Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating Places: Good-bye, Mr. Hull

It pains me to write this but I must: Barring an unforeseen miracle, the Cordell Hull State Office Building will be demolished.

This is no prediction. It is, rather, the reality. Indeed, I've had discussions the last few days with folks close to the situation and Hull's future looks grim. The State of Tennessee still must determine what it will cost to raze the clean-lined modernist structure, but the wrecking ball awaits.

Given various factors, it is almost unfathomable that this will happen. This city already has lost too many wonderful buildings. Plus, you would think the state would have properly maintained the structure to avoid its deterioration. The Hull building (see the previous post for an aerial photo) may be no Hume-Fogg High School or Union Station, but it is a very attractive civic building. As important, it comprises a quartet of structures that beautifully frames the grand Tennessee State Capitol. Once Hull is gone, the effect will be much like that of an otherwise attractive person who is missing a tooth.

Placing some phone calls to determine what might happen, I learned that it is all but certain Hull will not be saved so as to house, for example, the Tennessee State Museum. I also learned the state apparently plans to keep the land — with a green space the likely replacement for Hull.

At this point in the post, I could attempt to deliver a pithy comment or barbed zinger lambasting the state. But I'll refrain. I just don't have it in me. Maybe I should not be so upset about something most folks would contend is trivial in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps I should focus my emotional energy upon interests for which I have more control. Some might say I need "to get a life." But my passion for places and place-making began more than 40 years ago and I can't simply ignore this fact. In short, I cherish attractive cities, and stately civic buildings are a key to that attractiveness.

During the past 50 years or so, downtown Nashville has lost so many of its fine-grained historic masonry buildings that what modest charm it still retains is based, in large part, on large-scale civic buildings like those found on Capitol Hill. Raze the Hull Building and not only will the Hill never be the same but another layer of downtown's already limited architectural appeal will be forever stripped away.


  1. It would be tragic if this building is demolished. But, a green space is better than something new and ugly in that spot.

    What exactly are the conditions of this building that are so bad that will require it to be demolished? Can you elaborate exactly what is going on with the structure to require such drastic action?

    How was the building neglected over the years? Are there major structural problems?

    This is the story we would like to see reported. Thanks.

  2. Where are the local news reporters looking into the validity of the state's claims? If there are problems with the structure, who has certified those problems? What is the cost of rehabbing versus demolition? What were the reasons given to you as to why the State Library and Archives would not be a suitable use for the Hull. If you ask me, the purported demolition costs of $22 million, plus the budget for the proposed new Library and Archives building at the Bicentennial Mall ($70 million) is a high bar to ignore when looking at alternatives that the Hull Building might provide. Are we all just supposed to take the state government's word on this? I also understand that there is an underground portion of the capitol that will be disused... or will it be demolished/filled-in as well? Questions, Mr. Williams, questions!!

  3. Indeed William, instead of just getting depressed, why not use journalism and the City Paper to try and draw attention to this issue and try to get the state to take action. Please, please report the details about this. Get the other news and preservation organizations involved. I'm sure Mayor Dean would not want this building torn down. How about Martha Ingram and other potential leaders who might have influence. Come on WW, let's not give up!

  4. This story needs a lot of news coverage, not only in the City Paper, but ALL other media outlets, including tv news. What exactly are the reasons Cordell Hull needs to be razed? What are the comparisons to Hume Fogg High School and Union Station? Surely this building is not that far gone?! William, I hope you will lead the charge on this one. It could be a defining time in Metro Nashville's preservation and re-purposing efforts. Look forward to at least some more reporting

  5. Friends,

    Thanks for your words of encouragement. I think TCP is looking into a story. Will keep you posted.


  6. This is ridiculous. I cannot imagine the state architect was okay with this. (Let's find out.) Not only will we lose a magnificent and unique piece of our city, but I cannot picture any worse designation for this site than "open space." What an idiotic use! Who is going to go there? The only potential audience would be the people who currently work in the office building we are apparently going to demolish only to regret it soon thereafter and put its black-and-white photo in a coffee table book lamenting our addiction to demolition. Leave it to a Knoxvillian governor--my vote for whom I have started to regret--to come to town and wreck our city. The state treats the north end of the city as if it were a twilight zone in which the condemned are forced to stagger thirstily across the asphalt desert in hopes of finding the fabled farmer's market oasis encased in its center. What self-respecting city tolerates that sort of parking dystopia blanketing half of downtown? There is a reason SoBro is exploding while the north end of the city has languished in the landscape of bureaucracy since the 1960s; read: Tennessee has established a blacktop swamp holding Germantown and downtown at bay from one another. The state has already made too much hash of our city, and this is a last straw. I think we should see if some other gullible town (Murfreesboro? Dickson? Lynchburg?) wants to be the capitol for a while so that we Nashvillians can salvage some urbanity for ourselves.

    1. AMous,

      Strongly written. I agree with your sentiments.


  7. As an artist myself, I enjoy reading Philip Koch's sensitive writing about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, who along with Whistler and Rothko, are my favorite American painters.
    I don't live in the United States but have traveled and passed a short time there. But even with the little time spent in your beautiful country, especially in small-town America, I can relate to some of the poetical feel that Hopper and Wyeth had captured in their art, which is for me part of the attraction of their paintings.
    Browsing at the other day, as I do now and then, I find a good selection of Edward Hopper's work, ,in the big archive of Western Art, that customers can order online for canvas prints and even hand-painted, oil-painting reproductions can be made and sent to them.
    Hopper's surrealistic and depersonalized world is there again. Timeless, yes, as it is still there now in the roadside cafes and diners that I ate at all over America.