Announcing the 2020 Nashville Nine

NASHVILLE, TN, November 17, 2020 –Historic Nashville, Inc. today announced its 2020 Nashville Nine, its annual list of historic Nashville properties and neighborhoods most threatened by development, neglect, or demolition. The 2020 Nashville Nine locations, nominated by members of the community, will be Historic Nashville’s focus for advocacy and outreach throughout the coming year. HNI also created a video sharing the stories of this year’s properties.

This year’s list consists of the following sites:

  • The Tennessee State Prison
  • The Henry Allen and Georgia Bradford Boyd House
  • The Z. Alexander Looby House
  • The sign of the Eldorado Motel
  • The Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church
  • Chaffin’s Barn
  • The Barbizon Apartments
  • The Firestone Building on West End Avenue
  • The headstones carved by renowned Nashville sculptor William Edmondson at various African American cemeteries in the city

“Nashville has experienced an extraordinarily difficult year between the tornado and the pandemic,” says Historic Nashville President Elizabeth Elkins. “Prior to each, the city’s growth rate made saving historic properties an afterthought. This year, Historic Nashville carefully chose nine properties that reflect those challenges, as well as underscore our strong commitment to the city’s important and long-neglected African American history.”

This year, Historic Nashville is committing $10,000 to help honor and preserve these spaces. Historic Nashville will work with the owners, government agencies, and the public to educate, evaluate, and create solutions for preserving these important elements of Nashville’s unique history and sense of place.

“We hope that this will be just the beginning of truly telling those stories,” Elkins says. “We challenge others in the city to step up to the plate and offer actionable contributions to save these important properties.”

Historic Nashville works to promote and advocate for the recognition of historic places and the impact they have on the culture, commerce, and creativity of the city. Over the years, Historic Nashville has successfully assisted in the preservation of numerous landmarks such as the Ryman Auditorium, Union Station, and the Hermitage Hotel. The Nashville Nine is Historic Nashville’s most important advocacy event of the year. Historic Nashville accepts nominations and donations for the Nashville Nine all year round.

The 2020 Nashville Nine

Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard

The Tennessee State Prison appeared on Historic Nashville’s Nashville Nine in 2011. It returns this year with added urgency. The state of the Gothic Revival prison, which opened in 1898, had been declining since its closure in 1992, but when an F3 tornado struck the grounds on March 3 of this year, general deterioration turned into devastation.

The presence of asbestos had made the imposing structure’s main entry off-limits for years. The site once used in such movies as The Green Mile, Walk the Line, and Ernest Goes to Jail was in such a state it could only be used for exterior shots. The prison suffered heavy damage during the tornado, including about forty yards of wall on the right wing that was knocked down, making it even more unsafe.

The imposing structure and hand-cut stone of the prison’s main entry make it one of Nashville’s most distinctive architectural treasures. The destruction caused by the tornado may mean that not every part of the old Tennessee State Prison can be saved, but it would be a tragedy to lose it all.

The Henry Allen and Georgia Bradford Boyd House
1601 Meharry Boulevard

This house, currently owned by Fisk University, has stood as a symbol of one of the most powerful narratives in this city’s history: the ongoing struggle of African Americans to make the transition from enslaved persons to full-fledged citizens in Nashville. The lives and careers of the house’s two occupants, Dr. Henry Allen and Georgia Bradford Boyd, impacted countless African Americans in this city and nation, as well as groups around the world.

This couple touched every segment of Nashville’s African American community. Dr. Boyd served as president of Citizen’s Bank and as a founder of the National Baptist Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention of America; published Nashville’s African American newspaper, The Nashville Globe; and served as a director of Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. Dr. Boyd was also executive secretary of the Nashville Colored YMCA as well as secretary of the National Sunday School Congress of the National Baptist Convention of America. Lastly, Dr. Boyd was a Fisk Trustee and part of the group of influential Black men who convinced the Tennessee General Assembly to bring Tennessee State University to Nashville.

Georgia Boyd was a part of Nashville’s vibrant Black women’s club movement and for more than half a century, she dedicated her life to improving living conditions for African American women and by extension all African Americans in the Music City. Her membership in and work alongside organizations such as the Tennessee State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Day Home Club, Phillis Wheatley Club, and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs places her among the most active warriors in the struggle for gender and racial equality in this city.

This house is a testament to their lives and stands as a monument to the triumphs, joys, and sorrows that define the African American experience in Nashville. It is a sacred part of North Nashville’s built environment and should not be demolished.

Z. Alexander Looby House
2012 Meharry Boulevard

Z. Alexander Looby was the most important civil rights attorney in the state and one of two Black city councilmen when his home was bombed on April 19, 1960. Looby and his wife, Grafta, were lucky to escape with their lives. When the Loobys bought the house, it was a white, clapboard cottage. By the time the house was bombed, the Loobys had encased it in brick, possibly in response to attacks against the homes of other civil rights leaders throughout the South. The Loobys modified the house again in response to the bombing. The Loobys were told the bombers had attempted to throw the dynamite through their dining room window. The reconstructed house contains no large windows—no easy targets. Most of the windows on the house are narrow and high up where they are not easily reached. The front door moved from the street side of the building to the driveway side, making it harder to approach from the street without being seen. The Loobys also had a bomb shelter installed.

While we don’t normally think of the civil rights movement as having an architecture, this is one of the most important examples of a building adapted to its historical moment—having been fortified in order to protect a civil rights icon. The house is currently unoccupied and off-limits to visitors.

Eldorado Motel Sign
2806 Buchanan Street

The vibrantly colored sign set back at the corner of Buchanan Street and Ed Temple Boulevard is the only remaining reminder of the once-prominent Eldorado Motel. The Green Book-listed Eldorado opened in 1957 under the ownership of George Driver, a restaurant operator, and Bill Otey, a chain grocer. Driver and Otey were the first Black business owners in Nashville to receive a Federal Small Business Administration loan, and a $112,000 participating loan for improvements they received in 1963 was the largest for any Black-owned business in the country at that time.

The Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) arranged for Harry Belafonte and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to stay in this hotel while they were in town for Belafonte’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)-sponsored concert at the Ryman Auditorium in September of 1961. Belafonte fell ill and was hospitalized, forcing the cancellation of the concert. Ted Rhodes, considered the first Black professional golfer, lived at the hotel late in his life.

The motel was razed in 2012, leaving only the sign. While the sign is not in imminent danger of disappearing, its historical significance warrants restoration and regular maintenance to make the most of its visual appeal.

Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church
908 Monroe Street

The tornadoes that tore through Middle Tennessee on March 3, 2020, damaged more than a hundred buildings, including several houses of worship. Between the destruction and the suspension of in-person services, many of the congregations have yet to rebuild.

The home of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, which has sat on the corner of 10th Avenue and Monroe Street since its dedication in 1906, was one of the hardest hit—and for the second time. The red brick church trimmed with stone lost its bell tower during a tornado that followed a similar path in May 1999. The steeple was destroyed again this March, and that was only part of the damage the building sustained. The church building, with its gabled bays facing both 10th and Monroe and its Gothic or Romanesque details, was designed by Henry Gibel. Gibel, a Nashville architect who emigrated from Switzerland in the 1880s, also had a hand in designing the original Nashville Carnegie Library, now demolished, and the Nashville Arcade. During its hundred-plus years, the church building has been associated with Nashville’s German and Black communities. It was dedicated in 1906 as the Third Baptist Church. Third Baptist moved out in 1959 and sold the building to Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, which had split off from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in 1914. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The members of Hopewell Baptist have been unable to worship here since March, and fallout from the pandemic has slowed restoration plans. An investment from the broader community would allow this congregation of about two hundred people to rebuild the steeple and return the sanctuary to its former beauty.

Chaffin’s Barn
8204 TN-100

The shutdown related to this year’s coronavirus pandemic has devastated businesses across Nashville, none more so than its entertainment venues. Many of these stages will never have music or theatrical productions again. In some cases, the closing of those businesses also creates uncertainty for the buildings housing them. Chaffin’s Barn, Nashville’s first professional theater, is one of those.

When Asberry “John” Warden Chaffin and Edna Lou Neblett Chaffin launched the Barn Dinner Theater in March 1967, the area was so rural its location was given as “6.7 miles west of the fork of Highways 100 and 70.” The distinctive red barn is one of the longstanding landmarks of the Pasquo community in Davidson County’s southwest corner, along with The Loveless Café and the Pasquo Church of Christ.

Originally, the Barn was part of a Virginia-based theater franchise that grew to twenty-seven locations spanning from North Carolina to New Mexico. Theatergoers dined buffet-style seated on all four sides of a stage that descended from the ceiling. In Nashville, the opening-night gala was attended by former Tennessee governor Frank Clement, future Nashville mayor Richard Fulton, and guitarist Chet Atkins. While the Barn initially brought in touring productions cast by the parent company, the Chaffins began producing the shows locally with area talent when the founding company folded in the early 1970s. The Barn staged hundreds of productions in its fifty-three years of existence.

The Barbizon Apartments
2006 Broadway

The Barbizon Apartments building, with its modernist design, was built in the early ‘60s. The structure’s stone front and masonry screens give the 45-unit Barbizon a distinctive mid-century presence in Midtown. Tom T. Hall lived here during his early days in Nashville.

Vanderbilt University acquired the property in 2000. Preliminary plans released earlier this year indicate the Barbizon could be demolished as part of “phase two” of its graduate and professional student “housing village.” Vanderbilt has already torn down nearby properties it has purchased in the past few years—including the entire adjacent block facing Broadway between 20th Avenue South and Lyle Avenue. Historic Nashville urges Vanderbilt to choose a path for developing this stretch of Broadway that preserves it character instead of razing it.

The Firestone Building
2416-2418 West End Avenue

For ninety years, the buff-colored brick buildings have stood on the triangular lot where 25th Avenue North/Elliston Place splits off from West End Avenue. Designed by prominent local architects Marr & Holman (who also designed the Nashville Post Office which is now the Frist Center for the Visual Arts), it was initially Firestone Service Stores, the first “one stop” retail store in Nashville for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. For the past thirty-five years, the main building has housed a series of drug stores, most recently a Rite Aid.

When it opened, the Firestone store was expected to be the South’s largest tire sales building and service station, capable of servicing twenty-five cars at once. Firestone operated here until 1983, with Eckerd moving into the space in 1985.In 1986, the Metro Historical Commission awarded the property with a preservation award, calling the Firestone Building “an example of Art Deco architectural style, rare in Nashville as well as the nation because the style was becoming popular just as the effects of the Depression were being felt.”

Currently, the smaller corner building houses a Smoothie King. Walgreens, which owns the property, put both buildings on the market when the Rite Aid closed.  Historic Nashville is concerned that the Firestone Building’s prominent location puts it particularly at risk of development that seeks to create a newer, larger presence at the expense of our city’s historic integrity.

William Edmondson Headstones
Located in various Davidson County cemeteries

Nashville sculptor William Edmondson (1874-1951) was the first African American artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937. But the stonework he was most well-known for during his life were the headstones he carved for family, friends, and neighbors. Approximately thirty-five of these headstones marking the graves of over forty people still remain in African American cemeteries in Davidson and Williamson County.

Many of these headstones originally had small sculptures on top—birds and other “critters,” as Edmondson called them. With only three known exceptions, this art is now all missing. Many of the headstones are weather-damaged. Some are broken. Many are virtually impossible to read, the instantly recognizable Edmondson lettering worn away by time. And yet, a few intact examples remain.

These headstones are the most accessible examples of Edmondson’s work, placed exactly where Edmondson intended them to be viewed. Unfortunately, years of neglect have taken their toll. And yet, attention to the stones because of their famous maker makes them more vulnerable to theft, which is obviously a detriment to the families of the loved ones whose graves were marked by those stones. Historic Nashville would like to see stakeholders come together to find a way to protect and preserve the stones.

This year, Historic Nashville is committing $10,000 to help honor and preserve these spaces. Historic Nashville will work with the owners, government agencies, and the public to educate, evaluate, and create solutions for preserving these important elements of Nashville’s unique history and sense of place.

You can help us raise funds to save these essential pieces of our city’s story.

Donate to the Nashville Nine Fund Here.
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