People & Places 

When Bookstar moved into the city’s grandest old movie palace in 1991, it seemed like a reprieve from the cruel fate that met the Inglewood (razed), the Knickerbocker (gone) and the glorious old Art Deco Tennessee Theater (demolished).
Best Historic Site in Need of Rescue: Belle Meade Theatre When Bookstar moved into the city’s grandest old movie palace in 1991, it seemed like a reprieve from the cruel fate that met the Inglewood (razed), the Knickerbocker (gone) and the glorious old Art Deco Tennessee Theater (demolished): the bookstore even took pains to preserve the infrastructure, in case anyone wanted to convert the facility back into a movie house. But when the bookstore closed in January 2004, it became clear that Bookstar was just a temporary stay of execution. Developer Tony Giarratana now plans to incorporate the theater’s facade and trademark tower into a $30 million shopping center and luxury-apartment space anchored by a Harris Teeter supermarket. But the fate of the Belle Meade’s mirrored lobby ceiling and curved staircase—and most importantly, its priceless blocks of marble bearing the signatures of every celebrity who ever visited, from Clark Gable to Ronald Reagan—are unclear. Too bad there’s not some daft, quixotic local billionaire who thinks it would be fun to own a picture palace. Is there a Paul Allen in the house? —JIM RIDLEY Best Habitat: Providence Park Best Habitat: Providence Park Providence Park, a 140-home development southeast of downtown, is easily Nashville’s most diverse neighborhood. Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus live here, as well as blacks, whites, Latinos, Kurds and Africans. The ties that bind? Poverty. All the homes in Providence were built by the all-volunteer organization Habitat for Humanity for workers earning less than $30,000 per year. That makes Providence the largest Habitat neighborhood in America built completely by volunteers. (Habitat contracts with construction companies to build some communities.) Providence volunteers, in fact, proved to be equally diverse—Realtors, accountants, Titan football players, Metro Council members, Vandy students, even the CEO of HCA, Jack Bovender. With 85 homes already built, the project is two years ahead of schedule. Once completed, the 43-acre site, appraised at $533,000 before construction began, will be worth at least $14.1 million, adding taxes to the city’s revenue stream. Unfortunately, the supply for low-income homes throughout Nashville remains in huge demand. More than 17,000 Metro families are eligible for Habitat homes. Consequently, the agency is in the planning stages for a 180-home development north of Nashville called Timberland. “People ought to be able to afford the American dream,” says Nashville Habitat CEO Chris McCarthy. —WILLIAM DEAN HINTON Best Celebrity Sightings: Almost Anywhere in Nashville Whether it’s discretion, near-sightedness, an inability to detect features or simple self-absorption, Nashvillians have shown themselves to be impressively blasé whenever, say, that guy ordering Chinese takeout from Fulin’s in Brentwood turns out to be a White Stripe, or that woman setting down her cocktail plate at the Hermitage Hotel proves to be Meryl Streep. As long as the stalkerazzi remain unwilling to relocate, we’ll have gods and goddesses walking peacefully among us. As on St. Patrick’s Day, when our friend Elvis Wilson—now busy at work on his documentary about Abraham Lincoln impersonators—tried out his leprechaun accent on the stunner beside him at the Green Hills Starbucks, only to realize in embarrassment it was Nicole Kidman. (Hey, he couldn’t have sounded goofier than Tom Cruise in Far and Away.) But all bets are off should we ever find ourselves escorting an affable Van Morrison through the Country Music Hall of Fame—way to go, Michael Gray—or standing at The Basement within reaching distance of Zooey Deschanel. —JIM RIDLEY Best Waitresses: Wendell’s Leave your social correctness out in the parking lot. Whether you’re the Tennessee secretary of state, or a roofer who just climbed down off the house for lunch; the mayor of Belle Meade, or the guy who greased his car; the biggest hot shot lawyer in America, or the secretary who just typed his brief, expect to get a smattering of “What’ju want today, honey,” “Listen, baby, that peach cobbler is out of this world today” and “You’re mighty hungry this time, ain’t you, sugar?” Once you manage to squeeze into your spot, where the table arrangement seems designed for fasting midgets, expect to witness a bevy of waitresses with the verve of one-legged ladies at a free dance—but whose sweet talk could tempt a bishop into throwing rocks at stained glass windows. In a town awash with absolutely stellar individual waitresses and waiters, Wendell’s has so many of them packed (and we mean packed) into one place. They bump each other’s butts in the tight quarters as they tell you about how good the beef stew is today, or about that special cream pie waiting for you in the kitchen. Or they just chide you about “bein’ away so long, you rascal.” You may go back to the social correctness waiting in your car, but with a comfy stomach and a smile on your face. —JOSEPH SWEAT Best Neighborhood for Renewal: The Nations It took a tornado and a lot of work to make East Nashville the hipster Mecca that it is today, and doubtless, five or so years down the line, someone will say that the equivalent event in the history of The Nations will be the 1997 film Gummo, which served up Sylvan Park’s ’cross-Charlotte sibling to the international art film world. But no neighborhood in the city is more primed for becoming the next big thing. For the time being, at least, in the pre-stages of gentrification, the houses of The Nations neighborhood (spanning the area bordered by Morrow Road, Centennial Boulevard, 40th Avenue and Walter S. Davis Boulevard, all on the west side of Charlotte Avenue and I-40) is home to a remarkably diverse population, with longtime families, post-college freethinkers, immigrants, fixer-uppers and rednecks all coexisting in polyglot stability, and with things just sketchy enough to be interesting. With yards, no less. —JASON SHAWHAN Best Library Employee: Clint Tatum Best Free Entertainment, Non-Artistic: Davidson County Courthouse Knowledge and helpfulness are the two attributes we hope for in our library staff. It’s a job that requires computer skills, Dewey Decimal Dope Moves, functional knowledge in countless fields and nerves of steel. In terms of familiarity, deductive reasoning and a near-uncanny ability to help a patron find what they seek, you would be hard-pressed to find someone better behind the desk at the library. Whether you’re looking for Italian art cinema, death metal, or long-forgotten Tim Lucas novels, Tatum is one of the best that the library and (metonymically) the city has to offer. —JASON SHAWHAN Best Free Entertainment, Non-Artistic: Davidson County Courthouse With the increasing popularity of TV shows such as Law & Order, and the launch of a cable channel devoted entirely to criminal justice programming, why not experience the real thing firsthand? OK, so reality usually isn’t quite as dramatic as what’s broadcast on the tube, but there’s still plenty of action at the courthouse, whether it’s a high-profile murder trial or a complex civil case. While one courtroom might be less than stimulating, there just might be a drama unfolding right next door. And even when there isn’t a case worth watching, the characters who end up before a judge sometimes are enough to entertain. Some judges are notorious for blowing a gasket behind the bench, while others are known for cracking jokes in the courtroom. So for all you retirees, and for anyone else with ample free time during the week, head down there for some free drama and a few laughs. And if anyone asks how you’re spending your days, just say you’re fulfilling an important civic duty by seeing to it that our justice system is an open one. —SARAH KELLEY Best Public Men’s Room: The Hermitage Hotel Hardly a day goes by that the scene is not repeated. A male, often a staff member, a gaggle of females in tow, scouts out the territory and finds the place void of men with their britches unzipped. The women, some giggling in embarrassment, tiptoe through the door, take a look around in awe and hurry out. More giggles. They have just laid their eyes on one of the most famous men’s public rest rooms in the world, the one on the lower level of the Hermitage Hotel. It’s immediately adjacent to the Oak Bar, one floor directly below the main floor hallway where there hangs a picture of Gene Autry and his horse, Champion, both checking in at the hotel’s main desk. When the elegant hotel was built in 1910, there were no bathing facilities provided in the rooms. So this room served as the men’s bath. By the 1930s, Art Deco was all the rage and the room was done out as the elegant, spacious public men’s toilet that’s there today. The walls are leaded glass, striped black and classic Art Deco green, and the floor is terrazzo. Even the urinals are pale green. If there ever was a place that could make you feel like a king taking a pee, it’s here. —JOSEPH SWEAT Best Weird Date: Poisonous Frog Exhibit at Nashville Zoo The lighting is subdued, the atmosphere cool and mysterious. The amphibians themselves are absolutely adorable, brightly colored little creatures—and highly deadly! Granted, there is plexiglass partitioning to protect the viewer from frog-related death, but nothing brings out romance quicker than a newly introduced awareness of mortality. Scenario 1: “These frogs are adorable.” “Yes, they are. But so very dangerous…. Isn’t there always an element of danger in beauty?” “There is. Hold me closer….” Scenario 2: “You know, oftentimes the native peoples would use these frogs’ poison to coat their arrowheads, to help defend the village.” “Really? Symbiosis makes me hot….” You get the picture. It’s like a caving expedition that doesn’t require bat repellent, and there are lots of other critters to view and discuss. But the frogs make or break the deal every time. —JASON SHAWHAN Best Place for Coyote Sightings: The Dip In Hillsboro Pike Just Before I-440 If you’ve made the late night drive between Green Hills and I-440 and any points beyond, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a coyote or two. There’s that dip in the road, just in front of the church with the rapturously beautiful rolling lawn, between Sharondale and Sharon Hill Court, just off Hillsboro Pike. In the early hours of the morning (2-ish to 3-ish, to be more specific), there is no easier place in the city to see one of these critters. Never a roadrunner, to my constant regret, but coyotes like you wouldn’t believe. —JASON SHAWHAN Best New Low-Key Neighborhood Event: Whitland Movies In The Dark This honor could just as easily be named “Best Rip-Off of the Nashville Scene’s Movies in the Park,” but either way, the Whitland Area Neighborhood Association deserves a standing ovation for pulling out a big screen on Saturday nights in summer, spraying for mosquitoes at the end of a dead-end street and posting a couple handwritten signs throughout the ’hood inviting families to bring picnics and blankets for an old-fashioned drive-in without the cars. As the sun goes down, there’s an early kid-friendly movie and a later feature film. Neighborhoods across the city should take note. This is a feel-good idea whose time has come. —CARRINGTON FOX Best Eyesore: Failed Melrose Development Perhaps Metro Parks’ best gift to the city in years was the recent regrading, reseeding and irrigating of Elmington Park, which has resulted in a vast and lush green field for soccer, football, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee and baseball. On the outskirts of the playing fields, dogs and their humans peaceably coexist with the oddly Goth cudgellers of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a few misplaced golfers and a handful of persistently optimistic kite-fliers. The Junior League of Nashville years ago built the playgrounds at the top of the field up by West End Middle School, making Elmington Park an emerald oasis for all ages. —CARRINGTON FOX At least when they paved paradise, in Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” they put up a parking lot. Here, they tore down the fabulous old Melrose Lanes—a 63-year-old bowling alley and neighborhood hub that once hosted servicemen headed overseas to fight the Nazis—and left an ugly, gaping pit ringed by tattered plastic orange-mesh police fence. The planned Starbucks, fine-dining establishment and multi-use event space (in the old Loew’s Melrose theater most recently occupied by Scene Three) have yet to materialize. But the pit remains—a suck on the neighborhood’s hopes that says all that needs saying about Nashville’s unquenchable desire to raze its past. —JIM RIDLEY Best Park for Adults: Elmington Park Perhaps Metro Parks’ best gift to the city in years was the recent regrading, reseeding and irrigating of Elmington Park, which has resulted in a vast and lush green field for soccer, football, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee and baseball. On the outskirts of the playing fields, dogs and their humans peaceably coexist with the oddly Goth cudgellers of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a few misplaced golfers and a handful of persistently optimistic kite-fliers. The Junior League of Nashville years ago built the playgrounds at the top of the field up by West End Middle School, making Elmington Park an emerald oasis for all ages. —CARRINGTON FOX Best View of the City: Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge Just because people don’t walk anywhere in Nashville, doesn’t mean you can’t walk anywhere in Nashville. I have a not-so-secret fantasy of waking up on Sunday mornings and walking across the river from East Nashville to Bailey’s, the mega-huge sports bar on Lower Broad, to watch football. Now I just have to find someone who’s not too hung over to do it. The No. 1 perk of this plan is catching a glimpse of Nashville from atop the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. The sun hits the water, the brick riverfront contrasts gorgeously with the modern high rises—even if the Batman building is an eyesore. Plus, unless the Titans happen to be playing, you feel alone in the city—like you’ve found a magical, secret spot and everyone else is missing out. —LEE STABERT BestPlace to Read a Book: Courtyard Of The Main Library Downtown Bask in the sun beside the soothing fountain, or seek out a bench in a shady nook. Either way, this bastion of nature in the middle of downtown is an ideal place to kick back and leaf through the paper on your lunch hour, or spend a Saturday afternoon reading one of the classics. Striking Ionic columns encircle the tree-lined terrace, which offers plenty of covered alcoves in case of rain. And for those who are way past the days of poring over ink on paper, there’s free Wi-Fi in the courtyard so high-tech patrons can read whatever newfangled online sites are all the rage. So grab a cup of coffee or pack a lunch, and head to the downtown library on Church Street. —SARAH KELLEY Best Place for a Discreet Rendezvous: Oak Bar at Hermitage Hotel Now if by “discreet rendezvous” you mean “illicit affair,” you might want to reconsider your vows, or at least get a little farther out of town. But if you’re looking for a cozy place for an amorous tête-à-tête, there are few places in Nashville more inviting than the Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel. Tucked away below ground level and insulated from the woes of the world by dark oak walls and doors, it offers a level of intimacy rarely found in these parts. No exterior windows, no live band, no thumping techno, no hipsters (except you, of course)—it’s the antithesis of see-and-be-seen (unless you’re a lobbyist or legislator). And while you’re sipping libations, why not share a Capitol Grille burger, big enough to stoke both of your furnaces for whatever frolic lies ahead. —JACK SILVERMAN Best New Architectural Accessory: Fountains Best Movie Location: Tennessee State Penitentiary A city cannot have enough fountains. Period. Water goes with everything: it delights children, soothes adults and adapts to almost any form. It gives a bustling cityscape a sense of gaiety and play. What a pleasure, then, to see more and more civic projects incorporating fountains, as massive as the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the new Metro Courthouse and as modest as the J. Alexander’s on West End. Now, anyone for outlining the tops of downtown skyscrapers with colored neon? —JIM RIDLEY Best Person We Miss: June Carr Ormond When Ormond, a bubbly octogenarian and ex-vaudevillian, died in July, she took more with her than a rollicking chapter in American indie cinema—a chapter she helped write by producing drive-in wonders such as The Girl from Tobacco Row (“A girl wilder than a peach orchard hog!”) and the immortal The Exotic Ones, a.k.a. The Monster and the Stripper (“Warning! Regurgitating Horrors!”). She took an eyewitness history of 20th century showbiz. As a teenager, she performed on the vaudeville circuit with Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Edgar Bergen. With her husband Ron, she made a string of Lash LaRue Westerns, low-budget shockers and hot-rod epics that earned the Ormonds the title “First Family of Exploitation.” Working in Middle Tennessee, they secured their place in cult-movie lore with a series of Christian exploitation films, of which 1971’s indescribably lurid If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? stands as their magnum opus. Even as her health and hearing declined, June remained vivacious, optimistic and hilariously candid. Joined by son Tim, her last public appearance was a sold-out show at the Nashville Film Festival, where her frailty vanished as soon as a microphone was placed in her hand. Asked by NaFF artistic director Brian Gordon about Ginger Rogers, with whom she worked, June expressed nothing but praise. Then she added, without a moment’s hesitation, “But her mother was a bitch!” To say she brought down the house would be an understatement. The city—like the movies—is duller without her. —JIM RIDLEY Best Movie Location: Tennessee State Penitentiary Nashville has a $6 billion music industry, photogenic locales ranging from ’hoods to ritzy enclaves, and surrounding landscape that can pass for everything from deep forest to a Civil War battlefield. But the one thing that reliably turns the heads of production companies is the former prison facility, which has played the part of Attica (Against the Wall), a maximum-security military brig (The Last Castle) and a haunted Stephen King hoosegow (The Green Mile). Most recently, it served as backdrop for the upcoming shocker Furnace—where some crew members said a holding cell could’ve come in handy for co-star Tom Sizemore. —JIM RIDLEY Best Place to Spot Nicole Kidman: The Salad Bar at Wild Oats Actresses like salad—who knew? So many people have spotted Nicole Kidman at the salad bar in Wild Oats that I’m surprised when I hit up the Green Hills natural foods market and don’t see her there. The unfortunate thing is that most are so star-struck, they can’t even report any information. Romaine or spinach? Chick peas or edamame? Vinaigrette or, in an unexpected twist, blue cheese? So next time you see the waifish Australian beauty loading up on roughage, take notes—what’s the use in having a real, live local celebrity if you don’t obsess over the inane details of her life? —LEE STABERT Best Unchanging Historical Landmark: Duck Pond at Centennial Park There have been quite a few local spaces that managed to stay the same over the decades (Vandyland, you are sorely missed), but none that exemplify the intersection of past and present quite like the duck pond at Centennial Park. I remember going there with family as a kid, going on long breaks from class in high school, taking out-of-town visitors there when they wanted to see where Barbara Jean was shot, and even driving by in the late afternoon before stopping off at the Springwater for a drink. The cars driving by and the clothes that the people wear may change, but there is something beautifully timeless about the ducks and their habitat. As long as there’s a Nashville, there’ll always be people stopping by to feed the ducks in Centennial Park. —JASON SHAWHAN Best Place to Get in Shape: Climb Nashville Nestled in the heart of Sylvan Park there’s a place where avid outdoorsmen scale walls alongside novice climbers and even kids. This indoor rock-climbing gym caters to all skill levels, including first-timers. The one prerequisite is learning how to safely maneuver the ropes (it’s fairly simple) so as not to let your partner plummet to the ground. (Don’t worry, I’ve never seen it happen.) Once you’ve mastered that, you’re on your way. The first climb is a little scary, but making it to the top is an exhilarating experience. The fear subsides a little with each climb, and you soon find yourself wanting to try more difficult routes. The only gear you really need is a harness, but special climbing shoes are recommended. Both of these items can be rented or purchased at the gym. Although you can pay per visit, a membership is cheaper in the long run, and includes perks such as free yoga and abs classes. There’s also an exercise room that offers cardio equipment and weights. And as a reward for a great workout, the staff has been known to host spur-of-the-moment cookouts (somewhat counterproductive, but fun nonetheless). So don’t be surprised if you hear an announcement over the loud speaker offering free hot dogs. And if that’s not in your diet, just grab a Diet Coke and chat with some of the friendly folks of Climb Nashville. —SARAH KELLEY Best Rock ’N’ Roll Hair: Todd Austin, a.k.a. Toddzilla Nothing says storied Nashville neighborhood like a pair of playful polar bears. The corner of Edgehill Avenue and 12th Avenue South—which used to be home to legendary Opry harmonica player DeFord Bailey’s shoeshine stand, and now bears a historic marker in his honor—is the permanent residence of the 600-pound, 5-and-a-half-foot-tall bears, sculpted in 1930 by the G. Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company as plugs for the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops. Zema Hill bought the bears in the early 1940s and moved them to 1408 Edgehill Avenue, where they remained as attention-getting landmarks until the residence was sold a few years back. As a result of a design-the-bears’-new-home competition, co-sponsored by the Edgehill neighborhood, the Civic Design Center and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, the white plaster mammals (it’s rumored that they were also once painted black) were cleaned up and stationed on the street corner for the continued enjoyment of residents, schoolchildren and passersby. —JEWLY HIGHT “Let’s get one thing clear,” says local musician Todd Austin (a.k.a. Toddzilla), discussing his outrageous coif, unchanged for the last 10 years. “It’s not a mullet! A mullet is a really bad, stinking fish. My hair is not a fish.” Furthermore his ’do doesn’t even conform to what people refer to as the mullet style—short on the sides, long in back. Toddzilla’s hair is long on the sides, but it’s pulled back and braided, while the top sticks straight up, like a kid checking out the static-electricity exhibit at the science museum. In a world where hipster trends change by the nanosecond, Toddzilla’s mane is reliable and unyielding, firm yet comforting. By day, he’s the electric guitar maven at Corner Music in the 12South neighborhood, but at night Toddzilla focuses on his funk-rock band The Jones (the-jones.com)—think Van Halen meets Parliament-Funkadelic. “Rock ’n’ roll should be big, loud, obnoxious, larger than life,” he says, “so I made a conscious decision and, with the help of my stylist Toni Heath, I came up with the hair. I’ve had it for about 10 years now. I want my hair to stop traffic.” —JACK SILVERMAN Best Thing About the Nashville Airport: Those 10-Minute Parking Spaces Nashvillians, you don’t know how good you have it. In my hometown of Philadelphia, picking someone up at the airport is like a secret-ops mission—you’re dodging around in traffic, constantly being yelled at and, worst of all, lurking on the shoulder of the access road until you get the call. “I’ve got my bag, I’m heading out.” “But, are you outside yet?” “Well, no.” “Call me back!” Then comes the dramatic rescue—no time for hugs, just anxious glances at the security guards and breathless urgings to move it along and load the luggage: no time for the trunk! Just shove it in the back. Not so here in Music City, where we have a decadent, well-enforced—clocks and everything—10 minutes to wait. This feature allows the luxury of helping loved ones with their luggage, giving them a proper greeting—hug and kiss—and feeling like a civilized human being. —LEE STABERT Best Mammalian Statue: The Polar Bears Throwing Snowballs on the Corner of Edgehill And 12th Nothing says storied Nashville neighborhood like a pair of playful polar bears. The corner of Edgehill Avenue and 12th Avenue South—which used to be home to legendary Opry harmonica player DeFord Bailey’s shoeshine stand, and now bears a historic marker in his honor—is the permanent residence of the 600-pound, 5-and-a-half-foot-tall bears, sculpted in 1930 by the G. Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company as plugs for the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops. Zema Hill bought the bears in the early 1940s and moved them to 1408 Edgehill Avenue, where they remained as attention-getting landmarks until the residence was sold a few years back. As a result of a design-the-bears’-new-home competition, co-sponsored by the Edgehill neighborhood, the Civic Design Center and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, the white plaster mammals (it’s rumored that they were also once painted black) were cleaned up and stationed on the street corner for the continued enjoyment of residents, schoolchildren and passersby. —JEWLY HIGHT

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    • I know that Amber from the Nashville style blog dnastylix.com attended New York Fashion Week…

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