Creating Places: Attractive SoBro building part of intersection puzzle

Monday, August 11, 2008 at 3:18am
The United Methodist Publishing House Building will eventually be joined by the Music City Center at Eighth Avenue South and Demonbreun Street. Future development at the intersection remains speculative. Steve Lowry for The City Paper

We live in a place called The Ville,

Asphalt parking, we can’t get our fill,

Razing buildings so grand

to replace with the bland.

The results should make us all ill.

During the past 50 years, countless interesting and important Nashville buildings have been bulldozed, often to make way for surface parking lots or ugly new buildings.

Creating Places begins today the occasional look at some of Nashville’s under-appreciated architectural gems. These buildings are noteworthy, in part, because their quality designs and useful functions could help spur development nearby.

Some are a bit quirky. Others are not particularly visible, as they sit on secondary streets. Still others, some citizens might consider ugly.

But much like every family’s lovable “Uncle Fred,” who visits during the holiday season to spread warm cheer and perhaps resort to ribald behavior unsuitable for children, these buildings deserve our appreciation.

With design work now fully underway for the Music City Center convention facility in SoBro, we start with a fine 1950s-era offering in that district: the United Methodist Publishing House Building.

Located across from the broom manufacturing building masquerading as a Greyhound bus station, the five-story UMPH Building takes its cues from the L&C Tower of the same era. Note the masculine black granite base, metal window dividers, extensive use of limestone and light-green-tinted windows.

Designed by Hart Freeland & Roberts and opened in 1957, this handsome example of mid-20th century modernism architecture, though no masterpiece, is vastly more appealing than the bulk of Nashville buildings that have followed it.

“It is indeed,” says Kem Hinton, “a very straightforward, attractive and underappreciated building.”

Hinton would know: His SoBro-based Tuck-Hinton Architects is teaming with Atlanta’s Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates and the Nashville office of Moody-Nolan to design MCC.

“With the coming rebirth of this entire part of the city, [the UMPH Building] will hopefully regain contextual presence.”

Well said, Kem.

In tandem, the UMPH Building and Music City Center could hasten the needed build-out of the Eighth Avenue South and Demonbreun Street intersection. Fully activated, the intersection could — more so than any other — connect the Central Business District, The Gulch and Midtown. Visualize an Eighth Avenue/Demonbreun intersection framed on two corners by an eye-catching convention center and the gracefully aging UMPH Building.

However, the intersection’s brutalized north segment needs work.

At the northwest corner, Central Parking operates a surface parking lot on land owned by CGM Partners. Adjacent to that, United States Courthouse Credit Union owns a nondescript building used for its business. Many speculate the two parcels are ripe for a medium-sized hotel to accommodate MCC.

Across Eighth, First Baptist operates a program for women facing life transitions from a bland five-story residential building. Getting the church to disrupt a commendable social service by selling or developing — quiet speculation to that end is making the rounds — might be as challenging as this writer convincing MSNBC anchor siren Tamron Hall to share in a lively chat about skyscrapers while downing Old Style beer.

Still, change looms, as the MCC construction will place focus on the intersection. The underrated United Methodist Publishing House Building deserves the attention.

William Williams is a citizen observer of Nashville’s manmade environment. Contact him at

Filed under: City Business
By: WickedTribe on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Um, that's an ugly building. I'd like to hear a specific example of a historically beautiful building being torn down and replaced with an ugly building, because I've never seen it.The historical buildings being torn down are the ugly ones and the new buildings are much more attractive to the eye.

By: airvols on 12/31/69 at 6:00

That looks pretty bland to me. Why not create streetfront retail on that intersection, it's a great location between the Gulch and downtown.

By: RTungsten on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What is the remark about the Greyhound bus station being a broom factory all about? Personally, I find a broom much more useful than a Greyhound bus...and brooms smells better.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wicked, the Tennessee Theater was razed to build Tony G's Cumberland. The Cumberland looks like a federal housing project. There's your example.I see Mr. Williams has become a poet. I agree with him that this building is simple, modern and attractive. I disagree that the MCC will serve to tie the three mentioned areas together. It will be like a 700 pound man in a Greyhound bus seat, dominating the area and pushing everything away. Especially in the not-too-distant future when it sits empty half of the time. The Plan of Nashville had a much better idea for the area, with Kor Vet Blvd extending to and across the Gulch. THAT would have tied things together and encouraged development.

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Here is where we disagree TFT. The MCC will be a hundred times better than the current surfacr parking lots that take up a good portion of that UNDEVELOPED area. Wishing something would happen does not make it happen.

By: Saveusall on 12/31/69 at 6:00

William, I have to agree with your thoughts on the UMPH. Now, if they could/would just get rid of those ugly utility poles and wires, that corner (and others) could enjoy the perspective it deserves. Maybe the MCC will inspire moresuch clean up in SoBro -- one can dream.

By: PillowTalk4 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Attractive and ugly are always in the eye of the beholder, just like art. The United Methodist Publishing House building is an attractive building in my opinion that is surrounded by ugliness, which brings the look of the building down. It is a beautiful period building from the 50's modern era. Just like the L&C tower and other buildings around Nashville in downtown and along West End. Even the old Teachers credit union building in the Village. A buildings attractiveness is either enhanced or impaired by its surroundings. The UMPH building is impaired by its surroundings. Plus it doesn't help that the building has very little greenspace and no plaza with planters or trees to soften the hardscape around it. If the sidewalk was treelined that would soften the sharp edges of the building.As much as I want to see Nashville build more architecturally inticing buildings, I don't think it is necessary to rip out all the old buildings to do so. The architectural character of a city is established by a blend of old and new. One of the primary buildings that should have never been torn down was the tower which stood next to the American General Building. It was I believe approximately 20 stories. The rumor was tht American General was supposed to have built a twin building to their building on the site. All they did was extend the plaze around the building and add an underground garage. The building they tore down was built during the art deco era if I recall and it had quite a bit of character. There are loads of old theaters that should have never been torn down in Nashville. Where most cities converted them to retail space or other multi-purpose uses, Nashville pretty much demolished all of its old theaters. The one that use to be on Broadway near the West End split is a prime example. Even in the various neighborhoods there were buildings torn down that defined those neighborhoods. In North Nashville near Tennessee State University a whole corner of retail stores were torn down to make way for a Circle K Store, Wendy's and a former BP or Exxon gas station. That corner used to house a barber shop, beauty shop, record store and what was probably a mom & pop store that served that community. It added to the charm of the area and gave the area a college campus feel because those businesses supported TSU and TSU students supported them as well. But, someone decided that those businesses weren't needed and now you have a corner that looks like any cluttered non-descript street corner in America.The old Farmers Market (not the store but the outdoor market itself) should have been preserved. It was a community place that had its own charm and appeal. The new farmers market has failed because it's too costly for growers to rent space and it isn't a warm and inviting space.The apartment building in Downtown on 8th Ave that was torn down when the convention center was built to me was a major loss. Today such a building would have been converted to more trendy apartments or condos.Most of the buildings in the SoBro area have no identity and are old auto repair shops, etc. Those buildings should make way for more modern office, residential and hotel buildings. I wish Nashville would put together a team of people to visit downtown Silver Springs, MD. The city of Silver Springs has converted a very ugly downtown core into a beautiful shopping, dinning, residential, hotel, and office area which is very pedestrian friendly. It is a great place for old and young, singles, couples and families. If Nashville can develop SoBro in a similar manner as Silver Springs, it'll certainly bring more people outside of tourist into the area. The downtown core of Silver Springs, MD is about the size of the SoBro area. So, it's compact size would work well it that area and would tie nicely with the Gulch, Broadway and 2nd Avenue. An electric street car system linking all those areas would be the icing on the cake to keep each area accessible while limited the need to drive between each.