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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Creating Places: Random tidbits

As the weekend concludes, a few quick hits:

* The vertical lights at the top of the Omni Hotel Nashville are very attractive and eye-catching. Likewise, the street-level activation along Fifth is strong. This building has turned out much better than I was expecting.

* Anil Patel's mixed-use project at 18th and West End avenues is now on the second floor and should rise quickly.

* What about the new-look building at 17th and West End and home to Metropolitan Bank? Very nice. The color scheme (charcoal and medium gray) and signage are of quality.

* Will West End Summit materialize? I have no idea.

* The Fairfield Inn on Division Street in The Gulch has been topped. Now it's time for the skin. Perhaps surprisingly, I feel optimistic.

* I continue to be pleased with the Homewood Suites on West End Avenue. It seems about 80 percent (if not more) finished.

* Adam Leibowitz broke ground last week on what he is now calling Amplify on Main, to be located in East Nashville. Adam is a good man and I'm very happy to see him move forward on this project.

* Relatedly, developer Justin Hicks has two developments planned for the east side. They should both be strong.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Creating Places: Traditional architecture in the spotlight

We've seen this countless times. Nashville is losing another vintage gem, as demolition began last week on the three-story apartment building located at 2305 Elliston Place. With the brick-and-stone structure soon to be no more, the list of tasteful pre-World War II-constructed buildings that have met the wrecking ball since the late 1990s (the rough start of the urban infill boom in Nashville) grows. Other fallen jewels the past 15 years or so  include, among others, The Jacksonian, the Masonic Lodge on Broadway (at the site of the proposed West End Summit), the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, Saint Ann's Episcopal Church (due to the 1998 tornado), The Maberta, the row of commercial buildings in Hillsboro Village, the little masonry buildings on Church Street (across from the Y), a church in Waverly-Belmont near Zanies (I forget the name), the Hathcock Building on Ninth, a terra cotta beauty at Third and Church and the former home of Mario's. There have been many others but memory is bad and, regardless, forgetting such losses is good for my blood pressure.

Given Nashville doesn't have much old-school built fabric (single-family homes notwithstanding) to begin with, I am more than comfortable with the city's having landed some new buildings that replicate the traditional model. I acknowledged that purists would argue a 21st century building should show a contemporary design aesthetic and, generally speaking, I agree. But because this city has gone berserk since the 1960s razing hundreds of beautiful old buildings, I can both live with and advocate the introduction of "replica" buildings. On that theme, here is a list of my favorites "neo-traditional" building constructed in Nashville during the past approximately 15 years:

Tier One

Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Main Library
The "New Jacksonian" (on West End Avenue)
Fifth & Garfield in Salemtown
Vanderbilt University College Halls at Kissam (under construction)
Vanderbilt University Commons
Belmont University Raskin Law School Building
Belmont University Wedgewood Academic Center (under construction and fronting Wedgewood)
Belmont University Gordon Inman Health Sciences Building (fronting Wedgewood)
Covenant Presbyterian Church (Green Hills)
The Maxwell in West End Park
The Gordon Wing at University School (at the corner of Edgehill and 19th)

Tier Two

Fourth and Monroe in Germantown (across from City House restaurant)
West End Close (condos on West End Avenue at Craighead)
The Acropolis (located at Avoca and Parthenon in West End Park)
The Astoria  (the limestone building in Bedford Commons in Green Hills)
The brick/stone building in Bedford Commons (with the cupola and home to Oxford Shop)
A.A. Burch Building (fails to address street effectively enough to merit a place in Tier One)
The Southgate in the 3800 block of West End
The Row at 31st (old-school townhomes that, unfortunately, are covered by trees)

Tier Three

Phillips Place (on Long Boulevard in West End Park)
Park 30 (near Centennial Park)
Hassenfeld Library at University School at 21st and Edgehill
Ten Ten on the Row (on 16th Avenue South)
2110, 2112 and 2114 Acklen in Hillsboro Village (also a version on Long in West End Park)
Bell Hillsboro Village (on 21st and sited adjacent to a vintage gem)
The Artie Lee (3102 West End Circle in West End Park)

Planned and should be stellar

Luxus Germantown
2151 Building at 22nd and Acklen
Marriott hotel in Bedford Commons

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Creating Places: A quick look at Chattanooga

As I returned to Nashville last week following a trip to Chattanooga, I mentally assessed the Scenic City as a small version of Portland, Ore. In many respects, the similarities are striking. Both are located on large rivers (the Tennessee and the Willamette) and within the foothills of major mountain ranges (the Smoky and the Tualatin mountains). Both offer a significant number of citizens who embrace the outdoors, "green construction" and socio-politically progressive lifestyles. Both are home to fairly large public universities that are not particularly well known outside their respective states: the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Portland State University. And both cities are filled with numerous small, older buildings.  

But  perhaps the key similarity is that the urban cores of both Chattanooga and Portland are pockmarked by very few dead spaces similar to those that mar Nashville (i.e., massive surface parking lots, car dealerships and huge swaths of unused green space). In Chattanooga, six urban districts flow nicely into each other. Though the North Shore (one of the six) is "severed" from the Riverfront and Bluff View districts by the Tennessee River, the pedestrian- and cyclist-oriented Walnut Street Bridge, two stellar riverfront parks (Renaissance and Coolidge) and the vibrant Frazier Avenue minimize that separation.

Indeed, many positive things are happening in Chattanooga. For example, there is some very tasteful recent and current construction (primarily in or near Bluff View). The city's bike share program has about 30 stations and the bikes are strikingly attractive. Perhaps the most noteworthy element on the "place making front" is the evolution of Southside. I stayed at The Crash Pad, a platinum LEED certified hostel, and got a strong taste of the district, the key thoroughfares for which are Market and Main streets. The latter offers an Enzo's Market grocery store (with a wine shop positioned next to it, no less). Though there are some parallels with the Turnip Truck in The Gulch, Enzo's sells both natural/organics and mainstream fare.  

Outside Chattanooga's urban core, I checked St. Elmo (a very cool mixed-use district) and Glass Street (located northeast of downtown). The latter has a long way to go but shows some potential to be a neat little commercial pocket.

In a surprise move, I got a personal tour (thanks goes to Janna Jahn, board chair of The Engel Foundation) of historic Engel Stadium — the timeless baseball park that was used to portray Ebbets Field in the Jackie Robinson tribute movie 42. What a treasure.

In summary, Chattanooga has a palpable vibe. In a way, I like that there are no skyscrapers. It's a pedestrian friendly city with its urban fabric flowing from the North Shore on the north to 20th street on the south, an approximately two-mile stretch filled with vintage masonry buildings (including far more historic commercial buildings than Nashville sports). I had visited the city many times previously, but this was my first time to spend the night and explore it thoroughly. At some point soon, I will return and do so again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Creating Places: Chattanooga bound

The last time I visited Chattanooga, my chin beard still had some color and I lived in East Nashville. During the six years since, the city has undergone some impressive changes. I'm headed for Chattanooga this morning, with a full report to follow by Sunday.