In June 1923, New York-based Okeh Records took their newly-invented portable recording equipment to Atlanta, Georgia. In an empty downtown warehouse on Nassau Street they made American music history.
This first “field expedition” to record music outside the permanent music studios in cities like New York and Chicago gave Okeh the opportunity to find and record talent in new musical genres. Most noteworthy, the Nassau Street recording sessions were the first to record what we know today as country music, but significant blues and jazz recordings were also made.
“Atlanta marked Okeh’s initial out-of-town expedition and the first day of any major company to record traditional artists of either race in the South. There was no way for the local press, at that time, to assess the session’s eventual significance.”
— Archie Green, American Folklorist
A developer now plans to demolish the building to make way for a Margaritaville hotel and restaurant. Check out News for the latest information.
The Nassau Street sessions tell a multifaceted story of intersecting histories of the film and music business. Since its construction in 1920, the 152 Nassau building has served a variety of functions in Atlanta’s “Film Row” – the central distribution point for films and soundtrack records across the southeastern United States.
Most significantly, in June 1923 representatives from New York-based Okeh Records set up a temporary “remote laboratory” in the building to record blues, jazz, gospel, and country music.
152 Nassau is unique in its connection to American music history as the location of the first commercial music recordings in the South. The significance of Okeh’s Nassau Street recording sessions is recognized worldwide.
“…the field-recording expeditions by A&R [artist & repertoire] men to recruit and record local performers were enormously important in the stylistic and commercial development of American roots music. Ralph Peer’s experimental OKeh sessions in Atlanta in 1923, at which Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded his—and, arguably, hillbilly music’s—first successful disc, established the basic form. It also established the regular practice of recording roots-based artists on location in hotel rooms, warehouses, radio stations, and other temporary facilities located far away from the permanent northern studios of most record companies.” –A&R Pioneers: Architects of American Roots Music
Lodowick J. Hill, Jr. constructs a “two-story + basement brick business house” at what was then known as 24 Nassau Street. Hill is the building’s owner, architect, and engineer. (He previously helped design and construct the Candler Building.) Construction – costing $12,000 – is complete in just three months.
Pyrene Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of fire extinguishers, moves into the newest building on “Film Row.” Nitrate-based film is highly flammable so Pyrene’s choice of location is very strategic. Pyrene outgrows the building and relocates to nearby Spring Street.
New York-based Okeh Records takes their newly-invented portable recording equipment to Atlanta. They set up a “recording laboratory” at temporarily-vacant 24 Nassau. This is the first time musicians have ever been recorded in the South.
Graphic Films Corporation – producer of industrial, commercial, and educational films – moves into the building.
The City of Atlanta renumbers street addresses. 24 Nassau Street becomes 152 Nassau Street NW.
Warren Webster & Co. acquires the building. Various manufacturers’ representatives occupy the building through the 1950s.
A variety of building engineers and contractors use the building as offices through the 1970s.
Herb Bridges, known for having the world’s largest collection of Gone with the Wind memorabilia, opens a museum in the building with a restaurant on the second floor.
Attorneys such as Atlanta Lawyers for the Arts use the building for offices. The building is still occupied by a law practice.
A developer’s proposed Margaritaville restaurant threatens to demolish the 152 Nassau building and Atlanta’s last remaining film exchange located at 141 Walton Street. In May, the City of Atlanta starts to designate the building as a local historic landmark. The developer’s attorney threatens legal action, so the City suspends the designation process in November.
December 19, 2018
The Margaritaville developers applied for a demolition permit.
July 12, 2019
The City of Atlanta issues a demolition permit for 152 Nassau.
July 30, 2019
August 8, 2019
The City of Atlanta issues a Stop Work Order in response to a Temporary Restraining Order granted by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua.
September 12, 2019
A hearing (originally scheduled for August 29th) was held for Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams to consider Historic Atlanta’s request for a permanent injunction against the City of Atlanta. The Margaritaville developer – ATL Capital (GA), LLC – was allowed to intervene and subsequently filed a “counterclaim for damages due to wrongful restraint” against Historic Atlanta.
As of September 17, 2019, Judge Adams has not yet ruled.
Artists recorded at the temporary recording studio set up by Okeh Records on Nassau Street in Atlanta, Georgia in June 1923 include:
Besides the performers who recorded their songs in wax, other people important to the history-making Nassau Street sessions include:
Ralph S. Peer (1892 – 1960) was a talent scout, recording engineer, and record producer for Okeh Records. Peer pioneered “field recording” in June 1923 by traveling south to Atlanta, Georgia to record regional music outside the recording studio in such places as hotel rooms, ballrooms, and empty warehouses.
Charles L. Hibbard (1868 – 1933) was technical chief (recording engineer) for Okeh Records. He previously worked for Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey where he was tasked with improving the business phonograph. He invented the portable recording equipment used in Atlanta.
Polk C. Brockman (1898-1985) was sales manager for James K. Polk, Inc. – originally a furniture store that became the largest distributor of Okeh Records in the Southeast. He convinced Okeh to travel to Atlanta to record. He became an A&R (artists and repertoire), publisher, and producer.
The people and music associated with the Nassau Street sessions have been recognized for contributions to American music history.
Country Music Hall of Fame (1984)
Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame (1993)
Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2001)
Recording Academy (Grammy) Trustees Award (2017)
Fiddlin’ John Carson Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame (1982)
Georgia Music Hall of Fame (1984)
America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame (1987)
North American Country Music Association International Hall of Fame (1999)
Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame (1986)
“The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”
Grammy Music Hall of Fame (1998)
Developers have already filed for a demolition permit for 152 Nassau Street, so if this historic building is to be saved, we’ve got to act now!
Add your name to the online petition to let the powers-that-be know you want the site of the South’s first-ever music recording studio to remain standing.
Tweet to Jimmy Buffett. @jimmybuffett
For better or worse, Jimmy’s name is attached to this project. He has a Bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Southern Mississippi, so it’s time to put that hard-earned education to work!
Tweet to Margaritaville. @Margaritaville
Margaritaville may be the perfect place for wasting away, but Atlanta’s music history should not be wasted. Margaritaville Nashville is located in a restored, historic building on Broadway and is “more Nashville-centric.” Why should Atlanta accept anything less?
Tweet to Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. @WyndhamHotels
If they can celebrate the Jazz Age at their New Yorker Hotel, there’s no reason they can’t celebrate the musical history in Atlanta, too.
Tweet to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. @KeishaBottoms
The demolition permit will need to be approved or denied by the staff of Atlanta’s mayor. Her father, Major Lance, also recorded for Okeh Records in the 1960s.
Tweet to Central Atlanta Progress & Atlanta City Council. @downtownatlanta@atlcouncil
The Downtown Atlanta Master Plan, facilitated by Central Atlanta Progress and adopted by the Atlanta City Council in December 2017, calls for Atlanta to “uncover, celebrate, and preserve Downtown’s heritage to ensure that new growth does not overwrite our history.”
Tweet to Alan Jackson. @OfficialJackson
Ask Alan asks, “What would Jimmy Buffett do?” Well, we hope the answer is “Save 152 Nassau Street from the wrecking ball!” Alan’s from nearby Newnan, Georgia, so hopefully, he can provide a little bitty help.
To support the preservation of Atlanta’s historic resources, please consider making a donation to Historic Atlanta, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.