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 firstname.lastname@example.org.