NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The annual list of Nashville’s most endangered historic places, known as the Nashville Nine, has been released by Historic Nashville, Inc.
The announcement was made at the West End area music venue Exit/In.
The locations on the 2019 list were nominated by members of the community and represent nine historic properties threatened by demolition, neglect or development.
“By listing these nine properties, we are underscoring the ongoing threat to our city’s most valuable historic places,” said Elizabeth Elkins, Vice President of Historic Nashville, Inc., and Chair of the Nashville Nine Committee in a press release. “Whether it be through development, bad politics, or neglect, each of these nine properties is at risk. As we all watch our city change at an extraordinarily rapid and unprecedented pace, I hope that every Nashvillian considers the impact these potential losses have on the character of our environment. The loss of the past will undoubtedly be a huge factor in our city’s future.”
The Rock Block – Elliston Place
For decades, Elliston Place has been an important part of Nashville’s community life and cultural history. Known since the 1980s as The Rock Block for a pair of clubs that sit across the street from each other, the two-block strip from Krispy Kreme at 2103 Elliston Place to the trio of century-old apartments at the corner of Elliston and Louise Avenue serves as an entertainment district for students at nearby Vanderbilt University and a proving ground for local musicians.
Earlier this year, the community successfully staved off a rezoning exemption that would have allowed a 15-story hotel to be erected on the site of the three apartment buildings, which are known collectively as the Louise Douglas Apartments and are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The nearby Elliston Place Soda Shop, at 2111 Elliston Place, has been a neighborhood fixture since opening in 1939 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Exit/In (established in 1971 at 2208 Elliston Place) and The End (established in 1990 at 2219 Elliston Place, though other venues preceded it at the same location) have been longtime anchors of the strip, serving as local launching pads for the careers of such artists as Steve Martin, Jimmy Buffett, Barefoot Jerry, John Hiatt, and Kings of Leon.
Development continues to encroach on The Rock Block, since every block that surrounds it has seen recent construction. The Rock Block, however, still looks much the same as it did 40 years ago, an eclectic mixture of music venues, restaurants, small shops, and other businesses — the kind of neighborhood that frequently falls victim to Nashville’s growth.
Historic Homes of Belle Meade
Nestled between the rolling hills of West Nashville and the bucolic landscape of Percy Warner Park, the Belle Meade area of Davidson County was once the home of a sprawling plantation and horse farm. In 1906, the newly formed Belle Meade Land Company began designing streets and lots for the construction of an affluent suburban neighborhood within easy commuting distance to downtown Nashville. From the 1920s through the 1950s, hundreds of significant landmark homes were built in a wide variety of architectural styles. A majority of those iconic historic houses survive to this day, but the enormous development pressures in the Nashville area have led to a record number of demolitions in recent years.
Recent community input has also brought attention to the excessive number of teardowns and speculative designs proposed by builders who often sacrifice quality for profit. To combat these challenges, the City of Belle Meade has begun a process to establish a conservation overlay to protect the historic character of this beautiful area. An overlay would mean all requests for demolitions and new construction within the designated historic zone would be subject to review by a newly-appointed Historic Zoning Commission. The HZC has already begun work on drafting the design guidelines that would be used to review applications for “certificates of appropriateness” within the proposed overlay. A City Commission vote to establish the conservation overlay is expected to take place later this year.
Mount Olivet Cemetery Vault – 1101 Lebanon Pike
Mount Olivet Cemetery, founded in 1855 and located two-and-a-half miles southeast of Nashville’s city center, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Four of the historic structures on the 206-acre property were identified as contributing to National Register eligibility. The earliest contributing structure is the Vault, constructed between 1856 and 1862. Architect and engineer Adolphus Heiman (1809-1862) recessed the Vault into a hillside, to provide a cool environment in which bodies could be stored until interment or transportation to another cemetery was arranged. Cemetery staff used the Vault extensively during the Civil War, and it remained in use as a cooling room until 1925. Heiman designed the structure’s brick façade in a medieval-inspired style, with two octagonal ventilation towers. The interior architecture features a brick triple barrel-vault ceiling, originally covered in plaster, supported by decorative columns. Very few buildings designed by the Nashville-based architect remain standing. Two extant examples are St. Mary’s Catholic Church (originally called Cathedral of Our Lady of the Seven Dolors) and Belmont Mansion. Heiman is buried at Mount Olivet.
The Vault, which was at one time leased by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for use as a museum, is now empty, and due to safety concerns, has been closed to the public by Service Corporation International/Dignity Memorial, which purchased the cemetery in late 2014. Mount Olivet’s local management has begun working with preservationists to develop a plan to stabilize, restore, and maintain the historic structure.
The second-oldest contributing structure in Mount Olivet was the Gothic Revival-style chapel and office built in phases between 1870 and 1940, which was included in HNI’s 2009 list of Nashville’s most endangered places. It was completely destroyed by fire in January 2015.
Burrus Hall at Fisk University – 1507 Meharry Boulevard and 1020 16th Avenue North
Located within the Fisk University National Register Historic District, Burrus Hall was built in 1945 and named in honor of James and John Burrus, two of the first four college graduates in 1875. The architects were from the notable African American firm of McKissack & McKissack. The 9,860-square-foot building is a two-story brick, L-shaped plan with a flat roof, projecting entry, and stone framed arched doors. Throughout its history, it was used as the music building, a men’s dormitory, and twelve faculty apartments.
In October 1978, Burrus Hall sustained damage from two arson-related fires, at least one of which occurred in a second-floor practice room. The building was most recently renovated in 1992. As of 2009, windows in the easternmost section of the north wing have been boarded up and the entrance doors show signs of damage. Extensive vegetation is growing around the property, and portions of the cornice on the west and south elevations are missing.
Burrus Hall sits directly across the street from the Boyd House, another historic building on campus that is exhibiting disrepair and which the Metro Historical Commission has been advised will soon be demolished. There is a concern that Burrus Hall may meet the same fate, especially since it does not appear to have been actively used over the past decade.
Home for Aged Masons/Masonic School – R.S. Gass Boulevard and Hart Lane
The Home for Aged Masons and the nearby Boy’s School both appeared on the first Nashville Nine list in 2009. A decade later, these century-old, state-owned properties continue to deteriorate from neglect.
The Home for Aged Masons, a three-story Colonial Revival-style building constructed in 1913-1915, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. The limestone building was by the Nashville architectural firm of Asmus & Norton, who designed the Cathedral of the Incarnation on West End. The Home and the Boy’s School, built ca. 1915, are the only surviving buildings from a larger complex dating to the early 20th century.
The State of Tennessee purchased the Home in 1941 for use as a tuberculosis hospital, but the property was vacated in the 1990s. In 2016, the Metro Historical Commission and a group of Metro Council members and state representatives successfully petitioned to delay the demolition of these two structures, but nothing has been done to restore them. Historic Nashville encourages the city’s new administration to prioritize finding adaptive reuse for this pair of buildings in collaboration with the state.
Post-War Mid-Century and Minimal Traditional Housing
Historic doesn’t always mean the most ornate. As Nashville grows, buildings that are not easily identified as historic, but are significant to our history, have become prime opportunities for redevelopment in the trend of two-for-one, four-for-one, or more. Post-World War II suburban neighborhoods, especially mid-century ranch and minimal traditional housing types, are at great risk of being lost as developers find potential for greater density. Some of these neighborhoods even have the potential to become designated historic districts, but “tall and skinnies” and middle-of-nowhere-USA design threatens the historic context of these unique streetscapes.
In addition to entire categories of housing styles being lost, the demolition and redevelopment of these properties reduce the amount of affordable housing in a city struggling to meet affordable housing demands. This trend of demolition and increased density development can be seen in neighborhoods across the county, including Hillwood, Donelson, Inglewood, Green Hills, and more.
Downtown Nashville is home to four National Register Historic Districts and numerous individually listed or eligible National Register Properties that are threatened daily as Nashville’s explosive growth encourages high-density redevelopment. Nashville grew from its early Fort Nashborough settlement to a thriving commercial hub in the late 19th century, which is exemplified by the Italianate, Victorian Romanesque, Chicago Commercial, and even later Art Deco-influenced buildings still found within our downtown Historic Districts. Unfortunately, these historic buildings that define much of downtown Nashville’s character are between two and six stories, making them ideal targets for redevelopment.
Although the Downtown Code has some height restrictions, it does not outright protect historic buildings and has been flexible in its interpretation. Additionally, only a few historic buildings are protected by Historic Zoning Overlays. As a result, added height allowances, facadectomies, and outright demolition threaten what is left of Nashville’s downtown historic character.
Morris Memorial Building – 330 Charlotte Avenue
Located in the Historic Black Business District downtown, this neoclassical building illustrates the work of Moses McKissack. He, with his brother Calvin, founded McKissack & McKissack, a black architectural firm established in 1918 and one of the first organized and staffed by African Americans in the United States. The National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. built the Morris Memorial Building in the mid-1920s for the Sunday School Publishing Board, serving the largest African American religious denomination in the world. The building is named for Reverend E. C. Morris, president of the National Baptist Convention during the time of planning. It stands on the site formerly occupied by the Commercial Hotel, which housed a slave market before the Civil War.
Listed on our Nashville Nine in 2016 for the threat of redevelopment, some hope came when the city announced the intention to purchase and preserve the building. Unfortunately, the administration abandoned the proposal to purchase the property. As a result, it remains threatened by redevelopment that could see the historic integrity compromised by adding additional height or see the building demolished.
Federal Reserve Building – 226 Third Avenue North
The Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta was completed and dedicated in December 1922 and is both architecturally and historically significant. The building was designed by architect Ten Eyck Brown and Marr and Holman, and is one of Nashville’s best examples of the Neo-Classic style.
The building was built as a response to the city’s growth as a financial center and was located in the city’s “Wall Street” area. The Federal Reserve occupied the building until 1958 when it moved to a new building on Eighth Avenue North. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and was sold in 2018 to Bill Miller, a Nashville-based entrepreneur and owner of the Johnny Cash Museum. Complete plans for the building have not been disclosed; however, there are current talks of expanding the building for hotel use, adding significant height to the historic building. This expansion could cause the building to no longer be considered contributing to the National Register-listed Historic Financial District and could compromise its overall historic integrity.
News 2 is reporting on Nashville’s historic growth and the growing pains that come with it. Click here for more Nashville 2019 reports.