Brandi & Candace
Fannie Mae Dees Park, also referred to as Dragon Park
Fannie Mae Dees was a feminist icon, so let's talk about her for a few minutes before we go to the actual park.
In 1956, Vanderbilt University was outgrowing its space. Under law, the university had the legal authority to forcibly take property, paying fair market value, if 20% of the land was considered “blighted”. Vanderbilt began to buy properties, allow them to decay, make property values in the neighborhood drop, and forcibly buy the remaining properties to create its monopoly and sprawl. Fannie Mae Dees refused to sell. Representatives from Vanderbilt knocked on her door, offering to buy her house, and told her they would keep coming back and offering more until she sold, while she scoffed and said she couldn’t been bullied into leaving her home. She quit her job to fight full time. She staged an empty casket in front of her home and waived and American flag over it in protest, stating she was “mourning the community”. She screamed into bullhorns outside public meetings discussing urban renewal. She walked door to door, talking to anyone who would listen, until she got frostbite on her feet and had to quit. She accused the government and local news of conspiring with Vanderbilt to sway the news and public opinion. She was called a “loser” and a “nut” by local authoritarians, including Mayor Briley. In 1973, she was granted a fifteen minute meeting with the Vanderbilt Board, and talked uninterrupted for forty five minutes. By 1977, Fannie Mae Dees was only one of four holdouts, and by far the most outspoken, disgusted with the disregard Vanderbilt had for the integrity of the neighborhood. In the last few years of her life, she became fearful and began to booby trap her home, which after a 13 year struggle, the Metro Development and Housing Agency was about to file suit to take the property.
The seized property that would eventually be called Dragon Park was originally supposed to house a wing of Vanderbilt Hospital, but was deemed unsuitable, so the city determined it would be a green space adjacent to Vanderbilt. Although Fannie Mae Dees was passionately against the Vanderbilt expansion, the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation unanimously voted to name the park in the expansion for her, in dedication to her love of the neighborhood.
It’s always been a place of teenage debauchery. There are newspaper articles of increased policing and tickets issued for climbing the dragon in the 80’s, and littering of whipped cream canisters left by huffing teenagers with regularity in the 90’s. I myself had a few midnight tokes in this park, and a memorable hallucinogenic laced 4th of July staring at the mosaics for what felt like hours.
The park opened in 1979. Sculptor Pedro Silva created the sea serpent sculpture in 1981, and 1,000 members of the neighborhood helped create the intricate designs. The tiles themselves were leftovers and samples from Nashville tile companies. It’s BEAUTIFUL, waving in and out of blue foam water. But someone called it a dragon, instead of a sea serpent, and the name stuck. The sculpture itself has required a lot of maintenance, with a repair effort in 1998, to go tile by tile to fill in cracks and replace broken tiles, and another repair effort in 2016. There is a great playground, which is called “Lily’s Garden”, named after a 22 month old Lily Shaw, whose parents fundraised over $350,000 to build the playground that was handicap accessible after Lily was diagnosed with muscular atrophy in 2000. There’s also a lotus flower bike rack, make from recycled bike frames and designed by artist Michael Allison, and a tennis court.
Name: Fannie Mae Dees Park, also referred to as Dragon Park
Address: 2400 Blakemore Ave, Nashville, TN 37212
History: 3 out of 5
Walkability: 4 out of 5
Kid Like-ability- 5 out of 5
Date Night-ability- 3 out of 5
Charm: 5 out of 5