Creating Places: Quirky, organic growth gives city true urban vibe

Monday, July 14, 2008 at 3:07am
The Broadway and Division Street split in Midtown begins a stretch of distinctive buildings and signage. Matthew Williams/The City Paper

It’s tough to welcome the construction of a convenience market.

Most beer, bread and bubblegum buildings are generic, marred by asphalt parking and no more visually interesting than a trash Dumpster.

But the aging structure now sporting a C&K Discount Tobacco and Beer at Midtown’s Broadway and Division Street split represents an aesthetic that is anything but bland.

Call the new-look building ugly. Call it cartoonish, garish, colorful or radical. But don’t compare it to the average Cool Springs Mapco.

Of note, the building’s metal, oddly art deco-like roof embellishment has been painted alternating strips of ketchup red and mustard yellow. Motorists traveling northeast along 21st Avenue and passing Nick & Rudy’s are likely “condiment jolted” by the sight.

But 1924 Broadway — seemingly the building’s “official” name — is noteworthy not because of its hot dog stand colors. Rather, the spire-topped structure symbolically serves as an entrance to one of Nashville’s most playfully hodge-podge stretches of street.

In fact, numerous other structures continue to be altered along the Broadway segment between the sliver-like Broadway Park and 19th Avenue.

It’s the type of organic change and grittiness needed in Nashville, a city that has razed quality buildings and replaced them with junk that has rendered its manmade fabric more sterile than an Osmond Family reunion.

Let’s “visually move” east on Broadway from the C&K and touch on the transformations.

On the left is The Center Building, mercifully updated recently but still hideous. Next door sits the quirky Barbizon Apartments, its original tan brick exterior now a handsome dark gray. The distinctive name alone earns the building respect.

Flanking Mr. Barbizon’s east side is the Corner Pub. This building previously sported an understated appearance while home to Granite Falls but is now aggressively bathed in chocolate and offers attention-grabbing neon signage. Alas, college students likely ignore the design details and focus on the booze.

Across the street is the 1917 Broadway Building. For the past few months, the fine folks at Icon Tattoo and Full Spectrum Tanning have deliberately applied a risqué make-up job to the old dame, choosing bright yellow, bold blue and off white. Foul or funky? It doesn’t matter — the “Icon Building” delivers visual pop.

Next of note is the once-anonymous cinderblock pit accommodating Lime and its cosmopolitan clientele. Restaurateur Chris Hyndman opted for an edgy redesign and deserves major kudos.

As do Ric Clarke and Kelly Jones. They wisely selected a masculine cobalt blue for the most recent alteration to the adjacent Broadway Brewhouse/Mojo Grill building.

With both a joyous moniker and a tasty treat image, the Gigi’s Cupcakes signage highlights the 1816 Broadway Building. Across the intersection, a freshly painted brick edifice accommodates a new Crye-Leike office. A 25-foot-tall silver sign strikes a strong vertical presence.

Interspersed along this stretch are proud vintage apartment houses, commercial structures both well kept and deteriorating, and a few empty lots. So further change is likely.

Quirky, organically grown streets are what give a city personality and soul. This stretch of Broadway has both.

As well as plenty of mustard and ketchup.

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

Filed under: City Business