Report Lists Music Row As One of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places

Photo by Caine O’Rear

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed Nashville’s Music Row on its 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The annual list names landmarks and neighborhoods, both architectural and cultural, that are at risk of extinction. 

Nashville’s history in the music industry extends back to the 1800s when music publishing in Nashville began. Music Row showcases that long-standing history, as producers, publishers, authors, musicians, and songwriters established themselves between 16th and 17th Ave. South, Division and Grand Street. 

Citizens rang the alarm three years ago after historic RCA Studio A was nearly destroyed. The studio, established in 1964,  is known for hosting the likes of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Charley Pride — pivotal figures in the revival of country music during America’s rock-and-roll epoch. The studio stands as a historical landmark for the importance of music in Nashville’s culture. 

“Music Row is exactly the kind of cultural district that many other cities have been trying to create,” says Katherine Malone-France, interim chief preservation officer of the Nation Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement. “The sweeping arc of the past and present of the music industry can be felt in Nashville’s modest late-19th-century bungalows and small-scale commercial buildings that have inspired and incubated the creation of music for generations. If demolitions and zoning exemptions continue, this one-of-a-kind musical ecosystem will be lost forever.” 

Since as early as 2013, the National Trust reports, more than 50 demolitions have taken place on Music Row, forcing independently owned music businesses to decamp and scatter across the city. According to surveys conducted by the Metro Government of Nashville, over 64 percent of those that replaced the music industry tenants were for new development. 

Although members of Nashville’s Metro Planning Department began hosting Music Row Meetings to discuss the future of the historical neighborhood, the demolition continues. This marking of Music Row, which according to Tim Walker, executive director of the Metro Nashville Historical Commission, is “internationally renowned for its contribution to music culture,” as a cultural and historical landmark is a call to action. 

The Metro Planning Department recently released a draft of its Music Row Vision Plan and is accepting public comments until June 3.