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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Creating Places: Ben West Library building

Here we go again. Another downtown building is slated to be felled to make ways for cars.

In this case, the Ben West Library building will likely be razed and replaced with a surface parking lot following a land swap between the state and Metro. (Read more here.) True, the structure is no masterpiece. But it is a solid example of mid-century modernist design. And even if it were an ugly building, it would look better on the site than what may as well be a used car lot.

When do we say "Stop the madness"? Salt Lake City has already done so (read here). And Minneapolis is getting serious about surface lots in its downtown (read here).

Is there not an adaptive reuse for the building? The Tennessee State Museum is looking for a home, and the former library building might just work. Or even better: What about moving the Nashville School for the Arts from the Foster Avenue state-owned building from which it operates (and that would be swapped for Metro's Ben West structure) to the ex-library space? The School for the Arts is a magnet school that needs a central location, and having the school operate within the confines of what had been a library would continue the educational theme of the downtown building.

Maybe such ideas have been pondered but are not feasible. But I doubt it. And that's sad. But here is what is really pathetic. I seriously doubt many of the state and Metro officials involved in this issue care whether the building is demolished to accommodate parking.

The western segment of Nashville's central business district is already decaying. The loss of the Ben West Library building will simply add to the morbidity.


  1. I thought moving Metro Archives to that building would have been better than putting it in the Library which will eventually need the space.

    IMHO based on nothing concrete, the parking lot is only a holding use until it can be sold to the highest bidder.

  2. Is Governor Haslam intent on demolishing buildings all around the state capital?

    First, the plan to raze the Cordell Building, and now this "land swap" deal with Metro......WTF is going on?!?!

    WW, I thought the City Paper was going to do a piece about the state's plan to demolish Cordell Hull, but don't recall ever seeing an article. I see your occasional tag lines like "Save the Hull" , but there seems to be very little real action to investigate, propose alternatives, or protest these moves.

    Better news coverage of these issues is certainly warranted. Shine a light on the topic please.

    Surely there is a good new use for the Ben West Library (I actually think it's an attractive structure). It would be stupid to tear down the library building and replace it with an asphalt parking lot.

    I'm reminded of the song lyric ....."pave paradise and put up a parking lot"!

    1. AMous,

      The Scene, our sister pub, did a nice piece on Hull.


  3. I'm also wondering what will happen to the various sculptures at the Cordell Hull.
    They were done by Dr Puryear Mims, a local artist of some repute; he also did some of the friezes at the Parthenon and the Mercury on the train station.
    I once had him for an art appreciation class: quite an eccentric character!

  4. The Ben West and the Imperial House are both key 1960s Earl Swensson designs, aren't they? Those mid century Swensson buildings are Nashville's homegrown modernism, and are of some historical note. I have yet to see anything written on Swensson designs from the era, which are in peril in Nashville.

  5. The Ben West was designed by Taylor and Crabtree. It makes me so sad to see this piece of nashville history plowed under for a parking lot. What the hell!!!

  6. I am pissed. I voted for Haslam but I am having deep regrets. If I thought he would come to Nashville to destroy it, I might have switched parties.

    We might as well put our capitol on Nolensville road if we wanted a strip mall context for it.

  7. Friends,

    Thanks for all your posts and passion. Yes, indeed, Taylor and Crabtree designed the Ben West building. The company also designed the James K. Polk State Office Building.