Clock Ticks on Jack 

The wrecking balls draw near

The wrecking balls draw near

Jack is back in the news. And most of it ain’t good. Last week some of the remaining tenants of The Jacksonian were given eviction notices, which call for them to be out by the end of November. Once the warm bodies are gone, the bulldozers and wrecking balls can move in on the historic apartment building at 3010 West End Ave.

Developer John Rochford, whose children own interests in The Jacksonian property, recently announced plans to salvage architectural scraps from the 1917-vintage structure and incorporate them into a new building at 4000 West End Ave. This site now contains the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, whose congregation is raising money to build a new house of worship in Bellevue.

According to an Oct. 12 article in The Tennessean, Rochford plans to build a 20-unit condominium on the church site, with units selling in the $150,000 to $300,000 range. The Tennessean stated that the total project cost is estimated at $6 million.

These figures, however, don’t add up. Rochford would have to sell each unit for $300,000 just to break even. Maybe Rochford intends to subsidize the condos with the Walgreen windfall. Who knows.

On a slightly more positive note, Walgreen officials confirmed this week that the pharmaceutical giant has not yet signed a lease to build a drugstore on the Jacksonian site. Walgreen corporate communications spokesman Michael Polzin stated, “We have made no legal commitments, no definite agreements for the location at 31st and West End.”

That seems to mean that the only legally binding contract may be between The Jacksonian owners and Russell Morris III of Eakin & Smith Realty, who is trying to bring Walgreen to the site. John Rochford and Morris did not respond to the Scene’s requests for clarification on the nature and details of the Walgreen deal.

Attorney Tom White, who represents Morris, says, “as far as I know, there has been an outstanding contractual relationship between Russ Morris and the Rochfords, and between Russ Morris and Walgreen, for the past three or four months.” But Polzin explained that it’s standard Walgreen policy to sign on the bottom line only when a site is legally clean. “Sometimes it’s a question of rezoning or other legal hurdles,” Polzin said.

The legal hurdles that remain for the Jacksonian site include passage of the traffic circulation plan for the Walgreen store by Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission. Attorney White has made no move to bring the issue before the commission. Political realists theorize that it will be easier for White to deliver the commission’s approval once The Jacksonian has already been demolished.

The other legal ruling White must favorably resolve for Morris is the suit filed in Circuit Court challenging the zoning variance granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals for the Walgreen project. The plaintiffs in the case include the Hillsboro-West End and Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood associations, as well as business owners and residents in the area. Without the variance, the Walgreen store cannot be built exactly as proposed.

Mike Lawson, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, says that the earliest the suit could be heard would probably be January. But Lawson says that “even if The Jacksonian’s owners direct the tenants to move out, we have no intention of abandoning our suit.” On the other hand, even if the Traffic and Parking Commission or Circuit Court throw a stumbling block in the Walgreen path, that will not prevent The Jacksonian’s owners from demolishing the building. Attorney White says that no matter what, “the building is going to come down,” probably in February or March of next year.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to understand why the owners would demolish The Jacksonian without a guarantee that Walgreen is ready to build on the site. Other developers have approached Rochford with proposals that would incorporate the old building into a new development. Though the chances are increasingly small, Jack’s owners could wind up with no building and no buyer.

Son of Jack

In announcing his plans for a brand new building using pieces of the old Jacksonian, John Rochford said that a replica is the only way to preserve the building. “The Jack will be saved in a different way,” he told The Tennessean.

Perhaps Rochford is trotting out Jack Junior as a gesture of appeasement that might put some positive spin on what has become very negative public relations for the developer. But in the process Rochford seems to be saying that it’s preferable to destroy history and rebuild something historic-looking in its place. Nashville has been down this road before.

Remember the Ryman. In 1974, Opryland wanted to raze the mother church of country music and save token fragments. The proposal drew poison from the pen of Ada Louise Huxtable, then architecture critic for The New York Times. She described Opryland’s plan as “a mixture of architectural ignorance and acute business venality....The final indignity is that [Opryland] intends to use some of the bricks and some of the artifacts of the bulldozed Ryman to build—we kid you not—‘The Little Church of Opryland’ in the new amusement park. That probably takes first prize for the pious misuse of a landmark and the total misunderstanding of the principles of preservation.”

Amid the withering fire, Opryland retreated. Today the Ryman Auditorium, besides serving as a popular music venue for natives and tourists alike, is a downtown anchor. And John Rochford is now bucking for sole possession of first prize for landmark misuse.

It is true that The Jacksonian is not a national landmark like the Ryman or The Hermitage. Patsy Cline didn’t sing at The Jacksonian, and Andy Jackson didn’t sleep there. In cities that have preserved more of their historic architectural fabric, The Jacksonian would be a background building, a solid architectural citizen doing its job with a maximum of grace and a minimum of fuss.

But because developers have transformed most of West End Avenue into one big strip mall, The Jacksonian stands out as a local landmark. The buff brick building is significant, not only for the quiet classicism of its architectural detailing, but because it provides Nashville with a rare example of residential living in a location where people can walk to shops and restaurants and catch the bus to downtown.

The preservationists who are fighting to save Jack have been accused of being impractical and anti-progress. Actually, it is the demolishers who are regressive.

The Jacksonian stands as a blueprint for the integration of living with working and shopping and playing. It is what the Planning Commission has called for in its general and subarea plans. The Metro Development and Housing Agency is pumping millions into the creation of a new mixed-use neighborhood on Rolling Mill Hill. Ironically, nearby Rutledge Hill used to contain the exact kind of neighborhood we are now reconstructing, and that we as a city destroyed.

If The Jacksonian and other apartment buildings like it are bulldozed for strip shops, it will be painfully easy to predict the moves in the next millennium.

The development doctors at MDHA will be asked to establish a redevelopment district along West End Avenue. Someone will take advantage of tax increment financing, and demolish the Walgreen for a condo tower. This process of destruction and reconstruction is a variation on the old adage, “What goes around comes around.” In Nashville, we can also say it like this: What goes around comes around, but when it comes around again it costs a lot more money.

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