The Arcade

20 Apr

Between 4th and 5th Avenue North

By Tyler Zenk

The Arcade in downtown Nashville is a landmark and has a lot of history inside this sauna like building. This is an old building that has gone through a lot of phases both good and bad.  In 1902 a man by the name of Daniel Buntin returned to Nashville after traveling to Italy. He was amazed by the architecture he saw in Italy and decided that Nashville needed something new and fresh. He formed a small group of private investors and proposed the idea of building an Arcade. Now this is not the Arcade you are thinking of with Pac-Man and other video games. No, this was a structure built with a glass roof. His idea was to rent out spaces to local businesses and it was a grand idea that only cost his $105,000. The 350ft Arcade, located between 4th and 5th Ave N officially opened on May 20, 1903. On the first day it was open nearly 50,000 people visited the new Arcade. Many people consider this to be the first shopping mall, which is a pretty cool fact for Nashville. I don’t know if it actually is the first shopping mall in America but it definitely was one of the first. This was a hopping place for people who worked downtown and wanted a place to hang out and shop and what have you. All of the rented spaces were full with businesses ranging from a hair salon to a roasted peanut shop to a post office, most of them containing awesome little neon signs hanging outside there shops. The vibe of this building was generally on the good side and even in 1970 there was a good atmosphere and people seemed to be happier there. Some customers stated that it gave them a sense of nostalgia of earlier times.

The Arcade's roof

Photo by Derek Bruff

Now these good times can’t always be there, no that is impossible. In 1980 an article in a Nashville newspaper reported that the Arcade’s reputation was decaying like the building itself and wasn’t as nice as it was ten years earlier. Now that’s understandable, a lot of stuff can go down in ten years. But the Arcade was going through a tough time. The floors were dirty and the glass roof wasn’t looking so good the neon signs were taken down in fear of them falling on people’s heads. This place needed a facelift. In fact, in 1987 the dark dingy dirt covered Arcade gets renovated to make it more appealing to the public. It’s about time considering that at that time the building was nearly 85 years old.

It’s crazy but some of the stores that were in there decades ago are still there. Businesses like the roasted peanut shop that has been in business since 1927. This place is important to Nashville I think, because it has stuck around through thick and thin, which is sometimes really hard to do.

outside the Arcade

Photo by Joseph

The Arcade has been through a lot and it is still here although it isn’t as nice as it once was but that is understandable for a building over a century old. A review from stated that,

“I never am sure when I go here when something is going to fall apart, or someone will die of heatstroke, or a car will go through dead center and smack into someone, however I’ve got to say this is a place that must be experienced…The place is in a delicate balance at the moment between decrepit and hipster, between condemned and trend, where you can get pizza, hair ties, art and a cake or hit up by transients who wander through. There’s a charm to this place I’m not conveying, and a warning to stay out when it’s been over 100 degrees out, but I’d advise if you have not been to this little place, go and visit it.  If nothing else, it’s a place you can say you know where it is, and definitively state that it does not have one single Pac-Man machine on premise.”

Quite a few of the rented spaces are used for art galleries and the Art Crawl usually goes through which keeps this building going. It’s definitely not the nicest place but it does have a sense of nostalgia that is still nice to see and is worth going and checking out if you haven’t been.

Inside the Arcade

Photo by Brent Moore


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