Animosity in Nashville’s Veridian

May 11, 2007

Today’s Wall Street Journal focuses on a generational conflict in Viridian, a condo development catty-cornered from the Nashville Convention Center. The place was marketed to young singles, but has become popular as well with empty nesters and other old timers who can remember when Opryland was actually an amusement park.

That’s where the squabbles begin. According to the article, “And when Viridian opened last October in Nashville, most locals expected the high-rise to draw young buyers looking for a chance to live downtown. It did, but it also attracted people like Julie Lammel, a speech pathologist in her early 50s who moved there from a suburb where most of her neighbors were in her own age group.

“Ms. Lammel says that while the atmosphere at Viridian has been largely cordial, the building has already developed ‘cliques’ and there have been some tensions. Ms. Lammel describes the pool scene, for example, as an ‘animal house.’

“‘One time I went up there and the twentysomethings had the whole place monopolized,’ she recalls, ‘and I thought, Well, not today.’ Ms. Lammel says she and some of her cohorts have a strategy for reclaiming the space, at least temporarily: They’re planning a covered-dish pool party. ‘Anyone is welcome,’ she says in her pleasant Southern drawl. ‘But we’ll see who shows up.'”

All this is too bad. Downtown Nashville–and Knoxville and Chattanooga and Memphis–need both sets of residents: young people who can boost the nightlife and older ones who have the financial firepower to support fine restaurants, museums, and other big-city amenities. The oldsters also bring with them political savvy that they can bring to bear on city officials to make downtowns better. It’s a shame to see the geezers aiming at people who could become their allies.

The Journal piece ends on this ominous note: “At Viridian in Nashville, however, the party may soon be over. An insurgent group of 40- and 50-year-olds is looking to take over the condo board. Among them: Ms. Lammel, who says she intends to propose rules that would put the kibosh on spring break at the pool. ‘I decided I should stop just complaining and do something about it,’ she says.”

What’s that line? Age and cunning will always beat youth and talent.

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Blade Runner and Gatlinburg

May 8, 2007

Lord, Lord, you just can’t make this stuff up. On the same day that I learn that the Library of America has issued a volume of four novels by Phillip K. Dick, the Wall Street Journal brings the news that the latest Gatlinburg resort would fit perfectly into Blade Runner.

Seems that a company called Westgate Resorts–anyone remember Westworld?–has come up with the perfect solution for families with little time who want to visit a national park: don’t go to the park at all. Have fun instead in a climate-controlled building. Since March, Westgate has been running Gatlinburg’s Wild Bear Falls, “a giant water-spewing treehouse and a 300-foot tube slide . . . climate-controlled by an air-conditioning unit the size of a semi truck,” according to the Journal.

The building has a retractable roof, the better to “let in more light and fresh air, but still allow the space to be climate-controlled.”

“It feels like you’re outside, but not in the sun,” says Mr. Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate.



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Rattle and Snap rolls out carriage house for guests

May 2, 2007

Rattle and Snap, the most stunning plantation home in Tennessee and one of the finest ones in the entire South, will soon open its carriage house for overnight guests. Built by a member of Tennessee’s Polk family–kinfolks of President James K. Polk–Rattle and Snap was named for a dice game in which the Polk family won the land on which it is built. More details can be found here.

The house was lovingly restored by Amon Carter Evans, who opened it to thousands of visitors per year. When he sold the plantation, however, the regularly scheduled visits came to an end. Rattle and Snap is one of the few plantation homes that still sits amid farmland, so this will be a wonderful place to stay.


Scopes Trial on Broadway while original set crumbles

April 13, 2007

Today’s New York Times has a review of Inherit the Wind, the play that has, for many people, become the truth about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton. The part of Matthew Harrison Brady, modeled on William Jennings Bryan, is played by Brian Dennehy, a wonderful and expressive actor who, according to the reviewer, does not prove a foemen worthy of the steel of the Clarence Darrow character.

The odds were stacked against the Bryan character when the play was written in 1955, for he symbolized the evils of McCarthyism. Today, most viewers of the play or its 1960 film adaptation wouldn’t know Senator McCarthy from Charlie McCarthy, so all that is lost on them. Residents of Dayton, most specifically the faculty of Bryan College, created and named for “The Great Commoner,” mightily resent the fictional depiction of their town and their hero.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel comes an article reporting that the historic Rhea County courthouse, where the Scopes Trial took place, is showing its age. Historian Richard Cornelius, chairman of the Scopes Trial Museum Committee and former professor at Bryan College, states that problems include “birds nesting in the attic and the potential for disease that brings. Cornelius also said the third floor is settling unevenly because of the weight of books stored there and that there are cracks in the building’s brickwork.”

The courtroom on the second floor of the building, where Darrow and Bryan made history, is the scene of an annual reenactment of the trial based on the actual testimony.


Knoxville’s World’s Fair: A quarter century perspective

April 5, 2007

Metro Pulse has several articles on the Knoxville World’s Fair of 1982. While the Fair was generally judged to be a failure, it left Knoxville a better place to visit. The Sunsphere remains the most distinctive building in the state, and today’s visitors can also enjoy the renovated L & N train station. The Fair site, formerly an industrial valley of despair, is now a pleasant park connecting downtown Knoxville to the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

Jack Neely, who wrote the lead piece in Metro Pulse, made a perceptive comment about the Fair’s impact: “Some Knoxville businessmen noticed that just after the Fair, national news reports on NPR and the TV networks referred to Knoxville as “Knoxville”–and not “Knoxville, Tennessee,” which implies folks might not know where Knoxville was, or get us mixed up with the one in Iowa.”

Of the four main cities in Tennessee, Knoxville was the last one to get this distinction.


Oak Ridge historic inn faces meltdown

February 17, 2007

Of all the hotels in Tennessee, the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge can probably claim to have hosted the smartest collection of guests at any given time. Built during the Manhattan Project, its guests included Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, and other luminaries who developed the atomic bomb.

The 78-room hotel has been closed for around ten years and has become so run down that neighbors want it demolished. The News Sentinel has an article describing the situation facing so many historic hotels: it is on the Historic Register. It needs work. “Someone” ought to buy it and fix it up.

More on the history of Oak Ridge can be found at the Atomic Heritage Foundation, from which the photo below was lifted.


Chattanooga’s Flying Saucer House for sale

February 5, 2007

The famed Flying Saucer House (aka Space House) on the highway going up Signal Mountain outside of Chattanooga is for sale. According to an article (paid subscription required, alas) in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the eye-popping home is listed for $184,900.

This distinctive home was built in 1970. A crew from HGTV’s What’s With That House has filmed a segment on the house for airing on an unannounced date.


Memphis puts Pyramid on the shelf

February 4, 2007

The Commercial Appeal has an article on what may be the last hurrah for the Pyramid, the most amazing building in Tennessee. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, ancient rulers of a sort, gave a concert in the 15 year old structure.

David Williams writes the piece, which contains this paragraph: “Today, we look back on a building that’s held 1,309 events drawing some 10,119,000 people, a building that’s been host to Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Leonardo da Vinci’s “tousle-haired lady,” the Lipizzaner Stallions, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Mankind and the Rock, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, monster trucks, and the Bolshoi Ballet.”


Biltmore in Tennessee?

January 6, 2007

Mention Vanderbilt, and most Tennesseans think of the prestigious university in Nashville. The closer one gets to the North Carolina border, however, people begin associating the name Vanderbilt with Biltmore House and Gardens, the palatial estate just outside of Asheville. Many visitors to the mountains combine a trip to Tennessee with excursions into North Carolina, and Biltmore is often on the short list of places to see.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has an AP article today on the history of Biltmore and the lengths to which its owners keep reinventing the place to keep the cash registers ringing.

The residents of Erwin, a small Tennessee town close to Asheville, did their best in the 1890s to convince George Vanderbilt to build his estate in their area, going so far as to change the name of their town to “Vanderbilt” in his honor. George was not curious about Erwin, however, and the town changed its name to Erwin, which it remains to this day.


Reworking Tennessee Factories

December 7, 2006

Knoxville residents and UT students have been, for decades, vaguely aware of Robertshaw Controls, a factory that hunkered down along Third Creek between the main UT Campus and the Agriculture Campus. You can see it by going here and clicking on “satellite.” Now the old factory has been sold, and will soon be torn down. Jack Neely, the “Secret History” columnist in Metro Pulse, weighs in this week on how no one seems to have considered adapting the facilities for other uses.

“Historic building” is not limited to plantation home or old courthouses. Factories in Tennessee have been successfully redeveloped, and can be used for distinctive shopping or residential areas. Two that come to mind immediately are outside Nashville.


The Mill at Lebanon is an ambitious project involving taking an approximately 200,000 square-foot campus on 15 acres, just one block from the square in downtown Lebanon, Tennessee and converting it to mixed use retail/entertainment/office/residential redevelopment.

The Factory at Franklin has transformed the circa-1929 buildings that once served as the Dortch Stove Works, Magic Chef and later the Jamison Bedding Company, just six blocks from downtown Franklin, into a shopping and dining complex.

Much of the manufacturing capacity of Tennessee was (and was is a sad word in this case) concentrated in East Tennessee. My home town of Kingsport has suffered from several factory shut-downs, including the Borden Mills, where my grandfather worked; the Kingsport Press; the local foundry. While vague plans are underway to rework the Borden Mills building, the other facilities either have been or will be demolished.

Reworking factories for new uses, as Franklin and Lebanon have shown, can be a great way of reusing historic buildings and hosting housing or commercial ventures in truly distinctive surroundings.

:: Metro Pulse Online ::