From Disrepair to Destination, the Smithsonian Backs Historic Building Renovation

Architizer Editors Architizer Editors

Fresh Air Photo

Bristol, VA and its companion city of the same name, Bristol, TN, straddle the Virginia-Tennessee border and share the reputation as country music’s birthplace. The 1927 Bristol Sessions, country music’s first commercially successful recordings – commonly referred to as the genre’s “Big Bang” – are immortalized in the new Smithsonian-backed Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The museum opened its doors late last year in a completely restored building in downtown Bristol, VA.

Courtesy of Birthplace of Country Music Museum, photograph by Jay Phyfer.

Museum Director and Head Curator Jessica Turner admits, “We could have built a brand new museum far easier, but we would not have gotten the depth and excellence that we now have, and as a museum, this feels right.” The building started as a car dealership in 1920 but had fallen into complete disrepair long before the museum was even discussed. After a decade of fundraising, planning, and difficult restorations, the modern museum managed to preserve what Turner calls “a piece of the historic fabric of [Bristol’s] downtown.”

Courtesy of Birthplace of Country Music Museum, photograph by Jay Phyfer.

Project Architect Michael Haslam of Peyton Boyd Architects in Abingdon, VA., recalls that the interior of the building was a “ruin.” But, even when confronted with damp and dirty conditions, Haslam was excited for the challenge, “ … it was like being given a blank slate to work with, and the most exciting thing was knowing that this project had the potential to not only transform the building … but really also to have a transformative effect on Bristol’s economy and the culture of its downtown.”

One of the building’s distinguishing features was the room for large windows, but idiosyncratic designs and the needs of a historic-tax-credits project meant that special level of quality was required to take full advantage of this feature. Haslam and his team needed windows to match historic photos and work with a 1920s floor and roof that slope toward one corner. “Each opening is unique and so it was a challenge to find a window unit that could be produced multiple times to fit a number of slightly varied openings,” says Haslam.

Reproduced with permission from the Bristol Historical Association

In order to match this historic context while delivering the efficiency and quality of modern windows, Haslam turned to Hope’s®, which designs windows specifically for projects dealing with tricky historic replication. “[Hope’s] delivers the performance we expect of our windows and doors today within low-profiles that look at home in a historic structure such as this,” said Haslam.

Thanks to the exceptional quality of Hope’s University Series™ custom, handcrafted steel windows and the expert efforts of the installers and craftsmen who finished out the building, the final product brought out the best of historic Bristol while preparing it for the future museum. “They made a very difficult task look easy,” Haslam added, “And it’s one of those instances where, because they did their work so well, no one notices it.”

Courtesy of Birthplace of Country Music Museum, photograph by Jay Phyfer.

Early on the aesthetic importance of the Hope’s windows was realized. Upon seeing them for the first time, “We instantly knew this project was destined to succeed,” says Turner. “The Hope’s windows give the building such character that would have been missing if windows of a lesser quality had been chosen.”

The museum provides visitors with contemporary interior design and interactive exhibits that allow them to experience the sounds of the original Bristol Sessions. This combination of advanced engineering and historic reference makes the Birthplace of Country Music Museum the perfect home for Hope’s University Series Windows and 5000 Series steel doors. Visitors who feel transported back to the “Big Bang” of country music can thank Bristol’s hardworking team and Hope’s quality products for getting every last detail at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum right.

Fresh Air Photo

As Haslam put it, “Even though I know there are other manufacturers of steel windows out there, I sometimes catch myself using the Hope’s proprietary name to refer to the concept of steel windows that just look like they belong wherever you put them.”

Read more articles by Architizer
© Adam Mørk

Halifax Central Library // schmidt hammer lassen architects

Halifax, Canada

© DOOK Photography

House Mouton // Earthworld Architects and Interiors

Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa