Bristol: The Grand Guitar

On the way from Oak Ridge, TN in a recent trip north, I passed this landmark: the grand guitar in Bristol Tennessee.

The Grand Guitar
The Grand Guitar, photo from Facebook. I didn’t pull over to shoot one myself. We had ground to cover.

“I’ve always thought, why would anyone stop at a square building that looked like every other building?” Joe Morrell, creator of the Grand Guitar.

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Key word there is “historic.”  The building stands, a chipping ruin with broken strings and a parking lot covered in grass, even though the building only dates back to 1983.

Once an elaborate museum with a recording studio, it now joins probably many other buildings meant to advertise something no longer there, but so distinctive that it has to  stay up. That Roadside America link above gives an excellent history of this rather random landmark.

This is what it looked like when it was still open, suposedly, according to some guy calling himself Dan. K on Pinterest. Again, sorry I don’t have something more definitive.

There actually is a name for buildings like this: mimetic architecture.  People associate it with silly old-timey highway side stuff to be enjoyed ironicaly. but even companies like Apple are getting in on the game. And in spite of the shamlessly commercial nature of this practice in nearly all of its forms, I have a soft spot for it.

Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. Photo Creative Commons as shown on Wikipedia.

Simply put, it means buildings that look like things that they aren’t, usually things that the building is trying to sell or, in the case of a museum, like the one above, be about.

I’ve covered one other such building in my day job as a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger: the 1931 airplane filling station in Powell, now a barber shop and recently restored to its shiny glory. People sometimes think it had or has the ability to fly. It can’t. And even if it could the lack of a windshield is a problem.


There are some things that straddle the line between mimetic architecture. Statues of course are always meant to resemble something but sometimes they can also be ads if they’re near a commercial building.

As frequent visitors to this blog (all three of you, but thanks!)  might note, I use every opportunity to shamelessly plug my book “Wildly Strolling Along: Father-Son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail” (available now on Amazon!). I’m shameless.

While it’s not at all about Bristol or the grand guitar, it does go into detail about another specimen of  crazy roadside architecture that stands in Caryville Tennessee: George the Dragon. He’s a mascot for a fireworks store that burned down years ago.

I hope all these crazy architectural ads stay up and I hope you enjoy them. Share any examples you know in the comments!


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