Fellowship/Memorial Hall, constructed in Nashville, Tenn., in 1948 as a community meeting center with a tower, was purchased by Hathorne chef and owner John Stephenson in 2017. At the time, the building was still attached to West Nashville United Methodist Church, which is now Clementine Hall.
“My vision was that the restaurant would serve the same historic purpose to the community as the original hall,” Stephenson says. “I named Hathorne after my grandmother, as it is truly a labor of love and a dream come true.”
The adaptive reuse features an open dining room maintaining the building’s spirit of community and fellowship, as well as many details from the former church next door. In addition to the open dining area with room for several family-style tables, a separate room for private celebrations was constructed in the back.
While working on the project, Dryden Architecture + Design and Steelhead Building Group acted as if there was a historic overlay in place. Careful attention was paid to the street-facing part of the restaurant. They did not change the window openings, roof shape and form, nor alter the façade, using it as a guide even though that was not required. They also replaced 90 percent of the windows on the building with window designs that look period-specific.
In addition, existing historic wood doors and hardware were reused, refurbished and refitted. Hathorne’s interior includes a chair rail where church members used to kneel to take communion. At 30-feet long and weighing approximately 1000 pounds, it took 15 people to lift and restore.
The space had drop ceilings that were pulled down to expose hand-built steel trusses that run the length of the building inside; the trusses are a gold patina. The white paint on the bricks in the bright dining room contrasted well with the steel trusses and wooden ceiling.
The main dining room floor is mainly slab concrete that was stripped, stained and painted with a new pattern of graphics. While refinishing, an old shuffleboard court was found and kept, adding charm and a subtle reminder of earlier days.
In the back, two levels were covered with linoleum. When the linoleum was peeled off, a wide-plank oak floor appeared and was restored by the team. In the back private room, a wall was removed to create a dining room. The wood floors run throughout this space.
“We enjoy collaborating with project partners that share our vision of painstaking historic building rehabilitation with a creative, modern flair,” says Nick Dryden, principal of Dryden Architecture + Design. “John wanted to help revitalize the neighborhood and significantly impact the community. Hathorne is a perfect result of the entire construction and design teams’ careful analysis and hands-on approach to detailing, fabrication and material understanding appropriate to the site.”
“It can be challenging undertaking such an extensive renovation while successfully embracing and incorporating the building’s historical character,” says James Pollard, principal with Steelhead Building Group. “All team members were committed to preserving the historical nature of the building and it was a special project to be involved with.”
Today, Hathorne is a warm and inviting gathering space that serves the neighborhood with everyday food inspired by the South and influenced by the ethnic flavors woven throughout American culture.
Steelhead Building Group, along with Dryden Architecture + Design, won a 2021 Nashville Metropolitan Historical Commission Preservation Award for its work transforming Hathorne.
Photos: Dryden Architecture + Design