Music Row, a collection of businesses from Broadway to 16th Avenue South, has been a part of Nashville’s legacy since it became “Music City, USA”. It is home to recording studios, record labels, and more. Without Music Row, Nashville would be nowhere near the cultural epicenter it is today.
Before Music Row, Nashville had the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and cozy residential neighborhoods throughout the city. While the music industry was slowly making its way into middle Tennessee, it hadn’t quite reached Nashville.
In 1954, Owen and Harold Bradley purchased a small home on 16th Avenue South, attached a Quonset hut to the back, and after many more renovations Bradley’s Film & Recording Studios was born. It went by many names, including The Quonset Hut Studio, and later Columbia Studio B. The studios operated from 1955 to 1982, and marked the beginning of a commercial music industry in Nashville with recordings for Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, and many more.
It took many major labels a while to realize that the Nashville market wasn’t going anywhere but up, and once RCA jumped on the bandwagon and brought Chet Atkins in with them, it was clear that Nashville was slowly becoming a pentacle for the growing music industry, especially when it came to country music and even early rock-n-roll.
Owen Bradly and Chet Atkins founded RCA Studio A in 1965. The studio has hosted recording sessions with Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, the Beach Boys, and more. Today, artists such as Ben Folds and others lease space in the studios due to its history and legacy amongst Nashville musicians. In June of 2014, it was announced that the studio would be sold and demolished to make room for more high-rise condominiums. The community was unsurprisingly outraged, and philanthropist and preservationist Aubrey Preston, along with former politician and record executive Mike Curb and healthcare executive Chuck Elcan, were able to buy the building and avoid demolition.
Today, Music Row is not what it used to be. Historic buildings and studios are being demolished to make way for hotels, apartments, and office buildings to keep up with the growing Nashville tourism industry.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation even named Music Row in its 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 2013, over 50 buildings have been torn down to make way for these non-music-industry related structures.
The Metro Planning Commission and Metro Nashville are continuing to approve ‘Specific Plan’ exemptions for the Music Row Area. This allows buildings to be built larger and taller than is currently allowed, and in turn encourages demolition and replacement of some of the historic buildings in the area. The community is seeking to save Music Row, with many business owners refusing to sell to developers in order to make a stand against destroying the historic Nashville music hub.
Pam Lewis, owner of PLA Media and former manager of Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, is heading a campaign to preserve the history on Music Row. In 1993, Lewis bought and restored five buildings on 16th Avenue, then leased the buildings to other music industry businesses. She continues to own and lease these buildings to keep Music Row in the music business.
“There is still something important about the power and sense of community. And it is important that we both honor and protect the power of this place,” Lewis said, regarding the #SaveMusicRow campaign on her company’s website.
Lewis and other community members are working with local government officials, and even the Mayor, to designate Music Row as a National Cultural District. If approved, it will be the first designation of its kind in Nashville and the state of Tennessee.
“The legacy and musical heritage of Music Row and its very structures are a national treasure that is revered by millions of people throughout the world,” said Jerry Crutchfield, an award-winning producer, in a statement with PLA Media.
Currently, 55 sites on Music Row are eligible for the National Register. The balance between preservation and growth is something that city officials and members of the community cannot seem to agree upon. In the time that it is taking to register these buildings and to agree to preserve them, more of Music Row is being demolished. Many musicians and executives have stepped forward in support of preservation.
To help in the efforts, readers are urged to sign the petition at The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and donate to The Music Row Preservation Fund through direct donation or purchasing of a t-shirt or walking tour. More information can be found here.
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