Yes, dragons. There are two. There is quite a history to Fannie Mae Dees Park and its dragons. Like the mural it inspired, mamma dragon and her child needed to be renovated recently, having deteriorated badly since their creation in 1981. But first some back story.
The park has its origins in the urban renewal movement of the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine that the neighborhoods near Vanderbilt could have ever been thought of as blighted, but so they were declared, to be taken by eminent domain and demolished for development. Fannie Mae Dees lived in the path of this “renewal,” and became a fierce activist who fought back. She ultimately lost, and many houses on the south side of Vanderbilt were demolished. One plot slated to become a hospital ultimately proved unusable, and became a park, though Dees did not live to see it. The park was named after her, in honor of her activism – though the land would not have been cleared if she had won.
Anne Roos, then a board member of Metro Parks, invited Pedro Silva to come to Nashville after learning about a community art project he had done near Grant’s Tomb in New York City, a set of curving, mosaic-colored benches. She thought a similar project might help heal some of the neighborhood strife that resulted from the urban renewal project. And the Sea Serpents were born. Yes, sea serpents – that’s what Silva called them. In this WPLN Curious Nashville article that I got most of this information from (written by Mike Linebaugh), you can see him working on the interior frame. Later, people from around the neighborhood came and painted tiles, which Silva turned into mosaics, much as he had done at the Grant’s Tomb project. He included many faces, including a portrait of Fannie Mae Dees herself, with the house she defended in the background.
Ultimately, the dragons, as Nashvillians know them, deteriorated. Intermittently repaired over the years, it would take a major renovation project in 2017 and 2018, spearheaded by the Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood Association, to restore the dragons. Again, people from the neighborhood participated in the reconstruction, including some who had been part of the original build. Interestingly, the same things happened to the Grant’s Tomb project. Silva led that renovation but had sadly died by the time the Nashville project was underway.
And so the sea serpents, err, dragons are restored. And yes, I was able to get these photos because of the pandemic. Sadly, no one can play on them right now.
The head of the larger dragon
The Middle Hump
The Small Dragon
The Tail Group
Located at 2400 Blakemore Avenue. The dragons are close to the center of the park and are easily visible from both Blakemore and 24ty Avenue south. Much of the closest street parking is metered.