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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Creating Places: More tidbits

A few observations as the night concludes and I ponder whether I would be tempted to say, were I to meet him, Jonathan Goldsmith — the actor who plays The Most Interesting Man in the World in the TV commercials — the following: "I often drink beer and when I do, I prefer craft beer instead of mass-produced stuff like Dos Equis."

* The newly painted grain silo at Yazoo looks very cool. Take a look.


* Relatedly, and only a few yards from the Yazoo building, the Gulch structure home to Colts Chocolates is getting a mural. Reminds me — at least so far — of the tasteful mural on the side of the 12South building home to The Filling Station. I'm optimistic this will be a fine addition to Overton Street.

Here is a look at the proposed addition to the Centennial Sportsplex. I believe it will be oriented in such a way as to not — like the other buildings within the complex — address a public street. That's disappointing but not necessarily surprising given various factors, including the limited amount of space along 25th and on which any new building could front. Of note, this building looks vastly better than the existing structures on the site. But, so would about 99 percent of the buildings ever constructed in Nashville.

* The parking garage at the 23Hundred at Berry Hill site is quite tall. The developer told me during a recent phone chat that the apartment building could stand 60 feet at its tallest point.

* I've learned from a trusted source that more smallish residential infill is planned for Germantown and Salemtown.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Creating Places: Tidbits

As the night concludes and I ponder which rock band with the word "black" in its name — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Sabbath, The Black Angels,  or The Black Keys — I most prefer, I offer some quick hits:

* The first tower crane is being assembled for Ray Hensler's luxury apartment tower in the Gulch.

* And speaking of whom, I saw Ray in the Gulch recently and asked him the chances of his tower converting to condos before it opened. He smiled and noted he is asked that question frequently. Then he smiled again and we exchanged good-byes.

* And speaking of that, my gut feeling is Hensler will open his tower as originally planned, that is, as Nashville's first 20-plus-story luxury apartment building. There will be no competition and, as such, the units should rent quickly — despite the reservations of a handful of naysayers. The fact that the building should be of top quality and has an absolutely prime location (in the Gulch, convenient to the inner-interstate loop and within walking distance of Midtown and the central business district) will help the marketing process all the more.

* I noticed Monday that the Yazoo Brewing Co. grain storage silo (which had been a shiny white as seen in the image below) on the Division Street face of the building has been painted and looks fantastic. I'll take a photo and post soon. On this theme, and because both the silo and the building's retro logo offer a stellar appearance, I hope Yazoo mastermind Linus Hall will consider an exterior color scheme change for his building. The industrial warehouse currently sports an underwhelming combination of light-yellowish cream and maroon (the latter color is not seen in the image below). If you're reading, Linus, please don't take this harshly. You know I am a major fan of all your beers and what you have done for this city.

*  Hill Realty is demolishing its Hillsboro Village buildings to make room for the long-awaited MZA-designed replacement. I will miss the vintage structures, with my best memory involving them being the time my little brother and I visited Mill's Bookstore in (I seem to recall) 1980 to meet the late author Alex Haley. As a gangly and acne-suffering 17-year-old, I had the audacity to tell the legend I appreciated what he did with Roots — even though I never read the book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Creating Places: Walking Demonbreun

As I listen to some instrumental music and enjoy a cup of chocolate soy milk, I ponder Demonbreun Street, circa 2016. Join me as we take a mental (and hypothetical) 1.5-mile stroll on a wonderful spring day.

Starting at the Music Row Roundabout and with the handsome Roundabout Plaza casting a shadow on the dancing nudes of Musica, we move east on the north side of the road and are immediately greeted on the right by Faison's 1515 Demonbreun and on the left by the hustle and bustle of the various shops and bars that highlight the block. We pass Tamarind, the stellar Indian eatery, and pause to remember Mo, the affable manager who has long since moved on. A few steps forward and on the left, Rhythm towers above us. We take a look across the street at  the updated (though still generic) Comfort Inn, which has seen its cartoonish facade fiddles long since removed.

Crossing the interstate is unpleasant but not as much so as is currently the case as some pedestrian improvements have been made since 2013. Once we get to the other side, we cross Demonbreun and admire both the Eakin and Hensler towers. Past the underrated Braid Electric Building we then traverse the Demonbreun Viaduct and are greeted by MarketStreet's Gulch Crossing building and, shortly thereafter, a semi-icon: Cummins Station.

At Eighth and Demonbreun, we note the classy modernist United Methodist Publishing House building. After pausing, we gaze skyward at Tony Giarratana's Marriott on the left while the massive Music City Center roller-coasters its way east to the right. At Sixth, we spot the shops on the back side of the Bridgestone Arena then, at Fifth, thrill to the one-two-three punch of the northeast corner of the MCC, the quirky Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the modernist Omni. Hall of Fame Park offers some soothing greenery on the left.

We reach Fourth and are greeted by the Schermerhorn on the left and both Encore and Hyatt Place on the right. One block later loom both Pinnacle on the left and Tony Giarratana's SoBro on the right. At this point, we have walked past 18 buildings of major note, with the final two blocks of our stroll offering a nice finish with the tasteful Market Street Apartments and Liggett Building serving as an entrance to the Ingram Amphitheater.

That was a nice "walk" and my faux milk is consumed. Good night.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Creating Places: Musings on Nashville modernism

With demolition looming for the Hull, Ben West and the former Tennessee Department of Highways and Public Works buildings — and with talks circulating of eventually razing the Imperial House Apartments building and the four-building Carmichael Towers on the Vanderbilt campus — I chose three other Nashville modernist structures that, hypothetically, might be lost during the next 10 years or so. So that's eight buildings constructed during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and that are typically underutilized and/or outdated — though not necessarily in need of a razing. What follows is a simple exercise in which I give two and then name my preference as to which should be saved.

Hull or Ben West? Save: Hull

Hull or Carmichael Towers? Save: Hull

Ben West or Carmichael Towers? Save: Carmichael Towers

Ben West or Imperial House? Save: Ben West

Imperial House or Carmichael Towers: Save: Carmichael Towers

Imperial House or Municipal Auditorium? Save: Municipal Auditorium

Municipal Auditorium or 401 Union (see here)? Save: Municipal Auditorium

401 Union or Ben West? Save: 401 Union

401 Union or Imperial House? Save: 401 Union

The former Tennessee Department of Highways building (see here) or Ben West? Save: Ben West

The former Tennessee Department of Highways building or Municipal Auditorium? Save: Municipal Auditorium

Vanderbilt University's Oxford House (see below) or Carmichael Towers? Save: Carmichael Towers

Oxford House or 401 Union? Save: 401 Union

Oxford House or Imperial House? Save: Oxford House

Oxford House or the former Tennessee Department of Highways building? Save: Oxford House

So based on my very simplistic approach, here is how I would rank the buildings based on their worthiness of being saved:

1. Hull
2. Municipal Auditorium
3. Carmichael Towers
4. 401 Union
5. Ben West
6. Oxford House
7. Tennessee Department of Highways building
8. Imperial House

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Creating Posts: Tidbit time

Though the weekend was highlighted by a stellar live performance by Richard Thompson at 3rd & Lindsley and, as such, my focus on Nashville's manmade fabric was not as strong as it might have been otherwise, I saw a number of things that caught my attention the past two days.

A few of note:

1. The one-story AT&T building under construction at the northeast corner of the West End and 19th avenues intersection in Midtown now sports garish orange awnings and a free-standing pole sign, the shape of which suggests a large popsicle. I will be emailing the architect Monday to try to determine what is up with these design elements.

2. I like the brick color and arrangements for West End Village in West End Park. However — and I've noted this before — this project shows poor proportionality, as it is vastly more horizontal than it is vertical.

3. It seems the Homewood Suites under construction at the former Tower Record site will have a secondary entrance on Elliston Place. If so, that will be a major positive. Buildings that line two major streets, typically and ideally, should address both those streets.

4. A recent article in the Ledger reveals Vanderbilt might consider demolishing the four-building Carmichael Towers complex. Such a move would dramatically damage the West End Corridor skyline. Let's hope the buildings can be rehabbed.

5. It seems the start of Buckingham Cos.'s project proposed for the former Mario's site at 21st, Broadway and Division has been delayed. Originally, I was under the impression, major on-site work would start this summer. Now it looks like that start could be pushed back to the end of this calendar year. I'm working on getting the specifics.

6. I find the color scheme of the soon-to-be-finished Pine Street Flats to be attractive. The building even suggests a slight industrial vibe.

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.