• The Way Forward for Music Row

    May 31, 2019

    As the media coverage of our naming Music Row one of this year’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places continues to grow—including placements in Rolling Stone, CNN, and USA Today—the National Trust has prepared and submitted formal comments to the Metro Nashville Planning Commission on how to strengthen the Music Row Vision Plan, a document meant to inform planning decisions affecting the future of this one of a kind ecosystem of music-related businesses.

    The full text of our letter is below. Don’t forget to add your voice! Public comment is being accepted until June 3. Urge Nashville lawmakers today to preserve and protect this epicenter of America’s musical heritage.


    To Metro Planning Commission members:

    I am writing to urge your support for bringing greater tools and resources to the preservation of places where so much of America’s music history has happened and continues to happen: Music Row.

    The draft vision plan developed by the Metro Planning Department staff is to be commended for addressing important needs to sustain Music Row including limiting large-scale residential development, seeking affordable spaces for the music industry, encouraging “third places” for gatherings and entertainment, and highlighting traffic and parking issues.

    However, the plan does not include a strong historic preservation component, which is essential to protecting the overall look, feel, and context of Music Row.

    In January 2015 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Music Row a National Treasure in recognition of its importance to Nashville’s identity as Music City and to America’s cultural heritage, as well as concern for the impact of development. Between 2013 and 2019, 50 buildings were demolished on Music Row. Of these, 38 were music-related (past and/or present), and 64 percent were demolished for new development permitted by Specific Plan (SP) rezonings.

    On Music Row the existing fabric of older buildings provides critical space for entrepreneurial ventures. The National Trust and Historic Nashville, Inc., working in partnership with the Metro Historical Commission, Metro Planning Department and many stakeholders, have proposed sound solutions that will ensure Music Row's sustainability as a center of culture and creativity.

    I urge you to consider and support these recommendations:

    Discontinue Specific Plan exemptions that ultimately encourage demolitions;

    Eliminate recommendations for increased building height allowances anywhere in the Music Row area;

    Further develop the Transfer Development Rights (TDR) program to place the receiving area outside of Music Row, to offer owners of historic properties the opportunity to sell their development rights on a first-come-first serve basis, and to identify an entity that will manage the TDR program;

    Support Metro Council’s designation of the Music Row Cultural Industry District in recognition of its unique role in Nashville’s economy and its worldwide significance

    Provide support to create a non-profit entity that would manage a revolving fund to preserve significant properties for use by music businesses; provide financial options to music businesses for expansion, rehabilitation, retention, and innovation, and promote Music Row to attract new music businesses.

    The goal for Music Row is not simply to save old buildings. It is to save a music industry ecosystem that has thrived in one place for more than 60 years due to its built environment that reflects a unique sense of place that is unlike any other in the nation.

    I urge you to work closely with these partners to make sure what makes Music Row so special is enhanced by new development, not destroyed by it.

    Thank you.

  • Music Row on This Year's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List

    May 30, 2019

    Each year, the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Over 300 places have been listed in its 32-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.

    On this year’s list is Nashville’s Music Row, the heart and soul of Nashville’s music industry since the 1950s. In 2014, when famed RCA Studio A narrowly avoided the wrecking ball and the National Trust named Music Row a National Treasure, we have been working diligently with local partners to research and document the neighborhood’s extraordinary historic and cultural significance, and to propose practical recommendations to save it.

    Unfortunately, demolitions to make way for luxury apartments, office buildings, and a hotel have continued. Since 2013, a total of 50 buildings on Music Row have been lost, threatening the survival of this one-of-a-kind cultural district.

    With a new plan to guide Music Row’s future under review by city officials, now is an important time to urge Nashville lawmakers to preserve and protect this epicenter of America’s musical heritage.

  • Bobby’s Idle Hour Silenced on Music Row

    January 22, 2019

    As long feared, Bobby’s Idle Hour, the last tavern on Music Row and a beloved live music venue, has been shuttered and along with four other adjacent properties, to make way for a new office building.

    We’ve been advocating with our partners for stronger preservation tools to keep the music on Music Row for years, and losing Bobby’s is a devastating blow. Though Bobby’s had only occupied its present location since 2015, it dripped with the effortless authenticity of a true Nashville watering hole, where scores of local aspiring musicians took the stage and mixed with songwriters, industry professionals, music scouts, tourists—anyone searching for the heart and soul of Music City.

    Losing Bobby’s—though new investors are determined to find a new location nearby—is the latest heartbreak on Music Row. In a January 21 New York Times op-ed “The Day the Music Died,” excerpted below, columnist Margaret Renkl eloquently captures what is at stake and why it matters, including a quote from our own Carolyn Brackett:

    “Tour buses drive up and down the streets of Music Row, their guides telling tourists the stories they came to town to hear. But the city’s explosive growth in the last decade has imperiled its own beating heart, with quaint Music Row houses and historic Music Row studios falling again and again to developers who put up fancy condominiums and trendy restaurants and shiny office buildings in their place, despite concerted efforts by individuals and historic preservation nonprofits to save the Row’s character.

    ‘Nashville doesn’t have preservation tools that other cities use as a matter of course,” Carolyn Brackett, senior field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told The Tennessean last summer. “There are practical solutions that would balance development with the preservation of Music Row’s historic fabric and retain the music businesses that fill them. We urge Mayor Briley and Metro Nashville leaders to adopt them before it’s too late.’

    The death of a neighborhood bar in a growing city is in no way a tragedy. There are much more disruptive consequences to poorly planned growth: the loss of affordable work-force housing, the destruction of a vibrant tree canopy that offsets the effects of greenhouse gases, destabilized communities and debilitating strains on aging infrastructure, among others. But cultural continuity does matter. Bobby’s Idle Hour is “part of the fabric of this town,” said Carolyn Lethgo, 29, a Middle Tennessee native and one of Mr. Distad’s co-investors. “We just want to carry on the meaning and the legacy of this place.”

  • Historic Nashville, Inc. Places Five Music Row Properties on its 2018 “Nashville 9” Most Endangered List

    October 25, 2018

    Today, Historic Nashville, Inc.—the National Trust’s primary partner in our National Treasure campaign to save Music Row—announced the inclusion of five Music Row properties to its 2018 “Nashville 9” most endangered list.

    The five buildings located on Music Row’s famed 16th Avenue reflect the unique character of Music Row and encompass its history and present-day role as the center of Nashville’s music industry. All are targeted for demolition to make way for a nondescript office building.

    The Nashville 9 announcement was made by Emmy Award-winning songwriter, publisher, and producer and Historic Nashville Vice President Trey Bruce. The event was held a Bobby’s Idle Hour, the last tavern on Music Row and one of the buildings on the list.

    Bruce, whose family owned one of the threatened properties in the 1970s and ‘80s, was instrumental in saving the iconic RCA Studio A in 2014. “The properties placed on the Nashville Nine list are buildings and places that appear vulnerable in Nashville’s climate of development. This is a way for us to make city officials and citizens aware that these places exist and that we’re watching out for them,” said Bruce.

    National Trust senior field officer Carolyn Brackett emphasized the imminent threat to Music Row: “We can’t just sit back while Music Row’s unique history and present-day culture are destroyed. There are practical solutions to balance development with the preservation of Music Row’s historic fabric—and retain the music businesses that fill them. We urge Mayor Briley and Metro Nashville leaders to adopt them, before it’s too late.”

    To further communicate the urgency of acting to save Music Row, the National Trust and Historic Nashville, Inc., supporters are invited to sign a petition which outlines requested actions by Metro Nashville government: savingplaces.org/savemusicrow.

    Threatened Music Row Properties

    1022 16th Avenue South is the current home of So Nashville. The locally-owned clothing company opened a retail store in June 2018 and sells Nashville-themed merchandise and regularly hosts performances by up-and-coming songwriters and artists. The building was originally a home, constructed around 1927. In 1978, hit songwriter, singer and actor William “Ed” Bruce (“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “You’re the Biggest Break this Old Heart Ever Had,” purchased the building. In the late 1970s through the 1980s, Ed and Patsy Bruce operated the Ed Bruce Talent Agency and leased space to music businesses including Sugar Plum Music, Gingham Music, Calico-Magnolia Music, Fernvale Music, Drum Drop Music, and Events Unlimited Entertainment. The building is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

    1024 16th Avenue South is currently occupied by The Classic Ax, a guitar and instrument repair shop, Wolf Mastering, Big Spark Music Group, Krazy Pop Studio, and the Rhinestone Wedding Chapel. Constructed around 1927, the building served as a home until 1973 when it was purchased and renovated for use as Bob Schanz Photography Studio and Publicity Photo Service, specializing in country music celebrity photos. Through the 1970s and 80s, music businesses located here included Roger Talent Enterprises, Ed Penny Productions, Kansa Records Corporation, Common Ground Music, Great Leawood Music Enterprises, Inc., Fishswing Music Enterprises, Inc., E.J.R. Advertising, Holly Fish Music, Light Switch Music, Group Three, Player International Records, Tuna Dick Productions and Blue Ridge Publishers. The building is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

    1026 16th Avenue South housed the Creative Soul Music Academy until recently. Constructed around 1927, the building was a home until 1974. In 1970s and 80s, the building became offices for accountants. In 1990, Bug Music purchased the building and converted it into a music publishing office.

    1028 16th Avenue South has been the home of Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern since 2005. It is the last tavern on Music Row (Bobby’s was relocated from another building on 16th Avenue South that was demolished to make way for an apartment building. The interior of Bobby’s was relocated to the current site and recreated.) Constructed around 1908, this building was a home until the 1960s, when it was converted to become a neighborhood market.

    1030 16th Avenue South is the current home of Warner/Chappell Production Music, part of Warner Music Group, one of the world’s leading publishers with a catalog of more than one million copyrights. Constructed as a home around 1910, in 1969, it was converted for use as Countrypolitan Music. In 1976, the building housed M.C.S. Corporation, a recording and publishing business. The building has been rehabbed several times for music industry businesses including Lobo Music publishing company, Mike Robertson Management and Ten Thirty Music.

  • The Voices of Music Row

    July 20, 2018

    Nashville’s Music Row, where the sounds of America have been created for more than 60 years, is unlike any place in the world. Its cluster of more than 200 music-related businesses and the ecosystem they create is truly one-of-a-kind. But this unique community has taken a huge hit in recent years. Places where the music was made that gave Nashville its international reputation as Music City have been lost to the wrecking ball, including the first record company office on Music Row, the first recording studio ever built in Nashville, and the city’s first commercial radio station. Since the year 2000, a total of 56 historic buildings have been lost and five more are currently threated on 16th Avenue South, in the heart of Music Row, to make way for an office building.

    Yet despite these losses, National Trust research shows Music Row still exists as a tight-knit community. We have heard from a multitude of people in the music industry that Music Row’s built environment--the dense concentration of music-related businesses, many of which are located in 19th century houses and modest mid-century office buildings–is crucial to Music Row’s irreplaceable culture.

    Below are some of those voices from across the music industry, speaking to the magic of Music Row.

    Now add your voice! Share with us why Music Row matters to you. Send an email to estewart[at]savingplaces[dot]org and we’ll share your thoughts with Nashville’s elected officials. Together we can save #Music Row!

    Why is Music Row Important?

    Duane Allen – Oak Ridge Boys [excerpted from an interview with Sounds Like Nashville in the wake of their release of a new album, 17th Avenue Revival, recorded at RCA Studio A on Music Row]

    “…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.”

    Robert Hicks -- New York Times best-selling author of “The Widow of the South”

    “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.”

    Trey Bruce – vice president of Historic Nashville, Inc. and award-winning songwriter, musician and producer, owner of SongBird Tours [speaking about Bobby’s Idle Hour, the last watering hole on Music Row and now slated for demolition.]

    “SongBird 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 2 p.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.

    Much more than a building is lost when this icon falls. I realize that this is a staged replica of the original that stood five 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 five lots--that’s why it’s more popular than ever.

    Music Row is an accidental, by-chance location where The Nashville Sound and the music business grew from scratch. From this small neighborhood came one of the world’s largest musical footprints. We have to act now to save this place that is iconic and historically priceless.”

    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.”

    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… 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 – owned a PR office on 17th Street

    “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 and 30+ year Nashville resident

    “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. 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'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… it 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 it as ‘once upon a time.’”

    Jim Hoobler – historian, Tennessee State Museum

    “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] 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.”

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