Curious Nashville: How The Polar Bear Lives On As Edgehill's Symbol | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: How The Polar Bear Lives On As Edgehill's Symbol

Sep 28, 2017

Among Nashville’s neighborhood oddities, the polar bear statues in Edgehill can definitely turn heads. And while the history of the sculptures at Wedgewood and 12th Avenue South is relatively easy to trace, WPLN listener Mary Gingrass opened the door to a more contemporary answer by wording her Curious Nashville question this way:

Why is a BEAR the “logo” for Edgehill area?

Two important notes: First, this all-caps BEAR comes with a tinge of incredulity. Really, a bear!? And the question actually isn’t about the polar bear statues, but rather the “logo” — which is actually a more recent addition to the neighborhood.

History Of The Bears

The polar bear statues first came to stand at 1408 Edgehill Ave. around 1930, just outside of the Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company, which made an array of figurines.

According to The City Paper, the intent for the bears was to advertise Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops.

Later, Rev. Zema Hill bought the bears and placed them in front of his home and his funeral home.

Because there were several bears, their history and movements become a bit of a puzzle, perhaps best documented by local historian and blogger Debie Cox.

But the two prominent Edgehill bears were eventually purchased by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, which erected them at the plaza where they remain today.

‘No Artistic License Needed’

Last year, the bears also become a logo for Edgehill, appearing on eight signs that mark the boundaries of the neighborhood — a move that local leaders said was increasingly necessary.

“With all of the development … we felt like there was a lot of encroachment,” said Rachel Tapper Zijlstra, president of the Edgehill Village Neighborhood Association. “We were starting to see things like ‘Gulch South’ and ‘12South’ when people would describe our neighborhood.

“Edgehill has been a neighborhood since before the Civil War.”

Several Edgehill nonprofits banded together to create the signs, and Zijlstra said some haggling with a development company led to a donation to pay for them.

And she said a survey made it obvious that a polar bear should be on the sign — and not stylized in any way.

“No artistic license needed,” she said. “The bear was cool enough and strange enough and iconic enough to stand on its own.”

Yet within hours of the signs being installed, one did go missing, triggering a social media campaign and some local coverage.

“It was so disheartening — the concrete wasn’t even dry,” Zijlstra said.

Eventually, the sign turned up in a backyard after someone moved out of the area, and it has since been reinstalled.