Save Music Row!

RCA Studio B, Photo by Rick Smith

Time is running out to save Music Row, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Historic Nashville, Inc. are calling on city leaders to take immediate action before this unique cultural industry district is lost forever.

In recent years we have heard repeated statements about the importance of “balance” between preservation and growth on Music Row. During these years, however, we have seen dozens music-related buildings demolished due to Metro’s planning and zoning policies and lack of preservation tools. In that time, only one historically important building has been saved from demolition – by a private individual.

Plans are now underway by a developer to purchase and demolish five buildings with long-time music business uses, including the last remaining tavern located in the heart of Music Row, to make way for a large, characterless office building. This is not balance.

Bobby's Idle Hour Exterior, Photo by Jennifer L. Jones
Bobby's Idle Hour Interior, Photo by Jennifer L. Jones

In 2014, Historic Nashville, Inc. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation were alerted to the impending demolition of RCA Studio A. Historic Nashville Inc. placed the studio on its 2014 “Nashville Nine” most endangered list. Luckily that tragedy was averted. Today, RCA Studio A stands as a shining example of the importance of place. Award-winning producer Dave Cobb runs the studio, producing Grammy-winning records with artists like Chris Stapleton, and the building’s offices are filled with music businesses who located here because they want to be in this historic space.

Other significant places on Music Row have not been so lucky. Recognizing the continued loss of Music Row’s character and built environment, Historic Nashville, Inc. placed all of Music Row on its “Nashville Nine” list in 2015 and again in 2016.

A few examples of what has been lost:

  • An entire block of 19th Avenue can no longer be considered part of Music Row. Demolition resulted in the loss of four recording studios (Studio 19, Studio 20, Spirit Music, singer Butch Walker’s studio) and other music businesses. The block is now filled with apartment buildings.
  • Sound Shop on Division Street – where Paul McCartney and Wings recorded “Sally G” and “Junior’s Farm” – was demolished for an apartment building. Although the apartments are named Crescent Music Row, this area is no longer part of Music Row.
  • Kelso Herston Enterprises on 16th Avenue – The location of the old home that was the office of this legendary producer – 1 producer of commercial jingles for 30 years as well as an endless list of music production – is now a parking lot.
  • Five buildings on Music Square West – including the one-time offices of Sure Fire Music Publishing, Vibe 56 Recording Studio, and the offices of the renowned gospel music Speer family – were demolished for a six-story apartment building.

Click here for the Database of Music Row Demolitions

Sammy B's/Figlios/Gra-Mar Talent - 26 Music Square East (photo from Google Maps)
Soundshop Studios
Spirit Music 808 19th Ave.
Photo by Rick Smith
RCA Studio A Recording Control Room

Recognizing that Music Row is unique in the world in its history, built environment and culture – and that it was under immediate threat – in January 2015 the National Trust designated Music Row as a National Treasure. Since that time, Historic Nashville Inc. and the National Trust have worked closely with local partners including Music Row stakeholders, the Metro Planning Department and Metro Historical Commission to document Music Row’s history and current condition and to develop plans to ensure Music Row’s future.

We ask Nashville’s mayor, the Metro Council and Metro Planning Commission to take immediate, specific steps to support and save Music Row:

  1. Designate the Music Row Cultural Industry District – This would be the first such designation in Nashville and in the state of Tennessee. This designation will emphasize city leaders’ recognition of Music Row’s importance to Nashville’s economy and worldwide reputation as Music City and the city’s continuing commitment to work with partners to support this creative place.
  2. End Specific Plan Exemptions. We request the Metro Planning Commission and Metro Council stop approving Specific Plan exemptions for the Music Row geographic area. By consistently approving larger and taller buildings than allowed by current zoning, Metro is unwittingly encouraging demolitions. Unique music-related businesses are being replaced by generic residential apartment buildings.
  3. Develop Incentives to Support Music Row’s Music Industry. Although large companies are routinely awarded incentives to locate or operate in Nashville, no such benefits exist for the small music businesses. We urge development of new incentives, including much-needed preservation tools, to help keep music businesses on Music Row and preserve the area’s historically important buildings.

The good news is research confirmed Music Row still exists as a tight-knit community with more than 200 music-related businesses. We have heard from a multitude of stakeholders that Music Row’s built environment – its neighborhood campus filled with an eclectic mix of historic and newer buildings – is crucial to its culture and the success of the music industry located there.

There is still time to save Music Row…but the clock is ticking.


Donate to Music Row Preservation Fund


Duane Allen – Oak Ridge Boys:
(Note: The Oak Ridge Boys just released a new album – 17th Avenue Revival – recorded at RCA Studio A. Duane talks about that experience in this article.

I believe Music Row is still important because of what I just experienced. The Oak Ridge Boys asked David Cobb to produce our latest album, and his vision for us was to re-visit that period of time when we were little boys, and first turned on to rock and roll music. Of course, that would mean Elvis, Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The thing all of those men had in common was that they all grew up in church, singing gospel music. You could hear it in the passion of their lyrics, and, their music sounded like tent revival music. Then, we asked, “What turned these men on?” It was black gospel.

With that thought pattern and vision, we moved into the old RCA Studio A, on the old 17th Avenue South, right in the center of Music City USA. We found another depth of our musical soul. The vibes of that historic studio, with the Oaks all gathered around an old RCA 44 microphone, singing together, brought back a magic that is sometimes lost with some of the new technology.

The old historic studios just scream out to an artist to do it real, from your heart. There will always be a place for those historic places found on Music Row. There is a reason they are great. They were built to capture the magic of the artist’s performance, as opposed to making it happen with technology.

Recording the old-fashioned way can happen anywhere, just as recording with all of the bells and whistles of modern technology. However, there is an appreciation that goes with recording in a historic place, like the old RCA Studio A on Music Row, that encourages excellence, because so much excellence has preceded.

Trey Bruce – songwriter, musician, producer, owner of Songbird Tours:
Songbird Tours stops in at Bobby’s Idle Hour every day and the tourists are blown away that a real honky tonk still exists. There are old guys, in their 70s…STILL playing in the everyday…middle of the afternoon. Old cats that missed their chance.

There are still record release parties there and after all these years Belmont (University) kids have finally discovered that it’s cool to play Bobby’s Idle Hour. The place packs with students trying out their songs in a safe place where critics are discouraged. The last bar I know of where you can walk in at 2p.m. and there will be a circle of old guys playing on a barstool or in the middle of the room…not even onstage.

I remember seeing that stuff as a young kid.

Bobby’s Idle Hour has to remain on the ground floor of what and whoever we are about to lose to.

There’s still an old writer that lives in a Cadillac in the parking lot of Idle Hour. Shel Silverstein (poet/songwriters) swapped wits with (Kris) Kristofferson in the Idle Hour…with Hank Cochran, Bobby Bare. There are Rhodes Scholars in that group of writers & world-renowned author/poets.

Much more than a building is lost when this icon falls. I realize that this is a staged replica of the original that stood 5 lots down because some developer already tore it down once 15+ years ago….but everything in it that could be was salvaged and repositioned was. The memory, history and spirit were moved 5 lots that’s why it’s more popular than ever.

My family owned 1022 & 1024 for years. (Ed Bruce Agency)

Claire Ratliff, owner, Laughing Penguin Publicity:
The destruction of historic structures is an unforgivable form of disrespect for our own history and culture. Historic architecture is a place to interact with our heritage. It gives the gift of experiencing and sharing the actual spaces where the musical soul of this city was crafted by some of the most legendary characters in American history.

Music Row is a national treasure that has earned preservation of its tangible identity.

To quote the songwriter, Lacy J. Dalton, “With a million dollar spirit and an old flattop guitar, they drive to town with all they own in a hundred dollar car. They walk away from everything just to see a dream come true. So, God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue.”

If we allow million- dollar values to overshadow Music Row’s million- dollar spirit, there will be nothing left worth blessing on 16th Avenue. Like that legendary road, regret is a one-way street. Once we destroy our heritage, there is no restoration.

Mitchell Fox – Former manager of Led Zeppelin and the Kentucky Headhunters:
Nashville is known as “Music City” as the result of a long-standing, mutually supportive/beneficial relationship between the music professional and artist/performer. Although, “The Row” and Downtown, as well as East Nashville, have evolved over the past decade or so, along with the rest of Metro Nashville, the overall diversification of the music industry has only enhanced our reputation as one of the, if not, the place to go in the world with more opportunity to become involved and succeed in the music industry. Music Row always meant young people, with a guitar on their back, walking from door to door looking for a chance to get a foot in the door. I feel that that still exists if you’re willing to do the walk about…

Chuck Whiting – public relations:
I had a PR office on 17th for a number of years. Back in the ’90s, Music Row was a friendly community that celebrated Nashville’s heritage with historic homes and quaint studios. It was one-of-a-kind… where creativity came to life and dreams came true. Today, due to a lack of government leadership, Music Row has become a corporate mix of offices and condos… losing much of its charm. So many of us are heartsick, hoping we can stop or slow down the destruction of historic buildings before it’s too late.

Les Kerr – songwriter:
Not only was music that had a worldwide impact on culture created in the buildings on Music Row, it is still being pulled from the minds, pens, voices, instruments and equipment of so many who continue to create within those walls. As a thirty-plus year Nashville resident, I’m happy that I was here when they all still stood and I hope as many as possible will be preserved.

Bob Doerschuk, – former editor, Musician Magazine & CMA Close Up Magazine:
I moved to Nashville 20 years ago, a reluctant transfer from a job I enjoyed in New York. My office had been on Times Square, as exhilarating a location as any office in the world. By comparison, Music Row seemed like Mayberry to me — modest in scale, sleepy. Today, I’m still a big city enthusiast, to the extent that I actually enjoy watching Nashville grow. But I’ve come to understand that our character depends on balancing growth with history. Sacrifice one or the other and you have surrendered some of your soul. It is horrifying to know that developers came close to demolishing the Ryman to build something — doesn’t matter what it would have been — that could in no way compensate for loss of the Mother Church. So it is with Music Row, whose history is obscured further with each new edifice that might as easily been built somewhere else. I wasn’t here to witness the Row’s glory days. Which is why grows more important each year, with each new tower soaring downtown, in Green Hills and elsewhere, that the Row be honored and kept alive.

Gary Morris – singer:
When I first arrived in Nashville in 1980 , Music Row was just simply Music Row. Warner Brothers was in a quaint little house on Grand. Ray Stevens was across the street and Electra was next door. Those shops and the many others on Music Row were where it began. Music Row’s legacy should be saved….. not become an area where people view as once upon a time.

Jim Hoobler – historian, Tennessee State Museum:
Music Row is the birthplace, nursery, and home to the Nashville Sound. It is where the industry was born here, and where it has found a continuing home. The wanton destruction of seminal structures that housed some of the most significant moments in our musical past from the last forty years is tearing the heart out of our body of music. We must resist this move to destroy, and instead save our heritage.

Dan Brown, Tennessee Historical Commission:
Music Row is the beating heart of our music industry and its legendary legacy. It embodies an authentic and character-defining music history that has not only branded Nashville and Tennessee nationally and internationally but has created a vibrant living museum that for generations has been, and continues to be, an engine of economic development and tourism for the city and state. Music Row is a dynamic cultural resource that is the brand of Nashville and Tennessee and with its scope and size is even more important than the Ryman Auditorium. It is now threatened by rampant development and lack of foresight just as the Ryman was once was threatened, and its survival, protection, and preservation for our economy and the very soul of our city is now required.

Preservation efforts are succeeding across the state- in the East Tennessee/Knoxville area with Knox Heritage and its historic downtown; and West Tennessee with Memphis Heritage and its many historic tax credit projects; and in Chattanooga with Cornerstones, Inc. and its preservation efforts. As Tennessee’s state capitol, Nashville, at the very least, deserves similar efforts for our historic Music Row- the soul of our legendary music industry.

Tennessee is lagging behind most other southern states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and others) now offering state tax credit programs which save historic properties and districts, and develop a dynamic heritage tourism that supports local economic growth and pays for itself many times over. Nashville is at the crossroads just as it once was with the Ryman. It is time to save and protect this irreplaceable economic treasure and the soul of our city and character defining music industry before it is forever lost to rampant development and sprawl.

Robert Hicks, New York Times best-selling author:
Music Row remains the thriving, beating heart of the very music that makes us Music City.
Take it away or even dismiss its importance and you’ve ripped out the very heart of Nashville.

2013-2018 – 5 YEARS
Total: 43
811 18th Ave. S.Housec. 19302013apartments
813 18th Ave. S.Fireside Recording Studiosc. 19502013apartments
815 18th Ave. S.Pete Drake Studioc. 19002013apartments
817-819 18th Ave. S.Housesc. 19302013apartments
1 Music Square WestPilcher Hamilton Housec. 18792014Virgin Hotel
7 Music Square WestHummingbird Productionsc. 19102014Virgin Hotel
9 Music Square WestMusic Productionsc. 19002014Virgin Hotel
35 Music Square EastCedarwood Publishing/Combinec. 19002014SESAC
39 Music Square EastCombine Groupc. 19152014SESAC
41 Music Square EastJAG Management2014SESAC
1307 Division St.Sound Shop Studioc. 19402015apartments
19 Music Square WestNashville Music Group/Pura Vida Vintage Clothing/Tailor Shopc. 18992015fire
54 Music Square WestSpeer Buildingc. 19152015apartments
56 Music Square WestVibe Studioc. 19122015apartments
58 Music Square WestHi-Fi Fusionc. 19202015apartments
60 Music Square WestSure Fire Music Co.c. 19252015apartments
62 Music Square WestSharp Objects Entertainmentc. 19252015apartments
64 Music Square WestMerit Music/SESACc. 1984-852015apartments
1202 16th Ave. S.Kelso Herston Enterprisesc. 19052015parking lot
821 19th Ave. S.Studio 19c. 19642015Mixed use
111 17th Ave. S.Housec. 19202015apartments
113 17th Ave. S.Acquire Digital/Top Tracks Recordingc. 19152015apartments
115 17th Ave. S.LeVan’s Guitar Repairc. 19202015apartments
119 17th Ave. S.Marty Stuart Tours/Olesen Musicc. 19022015apartments
121 17th Ave. S.Encore Entertainment/Southern Ground Artistsc. 18902015apartments
824 19th Ave. S.AEG Live/Messina Group/Lyric Street Records/Tracking Room 2c. 19002015apartments
822 19th Ave. S.Houses/officesc. 19492015apartments
818-820 19th Ave. S.Dale Morris Officec. 19102015apartments
816 19th Ave. S.Track 2c. 19302015apartments
814 19th Ave. S.Charm Salonc. 19302015apartments
827 19th Ave. S.Wyatt Housec. 19202016apartments
1815 Division St.Warner/Crittenton Buildingc. 19302016Parking lot
812—820 18th Ave. S.Hi-Fi Fusion, McFadden Building, Music Row Wedding Chapel, apartments2016Office/garage
20 Music Square W.Fender’s Guitars and Music Publishing19582016Office (demolished all but three exterior masonry walls)
26 Music Square EastSammy B’s/Figlios/Gra-Mar Talentc. 19202017Vacant lot
823 19th Ave. S.Studio 20c. 19102018apartments
825 19th Ave. S.Studio 20 – songwritersc. 19092018apartments
808 19th Ave. S.Spirit Musicc. 19742018apartments
2000-2010 – 11 YEARS
Total: 13
1016 16th Ave. S.The Case Companyc. 19152000apartments
1018 16th Ave. S.c. 19152000apartments
4 Music Square E.Country Music Hall of Famec. 1966-682001parking lot
911 18th S. S.Sue Brewer’s Boar’s Nestc. 2004vacant
805 18th Ave. S.c. 19102005condos
809 18th Ave. S.Nightingale Recording Studiosc. 19102005condos
1010 16th Ave. S.Bobby’s Ide Hour (original)2005apartments
1033 18th Ave. S.Hostettler House/Great Cumberland Musicc. 19152006
1101 18th Ave. S.c. 19202006condos
1103 18th Ave. S.Ariose Music Groupc. 19102006condos
1107 18th Ave. S.c. 19202006condos
1008 18th Ave. S.c. 19202007condos
1806 Grand Ave.Whitey Apartmentsc. 19102010Parking lot
1990- 1999 – 10 YEARS
67 Music Square W.c. 1900c. 1992Vacant/parking
1108 18th Ave. S.Vanderbilt Medical Center Auxiliaryc. 19101993parking lot
1110 18th Ave. S.c. 19101993parking lot
1112 18th Ave. S.c. 19101993parking lot
1415 17th Ave. S.Baptist Student Centerc. 19201994
38 Music Square W.Housec. 19201994Starstruck
42 Music Square W.Housec. 19201994Starstruck
44 Music Square W.Housec. 19201994Starstruck
1108 17th Ave. S.SAG-AFTRAc. 19201995parking lot
25 Music Square W.c. 1900c. 1996Redeveloped/Gaylord
31 Music Square W.c. 1920c. 1996Redeveloped/Gaylord
1900-1902 Adeliciac. 19051996Redeveloped/Realtor’s Assoc.
117 16th Ave. S.Mickey Gilley’s Restaurantc. 18751997Roundabout Plaza
1015 16th Ave. S.CBS Songsc. 19001996parking lot
59 Music Square W.c. 1930c. 1999Redeveloped/radio station
1980-1989 – 10 YEARS
1022 18th Ave. S.Buckhorn Musicc. 1980
1707 Division St.Murray Nash Associatesc. 1900c. 1984Office building
1102 17th Av. S.c. 1920c. 1986Office building
921 20th Ave. S.c. 1910c. 1986apartments
919 20th Ave. S.c. 1910c. 1986apartments
917 20th Ave. S.c. 1930c. 1986apartments
915 20th Ave. S.c. 1930c. 1986apartments
2006 Grand Ave.c. 1925c. 1986apartments
1008 17th Ave. S.c. 19201987Recording studio
63 Music Square W.c. 19201989Redeveloped/Gaylord

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