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Highlights of Downtown Nashville Walking Tour
Item 21 of 33

The 2-story, reddish-brown brick building at 158-164 N. Rosa L. Parks Blvd. (N. 8th Ave.) is the Berger Building. The commercial building was constructed in 1926 for businessman Samuel Berger and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The building belonged to Vanderbilt University from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. Check out its north wall for some faded painted advertising signs. The ground floor space is leased to a construction firm, Hensel Phelps, based in Orlando; they're the general contractor for the new Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and Courthouse, just feet away. Complexion Nashville, dermatologists, also lease part of the Berger Building.

Front of Berger Building in 1984 photo for NRHP nomination (Thomason and Associates)

Building, Sky, Black-and-white, Facade

1904 magazine ad for the Smith Premier Typewriter Co., an early tenant in the Berger Building (p. xxvii)

White, Font, Motor vehicle, Auto part

Berger Building name plate and date cartouche in 1984 NRHP photo (Thomason and Associates)

Building, Font, Art, Facade

Berger Building in 1984; Roy Warden piano store painted ad on side (Thomason and Associates for NRHP)

Building, Sky, Black-and-white, Style

House and store (green bracket) at future location of Berger Building on 1914 Sanborn map (Vol. 1 p.1)

Property, Product, Schematic, Rectangle

Samuel W. Berger emigrated to America from Hungary and settled in Nashville by the early 1890s. Berger worked for the Loveman Clothing Company and celebrated his 25th year with the firm in 1917; he was gifted a silver loving cup by the company. By the early 1920s, Berger became company president. The Berger Building wasn't built for the clothing company (renamed Loveman, Berger, and Teitelbaum, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Union St.) but as an investment property.

Berger's proposed "2-story, brick with terra cotta trimming store and office building" was projected to cost $38,000, according to a construction trade magazine. O.J. Billis was the architect; the contractor was John Moore, with his office in the Arcade Building. The highly detailed building is one of the few commercial buildings that have been associated with Billis, who typically designed residences. The facade still matched the original blueprints for the most part by the mid-1980s when the building was documented for the National Register listing. The top center is marked by an elliptical pediment with "1926" on a terra cotta cartouche and "BERGER BUILDING" on a nameplate. Above the front windows on the top floor are inset brick panels with green glazed terra blocks in a diamond pattern; above the storefront, the brick panels are decorated with white glazed blocks in the corners. While the blueprints showed three front entrances, the storefronts were modified later to form a single central entrance. The first floor was designed as a commercial space with offices above.

Early tenants of the Berger Building included the Smith Premier Typewriter Company. Called the "World's Best Typewriter," Smith Premier was headquartered in New York City with a factory in Syracuse, New York. For many years, the first floor later held a piano store named for Roy Warden. The company was organized by brothers and gun manufacturers Lyman, Hurlburt, Monroe, and Wilbert Smith. They patented the Smith Premier No. 1 typewriter in 1889 and eventually opened stores across the country.

When Berger died in 1934, his will bequeathed the Berger Building to Vanderbilt University. After twenty years of ownership the university sold the building in 1954. The property has been sold about six times since then. Some later tenants were Mad Mod (a contemporary furniture store), a coffee shop, the Nashville Toy Museum, and Genesco headquarters. DevDigital, a web development firm, leased 4,000 square feet in the Berger Building from 2013 to 2018; they left for another building in town with more space. Darden Copeland purchased the Berger Building in late 2013 for $1 million and soon invested in roof and interior upgrades. The rest of the block is now covered by the massive new Federal Building or parking lots. There were rumors in 2018 that the building might be sold to the General Services Administration, the owner of the Federal Building, but Copeland denied they were true.

Anonymous. The Eco Gazette. Dry Goods Economist. April 21st, 1917. 46 - 47.

Anonymous. Buildings Proposed: Stores. Manufacturers Record. November 25th, 1926. 102 - 102.

Fudacz, Greg. Smith Premier, The Antikey Chop. Accessed August 23rd, 2022.

Thomason, Philip. NRHP Nomination of Berger Building, Nashville, Tennessee. National Register. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 1984.

Thompson, E. D. Nashville Nostalgia. Edition First. Nashville, TN. Westview Publishing, Inc., 2003.

Williams, William. "Berger Building set for upgrades." Nashville Post (Nashville) September 9th, 2014.

Williams, William. "Web development company leaves CBD for North Capitol." Nashville Post (Nashville) July 24th, 2018. Business sec.

Williams, William. "Berger Building owner refutes rumblings of potential sale." Nashville Post (Nashville) July 25th, 2018. Business sec.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

National Park Service (NPS):

Google Books: The Typewriter and Phonographic Word, Vol. 23 no. 1, January 1904


Library of Congress (LOC):