Will Tennesseans Treasure This Legislative Office Building As Much As Preservationists? | Nashville Public Radio

Will Tennesseans Treasure This Legislative Office Building As Much As Preservationists?

Jun 20, 2016

The Metro Historical Commission's Tim Walker marvels at the hulking gray building tucked away between the Capitol and Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

"Truly, we'd never spend that kind of money to build a building like this today."

The Cordell Hull Building rises nine stories and stretches about the length of a city block.

Built in a simplistic style popular in the early 1950s, it might not look like much. But its limestone exterior gives it a stolid feel, and inside there are rose-colored marble finishes quarried right here in Tennessee.

"So I think it's kind of exciting that it might have a use where the public gets to go in it more often and really appreciate it's beauty — the interior beauty of the building," Walker says.

An architectural gem — that's how state officials and preservationists talk about the Cordell Hull Office Building.

Four years ago, the office block next to the state Capitol was slated for the wrecking ball. Now, Tennessee is spending $100 million dollars to save it.

Renovation work on the Cordell Hull began last month and is expected to take until the fall of 2017 to complete. When it's finished, it will become offices for state lawmakers, who plan to abandon their longtime home in Legislative Plaza.

It will thrust into the public eye a structure that up to now has really only been seen by government workers.

Many in Gov. Bill Haslam's administration were ready to see it torn down four years ago.

But now…

"It's a grand old building," says John Hull, the head of the state of Tennessee's real estate management operation. (He's no relation to the building's namesake.) "We think it's a value, actually, to renovate this old building and keep its character the way it is."

Renovations to the Cordell Hull started with asbestos abatement and are expected to take more than a year to complete.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

Hull says people familiar with the Cordell Hull will recognize the building after it's renovated. Although it's being stripped to the plumbing and retrofitted with legislative offices, its signature traits — like its marble — will be left in place.

But some changes will be made.

A tunnel will connect the Cordell Hull to the base of the Capitol. The state says it'll provide access for people with disabilities.

The building will also be expanded with the addition of ground-floor hearing rooms. Conceived as a workspace for state workers, the Cordell Hull building had no meeting spaces large enough for a legislative committee.

It's those hearings and tours of the legislative offices that will bring many Tennesseans in to see Cordell Hull for the first time. The hope of preservationists is that it won't be long before the building becomes a beloved part of the Tennessee Capitol.