During my recent stay at Nashville I several times walked past a six or seven storey stone-faced narrow building that appeared vacant above the ground floor. At sidewalk level, the front of the building appeared to be occupied by a business called Downtown Cleaners. One evening while walking back to my hotel, I stopped in at the cleaners and asked about the building speaking to the two guys who appeared to be in charge. By in-charge I mean one of the guys stood behind the counter at left in front as you enter the former lobby, and the other guy sat across from him on some kind of seat I thought was at one time probably for the convenience of customers waiting for garments to be brought up from in back. Prominently featured against the wall at right upon entering and closer to the door than the one man’s seat was a colorful Lottery display with a little counter and stacks of cards to be filled out with gamblers’ picks.
Also on the wall at right and closer to the door than the Lottery altar was a framed newspaper article sans byline (at least I recall looking for the writer’s name and don’t think I saw one) clipped from the pages of a paper the name of which I forgot to jot down; the feature was about the Utopia Hotel. It was not recent and its text was wrapped around a not very sharp black and white image of the building’s façade. I jotted down on an index card one of the Cleaner’s guys gave me some information from the story: Built in 1890 – 91 the hotel was constructed as an investment to capitalize on Nashville’s centennial celebration and built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The hotel is located in what was then referred to as the Men’s Quarter, “an area where no respectable woman” would allow herself to be found. Again, according to the feature, the hotel had an elevator, at one time boasted “the Best Room for $1 in Nashville,” at one time kept a sea-turtle tied up in a tub outside to advertise the in-house restaurant’s specialty soup.
According to the guys running the dry-cleaning business in the former lobby, at the street the building is 25’ wide and extends back 174.’ They apparently jokingly said that in the basement there’s nightclub, although this may be true as the back of the building is in Printer’s Alley and a number of bar or club-like businesses appear to be located there. One of the guys said that a female country music vocalist, Carrie Underwood, filmed two music-videos using the building. The first of these was “before she got popular” and was “the one where she was singing and blew all the windows out of the building – that was filmed here.” The second video “was the one where she comes in and is applying for a job.” The cleaners joked that they would like to get royalties whenever the videos are played or aired.
The most interesting thing the cleaners told me was that the building was constructed before steel girders were commonly used for structural support, so each storey above the ground floor is successively narrower than the one below it; the top storey, according to my informant, is five feet narrower than the ground floor. The building’s owner, the guys said, was in negotiations to sell it or make lofts out of it, but in the era of stagnant economy and stimulus spending, the plan has been put on hold. I asked to see the floors above, but the cleaners said the owner uses them for storage and that they haven’t got the key. The building adjacent, on your right as you face the Utopia, is the Noel Building, once a famous downtown landmark that didn’t really attract my attention and is currently in services as I-don’t-know-what.