Behind the Scenes of the Southern Turf Building

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Being a member of Historic Nashville, Inc. definitely has it’s perks. Once a month Historic Nashville, Inc. hosts members-only behind-the-scenes tours to various historic places in and around Nashville, Tenn. Pretty much they had me at “behind-the-scenes.” What a treat to see historic buildings and places that aren’t often or at all seen by the public! For the month of March, we had the opportunity to view the historic Southern Turf Building.

The Queen Anne-style building was built in 1895 by a wealthy bookmaker, Marcus Cartwright. It’s home was located in what was known as Nashville’s “Men’s Quarter.” If you need me to elaborate on what was Nashville’s Men’s Quarter, it was a male domain that hosted gambling, saloons and quiet prostitution. A place no “well-to-do” lady would ever venture in. Living up to it’s section of downtown Nashville, the Southern Turf building operated a saloon on the first floor, a gambling parlor on the second floor and a bordello on the third floor. The building had it’s hey-day during the late 19th and very early 20th century. A black cloud called prohibition was looming and when statewide prohibition passed in 1909, the operations at the Southern Turf came to an end. Following this was the campaign to shut down the red-light district surrounding the Capitol. By 1957, vice could no longer call this section of the city home.

Following the passing of statewide prohibition in 1909, the saloon closed in 1916. The building’s manager, Ice Johnson, shot himself to death on the third floor where he lived while operating the saloon. We did visit this area and it has a new resident today. Between 1916 and 1937, the Southern Turf was home to The Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Following the The Nashville Tennessean, others called this place home including, a billiard hall, a restaurant, a shooting gallery, a clothing store, a restaurant, and a paint store. In the basement of the building the infamous Skull’s Rainbow Room entertained tourists and Nashville’s own residents in historic Printer’s Alley. Unfortunately, the owner, David “Skull” Schullman, was murdered and what glitter was left faded.

Between the years 1916 and 1982 the beautiful building was robbed (in my opinion) of it’s grand furnishings and fell under many unjustified remodelings. Below is a picture of the saloon.

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In 1982, the building did fall into the hands of kind owners who took up the responsibility of restoring the building to it’s former architecture and style. Today it is owned by the law firm Trauger & Tuke. Historic Nashville, Inc. members can rest easy with the Southern Turf’s current owners as one of the owners, Mr. Robert “Bob” Tuke, has fought to save many of Nashville’s historic building and sites. Mr. Tuke was also our tour guide for the Southern Turf building.

And to save the best for last, while on our tour, we passed through one of the coolest doors we’ve ever seen or walked through. It was a heavy and tall door that had a little sliding “peephole” window that was used during it’s speakeasy days. You hear so much about these types of doors it was so awesome to actually use it! One can only imagine what the passcode was to enter.

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Below are some exterior photos of the grand historic Southern Turf and interior photos of the infamous Skull’s Rainbow Lounge that is currently undergoing renovation in hopes to once again be a source of entertainment to Nashvillians.

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