The Silo Mural Nashville
The Nations Area
An abandoned concrete silo looms over The Nations neighborhood, eerie and empty. The historic Nashville landmark was nearly torn down. Instead, it’s becoming the centerpiece of the community’s redevelopment.
A 15-story painting is unfolding, revealing an elderly man who lived nearly all his life within sight of the silo, and neighbors are gathering at patio bars to watch as the process unfolds.
The artist is Australian Guido Van Helten, an internationally acclaimed muralist known for large-scale portraits that are so realistic they look like they could be oversized photographs. He uses a nearly black and white paint palette, allowing the gritty emotion of his subject to come through. And he likes to make a statement by painting local people.
For the Nations, Van Helten chose 91-year-old Lee Estes, known to friends as LD. He has called this neighborhood home since the late 1920s.
“It’s definitely a positive thing to commemorate people who have lived here for a long time,” Van Helten says. “You know, why do people want to live here? Part of the reason is it’s a good community, it’s got a history, people like that when they move to a place.”
Estes can certainly provide a history of the neighborhood. He says when he was growing up his family didn’t have indoor plumbing. They raised chickens for eggs and meat, milked their own cow, churned their own butter, and neighbors raised hogs. The only place for a boy to go was St. Luke’s Community House, where he played basketball and went to dances. The Nations was largely an industrial area. He remembers Nashville Hardwood and Flooring, Ingram Spinning Mill, and four fertilizer plants. He also remembers the silo.
“It used to be Gilette grainery,” he says. “And we had another, Purina grainery, that was demolished years ago, but they left this one as a historical part of the Nations.”
He’s been watching the change – houses on either side of his have been torn down for new construction, chic restaurants are opening, and young adults are moving in, finding the area more affordable than many other parts of Nashville. People constantly knock on his door offering impressive sums to buy the modest house he built in 1952.
“Now, they’re building two houses where one property was built before, and all the older neighborhood has pretty well gone out or moved other places, very few of us are left,” Estes says. “And eventually I guess they’ll get us. Hopefully I can live my lifetime where I am.
Estes spent his working years in the purchasing department at Genesco. Now he spends his days sauntering around the neighborhood, volunteering to help other seniors in craft projects at St. Luke’s, and checking in daily at a food market formerly owned by his late brother. He’s well known in the neighborhood, but his celebrity status has now skyrocketed.