Polar bear statues to get new home

Monday, March 15, 2004 at 1:00am

The famed landmark polar bears of the Edgehill neighborhood will finally have a permanent playground. The Nashville Civic Design Center will unveil the winning design of their new digs at a press conference Thursday.

The Design Center, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) and the neighborhood of Edgehill announced a competition in December to design a city-owned public space at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Edgehill Avenue - the "heart" of the neighborhood - that would tell the story and the history of the polar bears.

Fliers were sent out, and regional architectural schools joined in for the prize money and resume-building.

"The judges met yesterday [March 11]and decided on a winner," Gary Caston, associate director of the Civic Design Center said. "We had eight entries and they were all impressive projects."

Gaston said The Design Center would exhibit all the designs at the press conference at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at 700 Church St.

The polar bear statues have long been a symbol of the community of Edgehill. They were the creation of the late Gio Vacchino, who owned the Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company around 1930. They stood at 1408 Edgehill Ave. for more than 60 years. They were constructed as advertisements for the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops on Gallatin Road and West End Avenue, which closed after World War II.

Edgehill resident Zema Hill bought the bears and placed them in the neighborhood in the early 1940s. He placed two in front of a funeral home and two in front of his house where they eventually became a symbol and part of the culture of Edgehill. The two funeral home bears were sold to a North Nashville resident in 1952. Two of the four bears are now in the custody of MDHA awaiting their new home.

Amelia Whitworth, daughter of Vacchino, said she was glad that the Nashville bears will now have a permanent home.

"I know that they have been floating around. There are some in Memphis, and I just heard that there are some in Atlanta," Whitworth said. "I know that they have been in different areas in Nashville, but I never did know how many my father made."

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