Nashville’s Music Row, which has for decades served as the center of the city’s music industry as well as a key tourist destination, has been named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The list, compiled by the privately funded nonprofit organization each year since 1988, highlights examples of architectural integrity and cultural significance that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
For more than 60 years, Nashville’s Music Row has been the bustling center of the city’s recording and music-publishing industries, and a must-visit destination for tourists. While studios and offices remain, the area where 16th and 17th Avenue South are designated as Music Square East and West, respectively, has undergone a radical transformation over the past several years, due to Nashville’s rapid growth and non-music industry-related development, which has, since 2013, led to the demolition of 50 buildings in the area. The majority of those demolitions (64 percent) have been for new development, including high-rise luxury apartments, putting the bungalow-style buildings that once housed publishing companies and other music-industry-related businesses at greater risk.
“This designation is the happiest we’ve ever been receiving bad news,” Elizabeth Elkins, vice president of the board of Historic Nashville, Inc., said in a statement. “We are glad that the rapid rate of destruction of Music Row will now be in the national spotlight, as the zoning and ongoing demolitions strike at the heart of our greatest fear, which is the unabated loss of the compelling spaces that are the backbone of what makes Music City both an internationally-known destination and a unique place to live and work.”
Other places on the 2019 list include the Tenth Street Historic District in Dallas, the James R. Thompson building in Chicago, Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah, and the Excelsior Club, a private African-American social club which in its heyday hosted entertainers including Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Trustees includes former First Lady Laura Bush.
In 2014, RCA’s historic Studio A, where artists including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Charley Pride and hundreds of others recorded, was saved from demolition when Curb Records founder Mike Curb joined a pair of local philanthropists to buy the building. In 2017, the building received a $500,000 facelift, which included restoring it to resemble what it looked like in the Sixties. The studio, a base of operations for musician Ben Folds for 12 years, is now managed by producer Dave Cobb.
A letter to Nashville lawmakers to encourage new preservation incentives and to end zoning exemptions along Music Row has been posted for the public to sign on the National Trust’s website.