. Contemporary photos show only tile there.
In the room were real palm trees, animal heads, and bamboo and palm matting on the walls (again – what about mold?). I did read that they had some sort of dehumidifying system in the room, so hopefully that kept things from getting gross, but I have a hard time seeing something dehumidifying a room of that size effectively.
The pool area of course contained a full bar because you can’t live in a place like this without a cocktail in your hand at all times.
According the 1972 trade magazine article, there was a closed circuit TV for monitoring the pool. I don’t know why you would need that for an indoor pool, so I’m just going with the theory that it was for some freaky voyeuristic purposes. These monitors fed into each of the bedrooms.
Let’s talk about the bedrooms. Tinted glass walls formed a barrier between the pool area and the swim-in bedrooms. You could swim under the footbridges and the glass walls and emerge in the bedrooms, at the tip of each bunny ear.
I saw it mentioned somewhere that there are three bedrooms, but I never could get confirmation on that. If there are, it gets lost because naturally what people want to talk about are those swim-in bedrooms. I can’t blame them. One of those was the heavily mirrored master bedroom.
One description of the home mentioned a bathroom with “opposing pink toilets, flanked by a sunken stone shower.” I never saw any pictures with two toilets, but I did see a shot of a lone pink toilet and another of a lone pink bidet, so that may have been what they meant. These people were clearly odd, but hopefully not odd enough to have a need to use two facing toilets at the same time.
I watched a video where some teenagers went in the house, and they showed at least one mirrored ceiling – in a bathroom. Not only is that way too weird for me, but I’m super concerned about the Windex budget of anyone who ever lived in this place.
The living room, located in the rear of the home, has a full bar made of marble, and mirror-covered walls. This was one of the rooms with deep red carpeting.
The house has a massive multi-level deck on the back, and it’s not without its own features. There is a sauna out there, and a large hot tub that seats 12. As you could have guessed, it also has an outdoor bar. I noticed in the video I watched that there was also a red spiral staircase on the deck, right up against the house. I got curious about this, because it’s a one-story building, but looking at Google Maps’ satellite view didn’t really give me any answers, either. It looks like most of the roof is flat, so it might have just been used to get a better view off of the ridge.
According to some comments I saw on a blog, there was originally a Playboy logo painted on the driveway. The comment claimed that the Hulls received a cease and desist order and had to paint over it. If this is true, what they painted over it is still there, and you can see it from Google Maps. It’s Mickey Mouse. It almost looks like it’s at the center of a helipad, and one commenter did claim the Hulls had one. Whether or not there is any truth to that, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
The Daily Mail said the home “has been largely abandoned since 1973,” but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Based on items left behind and the decent enough condition it was in in the 2014 real estate photos, it looks like someone might have lived there in more recent years. I don’t think it’s likely that many families lived in the house since the Hulls, though, because surely someone would have done an extensive renovation. For the most part, it’s not a fun-kitschy-retro house. It’s just plain tacky. Slap a little gold paint on it, and it looks like something Donald Trump might have chosen in that era.
Based on various photos and comments I saw, it seems the house had not been vandalized as late as the summer of 2015, but sometime over the course of the next year, it was trashed. It was supposedly condemned and slated for demolition, which may or may not have already happened.
I can see the little wheels turning in everyone’s brains - don’t even think about trespassing. The Chattanooga Police Department has obviously had a lot of trouble with that, and they now have a zero-tolerance policy for the property. They won’t let you off with a warning – they will absolutely charge you.
My sources are below, and you really should look at all of them. I think I pretty much gave you all of the information that’s worth having, but the pictures are fun.
I believe these photos came from a 2014 listing when the house was for sale. Obviously this was pre-vandalism. I'm amused by the way they conveniently left out pictures of the pool.
Summers, Chris (July 5, 2016). “Inside a creepy abandoned swingers' mansion built by a strip club mogul with a swimming pool shaped like a Playboy bunny” The Daily Mail
Gloria Hull v. Commissioner. Billy Hull v. Commissioner. United States Tax Court (filed March 24, 1986)
Hull v. State. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee. (filed April 11, 1977)
“Tennessee Tiki House – 1972” (May 26, 2010 thread). Tiki Central
Electricity in Building Magazine (June 1972) via “Tennessee Tiki House – 1972” (May 26, 2010 thread). Tiki Central
Phipps, Sean (July 12, 2016). “U.K.'s Daily Mail highlights abandoned Tiki-themed Chattanooga home” Nooga.com
“Tiki Palace: An abandoned Playboy mansion in Tennessee” (August 4, 2016). Deserted Places
Tiki House – sale photos (July 2014). Imgur
“Swinger’s Tiki Palace” Abandoned Southeast
“A Playboy Mansion From The 1970s Is Rotting In Tennessee And It’s Mesmerizing” (December 5, 2016). Only In Your State
“Ex-Policeman’s Charges Denied” (August 21, 1976). The Tennessean
“Chattanooga Corruption Probe Ends” (March 1, 1977) The Tennessean
Loggins, Kirk (November 11, 1977). “Nightclub Owner Cleared of Arson Charge” The Tennessean
“Ringgold man arrested in 16-year-old slaying” (May 19, 1995). Rome News-Tribune
Front door of Tiki Palace. Electricity in Building Magazine (June 1972) via “Tennessee Tiki House – 1972” (May 26, 2010 thread). Tiki Central
Billy & Gloria Hull by Tiki Palace swimming pool.Electricity in Building Magazine (June 1972) via “Tennessee Tiki House – 1972” (May 26, 2010 thread). Tiki Central
both satellite photos are from Google Maps