November 30, 2021

DOWNTOWN’S FIRST REAL SKYSCRAPER

This photo was probably made in May, 1956, when the Victory Memorial Bridge across the Cumberland River opened in Nashville.  It recently popped up on Facebook from the Metro Nashville Archives and I copied it for a special reason.  

When I started working downtown I did research tracing its history, decline and the revitalization our organization was promoting.  I spent long hours poring over old boxes of photos made by various official city photographers.  This was one I especially liked!  I paid to have an 8 x 10 black and white copy of it, which I matted and framed for my office.  When I retired a few years ago, I left it behind.

In the left background, the tall building under construction is the L & C Tower, which officially opened in 1957.  It was the first major downtown construction project after World War II, and by far the tallest building in Nashville and much of the Southeast. At the corner of Church and 4th Avenue North, the building is no longer the tallest although it continues to be one of the most elegant and familiar marks on the skyline.

The headquarters of Nashville’s Life & Casualty Insurance Company, it was the center of much commercial activity by well-known Nashville executives. The summer after I graduated from Lipscomb, I had my very first downtown Nashville job there—working as receptionist for WLAC Radio.  I met some of the station DJs of that era who were widely known across the country—“Hoss” Allen, Herman Grizzard, and John R. Learning the inner workings of a radio station, I often helped out in the Traffic Department (which determined what was live on the station every second of the day and night).

The See Cruiser in the photo is carrying Nashville’s Mayor Ben West (1951-1963) and other local dignitaries for an “open air” view of the new bridge and the changing Nashville skyline. Several times business leaders who stopped by my office would comment that they spotted a relative of theirs in the photo.  

For the first 20 years or so, the 25-foot high neon letters L & C atop the building gave the local weather forecast! The meteorology department of a nearby airfield would give the signal to reset every four hours—if the letters were red, that meant rain or snow was forecast, if they were blue, clear weather was expected.  The color rippled upward if temperatures were rising, downward if temperatures were falling.  Eventually other sources for knowing weather forecasts became more common and the maintenance was costly—and this feature disappeared.  Today those tall letters would be blue, with the color rippling upward!

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