The building, which first opened in 1954, now houses the offices of the 132 members of the General Assembly, as well as their legislative support staffs and interns. The legislative committee meeting rooms of the House and Senate have also been moved from the state Legislative Plaza to Cordell Hull.
The state has spent $126 million to renovate the 11-story Cordell Hull Building, which sits between Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium and the state Capitol Building. Part of that work included constructing a 452-foot long underground tunnel that connects Cordell Hull to the House and Senate chambers at the state Capitol. The new tunnel is a little longer than the one that has connected the offices of lawmakers in the War Memorial Building and Legislative Plaza for more than 40 years.
I spoke by phone to Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, on Tuesday as he sat alone in his old office suite in the Legislative Plaza. All that was left was his desk, which Crowe plans to take with him to Cordell Hull, and a few nails on bare walls. Crowe said he would miss his old offices in the Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building. He said he was particularly fond of the later, which was opened in 1925 to honor the 3,400 Tennesseans who died in World War !.
Unlike the Legislative Plaza, which is an underground structure sitting atop an even lower three-deck parking garage, the War Memorial Building is a remarkable piece of architecture with windows and character.
“I had a window overlooking the courtyard that I could open,” said Crowe, who with 26 years in office, is now the longest-serving lawmaker representing Northeast Tennessee. “I really enjoyed that.”
Crowe said he will not miss the low ceilings of the Legislative Plaza, nor the hot lights that he said made some rooms feel “like the Amazon.” He will miss seeing the familiar surroundings where so many fond memories of colleagues and departed friends were made.
“I wonder if the ghosts will be going with us? Maybe they will,” Crowe said.
He then told me one of the best ghost stories I have ever heard. Crowe said a heavy-hitting lobbyist stopped by his office a year or two ago and told him of a recent experience that had given him goosebumps. The lobbyist was leaving the Legislative Plaza one evening after working late when he turned a corner and saw someone leaving the Senate speaker’s office by the back door. He paused when he saw that it was former Lt. Gov. John Wilder.
But it couldn’t have been John Wilder because he died in 2010. The lobbyist said he stood frozen as the figure disappeared down a dark hallway.
Both Crowe and I believe the lobbyist’s story. If any spirit was going to haunt the Legislative Plaza, It would be that of John Wilder. I hope Wilder’s ghost will visit Crowe and his other former colleagues at the Cordell Hull Building next session.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]