BRISTOL, Tenn. — The Grand Guitar may be on the National Register of Historic Places, but the owner of the building had the right to demolish it, and he followed proper procedures, city and federal officials said.
The Grand Guitar, which was off U.S. Highway 11W in Bristol near Interstate 81, was demolished Friday. It was built in the early 1980s by the late Joe Morrell, a Bristol musician who owned Morrell’s Music, and opened in 1983 as a museum, store, recording studio and roadside attraction. The two- and three-story guitar-shaped structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 11, 2014.
Local developer Steve Johnson purchased the building in 2014 and said he planned to restore it. But he said last week that it fell into a state of disrepair and was not structurally sound. It was demolished the same day the demolition permit was approved by the city.
Johnson previously told the Bristol Herald Courier that he demolished the building at the request of the building’s former owner.
Jim Gabbert, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places, said that despite a common misconception, a site’s listing does not protect it from being remodeled, altered or even demolished by a private owner. Unless federal funds are involved, properties on the register are not under stricter scrutiny than any other property. Additionally, the state of Tennessee has no protections for historic buildings or landmarks that are not on public land.
Independent municipalities and cities can pass ordinances to limit or ban the demolition of officially recognized historic buildings and landmarks, but Karl Cooler, codes administrator for Bristol, Tennessee, said the city has no ordinances protecting historic buildings.
For now, the property remains on the national register because the Tennessee Historic Preservation Commission, the authority that nominated it for inclusion, has to request its removal, Gabbert said.
The Grand Guitar building was not listed as a state historic site by the Tennessee Historic Preservation Commission. Patrick McIntyre, state historic preservation officer and executive director of the commission, said a request to remove it from the register will be sent if the state review board approves that action. He said it will not be on the agenda until January 2020.
Johnson said he currently has no plans for the site.