“I abhor the idea of a perfect world. It would bore me to tears.”
― Shelby Foote
Built in 1891 the historic Utopia Hotel in Nashville Tennessee has been many things to many people. Located on 4th Avenue in Nashville's downtown Printer's Alley district, the Utopia resides in what was once the "Men's Quarter," a one block area named because of its many saloons, gambling parlors, and brothels – with names like "The Climax" and the "Southern Turf Club". It was a place where no "respectable woman" dared set foot. The Utopia was constructed in the Italianate style and designed by Hugh Cathcart Thompson.
Excerpt from Nashville Scene, One for the Road, Ken Roberts Jr. – "The majestic Utopia Hotel stood at 206 Cherry St. With six stories and 60 rooms, it boasted a stone façade that had been designed by the same architect responsible for the Ryman Auditorium. Primarily a hangout for racing fans, the Utopia, like the later Southern Turf, had originally been planned as an Ike Johnson showcase. However, it fell victim to the Panic of 1893, only to be reopened later under new management. Before long, the Utopia was known as the “resort of the sporting classes.” In 1897, the Wayne Hand Book of Nashville marveled that, at the Utopia, “at any time during the racing season may be seen diminutive jockeys absorbing mammoth porterhouse steaks.”
By 1904 the Utopia had doubled its capacity and was taking advantage of the city’s commercial success. Since more and more businessmen were taking their midday meals downtown, the Utopia opened a new dining room. Conveniently enough, the inaugural event was a banquet for the Nashville Press Club. Good publicity followed in spades. The City Directory of the day described the Utopia as a “Hotel, European style and restaurant.”
The Utopia is set for restoration and will become a boutique hotel in 2017. Up until recently no one had set foot in the upper floors for more than eighty years. I had the good fortune to visit and photograph the interiors before demolition takes place. There is a haunting, beautiful decay within the layers of textures and light filled grit.
My Utopia project is a fusion of the grainy and hazy history that hangs heavy within the Utopian walls with colors, like ectoplasm, that still emanate from corners, crevices and from behind closed doors.