As Nashville Grows and Gentrifies, David Briggs Sets About Preserving Music Row History
Music City's population is exploding. According to the real estate site NashvilleHomes.com, Nashville is growing at the rate of 82 people per day, with many choosing to move into some of the new condo buildings that have appeared in such areas of the city and The Gulch. Music Row has also been affected by the population boom in the city. While record companies such as Sony Music and Universal have moved their offices downtown -- or are in the process of moving -- many of the buildings along 16th Avenue have been torn down in the name of progress to allow for more residential dwellings.
Thankfully, one building that will remains intact is at 1205 16th Avenue South, which has been named to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, bringing the number of such sites along Music Row to four. The building has been intact for over a century, and since 1972 musician David Briggs has owned the complex that is home to his House Of David recording studio. “It’s good because I wanted to preserve my building after I die,” the legendary keyboardist told Billboard. “I’ve watched Music Row grow. But, since I came here in 1964, everything has changed. Music Row is not only an important part of Nashville’s past, but we need to be sure it’s also a part of its’ future'".
Briggs, who also owns a couple more buildings on Music Row (including the one where the iconic “16th Avenue” was penned, said he’s glad that part of the grace and charm that was here when he came to town will remain intact. “I’m more about the buildings in a way than about the music. Of course, I came here over 50 years ago, but I recorded here for about three years before that. I’ve been coming here for a long time. I love the way it used to look on 16th, and that is Music Row,” he said, with a definite sense of ownership. “It wasn’t 17th, 18th, or 19th. It wasn’t Berry Hill. It was 16th when I came to town. I love the way the houses look, and I don’t want to see it all turn into skyscrapers. 1205 16th is an old Antebellum house with the columns. It’s beautiful, and I would hate to see that disappear.”
Many in the area -- including Briggs -- hope that other buildings will soon follow suit with such a placement. A recent study by Metro Nashville identified as many as 65 properties that could eventually claim the same status. When asked about the history of the building at 1205 16th Avenue, he said, “The Historical Society has researched it, and they have sent me pictures of the people who lived here. There was one doctor that lived here, and another prominent Nashvillian and his son who lived here. He was a teacher at Vanderbilt when it first started. The building next door was the home of the editor of one of the city’s earliest newspapers.”
Briggs had a different set of plans when he looked at placing another studio on Music Row (He already owned Quad.) “I was originally going to put the studio at 1201 16th, but the city announced they were going to build a four-lane road from 8th Avenue to Hillsboro Road. That would wipe out everything on the left side, which included 1201. This was actually a condemned building, but I loved it with all of its’ columns. It cost me a lot of money -- about $20,000 for the building, but I spent a quarter of a million dollars fixing it up,” he said, adding that the city’s plans for the road expansion in the 1970s never took place.
One aspect of the studio is a secret entranct, that he had built for someone he worked with quite often... Elvis Presley. “I had a secret door coming from an underground garage. It was a secret trap door coming from underneath the basement, so he could drive in and the people wouldn’t chase him. Girls would chase him, and pull his hair, as well as his clothes off, and all that stupid stuff. That was good, but it got to be a pain in the ass, eventually,” he said of the attention that Presley attracted. “I told him about the new studio, and how he wouldn’t have that problem. He could just go in, come up the steps, and we would record. Unfortunately, he died before we ever got to do anything (official). However, RCA gave me his account, so I did The Elvis Medley and a couple of other projects.”
While the structure was built in 1913, its status as a full-fledged recording studio took a while to take shape. “I bought it in 1972 and worked on it for a couple of years,” he recalled. “I still owned Quad at the time, so I made a deal to sell it. That was 1979. The studio had been open for a few small things, but it was mainly for me. When I sold Quad, I had to sign a three-year deal, where I couldn’t compete. In 1982, I opened to the public. The first client was Joe Cocker. Once I opened it up, it went crazy – just like Quad.” Ann-Margret, Tom Jones, George Jones, Clint Black, Willie Nelson, and B.B. King head just a partial list of acts who have made musical magic there.
While in some cities, there may be some financial advantages to the National Register of Historic Places placement, Briggs says in Tennessee, there aren’t any. But, that’s not what it’s about for him. “I did it because it protects the building from being sold or turned down. That’s all what I was looking for. I want to keep it. It’s a beautiful building. I know Music Row is going to grow. But, I would love for this house to still be here.”