Out with Bristol’s Grand Guitar, in with something to drive people downtown, developer says

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"It just wasn't something we were proud of anymore," local historian says.

BRISTOL, TENN. (WJHL) – Grand Guitar welcomed Interstate 81 travelers to Bristol for decades before the building was razed last week.

The guitar-shaped building sprung up in the early 1980s, Bristol Historical Association President Sid Oakley said, and earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The distinction doesn’t come with designations for a historic building, though.

This sign is the only clue that the Grand Guitar building once stood by Interstate 81 in Bristol.

“That is not intended to limit the use of the building, that is merely intended to designate that it was a place of importance,” Oakley said.

“It does not mean that they can control the usage of the (building), whether or not it’s painted when it should be, what color it’s painted, when it’s renovated or when it’s torn down.”

Steve Johnson, the developer behind the Pinnacle shopping center in Bristol, is the most recent owner of the land where the building sat. He said the building was so dilapidated that the only option was to tear it down.

He added that the demolition doesn’t spell the end for the site of the former Grand Guitar building – he said he wants to replace the former landmark with something that will drive people to downtown Bristol.

Johnson said he’s considering involving officials with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in order to develop something for the land that holds significance for Bristol and its history.

He said he wants to see something on the Interstate 81 corridor that Bristol can be proud of, but that the Grand Guitar building “wasn’t it.”

The last of the rubble of the Grand Guitar building sits on the lot next to Interstate 81 in Bristol.

Oakley said he is always sad to see anything of historic significance destroyed, but he admitted time was up for the former landmark.

“Time and weather took their toll, and it was time to either spend a lot of money, that obviously Mr. Johnson didn’t think was worth it, or remove it so that something better can be built,” he said.

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