How the Nashville, TN landmark has shaped Music City’s image


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville’s tallest building looms large over the city. It’s such an iconic part of the skyline, it’s even featured on the state of Tennessee driver’s license.  

The skyscraper has an official name, but everyone in Nashville knows it by its unofficial nickname: The Batman Building.

Home of the Tennessee headquarters for AT&T, the building, known also as the “Bat Building” or the “Bat Tower,” has been the fixture of downtown Nashville for 30 years. 

“It was an immediate hit on the Nashville skyline and still is today,” local historian David S. Ewing told Nexstar’s WKRN.

Construction on the tower began in 1992 and was completed two years later, in September 1994. The purpose at the time, Ewing said, was to consolidate multiple smaller offices for the South Central Bell company into one workspace. 

“South Central Bell had a very large presence in Tennessee. Their main office in the state of Tennessee was in Nashville; they had a lot of smaller offices around the city, and they consolidated those all into downtown in a very tall building to put everyone in one space — about 1,800 workers,” he said.

The AT&T Building, as it’s now called, was previously known as the South Central Bell Building and then the BellSouth Building. But its unofficial nickname comes from its resemblance to the Caped Crusader of DC Comics. 

“If you look at [news] coverage at the time when the Batman building opened in 1994, everybody saw this iconic image of Batman. Even months before the building opened, on the front page of The Tennessean, there was an image of the building and an image of Batman side by side that said, ‘Holy High Rise!’” Ewing remembered. 

The imagery, while iconic, was entirely accidental, according to AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips. 

“That’s a reflection of good old Middle Tennessee people calling things what they thought,” she told WKRN. “I think it was just kind of a natural thing.” 

Neither the company nor the architects sought out to create a building using that specific type of imagery. In fact, the team that designed part of the building told WKRN the distinctive spires on either side of the building were inspired by the technological advancements of the age. But the resemblance to Batman was unmistakable. 

“When the Batman building opened in 1994, a reporter asked DC Comics, the publisher of Batman comic books, about it, and they were flattered that Nashville would do a building that looked like Batman,” Ewing said. “The person suggested that they build a smaller building after Robin with an R and a circle on it.” 

According to Phillips, locals had to assure members of Warner Media, who were at one time part of the same company as AT&T and protected the name and image of Batman products, that the name was an organic creation and not meant to infringe on anyone’s intellectual property rights. 

“It’s just what people call it,” Phillips said. “If anything, we kind of came away from that conversation with even the folks who control the Batman mark thinking it was good for the brand. People call [the building] that in a very positive way.”

For the last 30 years, the Bat Building — or the Bat Tower or the Batman Building — has been the centerpiece of the Nashville skyline, leading the charge for downtown Nashville’s growth. 

The architects that designed the AT&T Building didn’t intend for it to resemble the Caped Crusader, but the public and the media couldn’t help but make the comparison. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Ewing said he considered the tower’s construction a green light for redevelopment following an economic slowdown in the 1970s and ‘80s. 

“That was a real signal to come back to downtown Nashville — a bat signal, if you will — that downtown was open once again, and it caused a lot of other people to invest in the core of the city,” he said. “A lot of people were building buildings outside of the Nashville area, in the Green Hills area and the Cool Springs area, but we weren’t building these iconic towers. In fact, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, most of the other tall buildings in our skyline were built as hotels or by banks.” 

While the building is iconic from the outside, the inside is equally as unique, according to both Phillips and Ewing. 

The interior was designed by the late local architect Earl Swensson and includes a signature design element that Swensson put in many of his buildings: the all-glass atrium.  

According to Ewing, Swensson “kind of invented” the grand glass atrium for the Opryland Hotel and used similar atriums in other large projects, including the AT&T building and Centennial Hospital. 

“A lot of other architects have copied him over the years,” Ewing said.

The building was one Swensson didn’t want to look like a typical boxy skyscraper, according to Ewing. 

“There’s a ton of light in the building,” he said. “The way the rooms and the floors are set up, there’s not your typical grid system. There’s a lot of curves and different angles. It was really meant to be technology and architecture combined.”

Earl Swensson Associates says the building includes a two-story economic development center, a nine-story 1,308-space underground parking garage, and an 8,000-square-foot enclosed winter garden, which serves as another point of interest. 

Another unique feature of the building is its orientation. While most skyscrapers or downtown office buildings run parallel with the streets they’re on, the Batman building sits catty-cornered on its lot, facing the corner of Commerce Street and 3rd Avenue North rather than any one street. 

“So the building doesn’t turn its back on either side,” Phillips said. 

While AT&T and previous iterations of the company were the first owners and sole renters of the building at first, the tower began hosting other companies through rental agreements starting in the mid-2000s.

When Nissan North America announced it would be relocating its headquarters to Franklin, the company needed a temporary space for its employees to work, and the AT&T building made room. AT&T cleared out about half the building for Nissan to use while they were awaiting the opening of the Williamson County facility.

“In fact, for a time, there was a Nissan signage kind of down low over the front door of the Bat Building,” Phillips said. 

Nowadays, the building is home to multiple tenants, including U.S. Bank and law firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs. It is owned by limited liability company MTL Leasing. 

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