The building at 104 (and 106) 5th Avenue South is considered the oldest standing downtown residential structure in Nashville. The northern part of the house was built in 1820, with the southern addition constructed in the 1880s. The two halves clearly served different functions in the past, as the floors didn’t line up between the two sides, requiring a series of Escher-like staircases from basement to rooftop. The structure purportedly housed a variety of uses throughout its history, including a cobbler, drugstore, and sandwich shop on the lower floor, with a residence typically on the top floor. A 1980s commercial renovation revealed a passageway believed to connect to the Cumberland River... five blocks away.

When MZA was approached about redesigning the building(s) for a restaurant in 2012, it was operating as a motorcycle themed bar. The piece meal renovations over the house’s history had left it in poor condition with many life safety violations and an ongoing issues with Metro Historic. Because of the small footprint, one of the key concepts in the project was getting the northern side’s floors to align with the southern side’s in order to make the most of the usable space. Since the property was protected by as an historic property, the windows and “front door” into the 104 side had to be kept as-is, despite dropping the floor some 4 feet to align with the 106 side, creating a unique sense that the space on the 104 side was “sunken” because of the relationship to windows and doors. The age and dilapidated condition of the structure also proved a challenge as the entire building exterior had to be shored to prevent collapse simply to allow any work to occur.

The results ultimately preserved the structure by successfully adapting it for a new user and created a much more functional building with a uniform floorplate on all levels, viable basement storage, and a rooftop terrace overlooking Bridgestone Arena.

Mark Bixler