In 1896, Nashville civic leaders planned an exposition that included the buildings of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman styles. A replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, was built to house paintings and other works of art to be shown at the exposition. When the exposition closed, all the buildings were scrapped, with the exception of the Parthenon. But as the plaster facade of the Parthenon replica soon began to deteriorate, planning began for a permanent Parthenon replica.

As the time approached to begin constucting the permanent structure, it became clear that reinforced concrete would be the obvious choice of material. The John Earley Studio of Washington, D. C., was commissioned give the structure the level of finishing quality necessary for such a building. To simulate the color of the original Parthenon, Earley chose a mix of crushed Potomac River gravel and crushed white and pink quartz to which he added a few particles of dark brick red ceramic.

To create the huge Doric columns, Earley's craftsmen built a full-size plaster model, from which they made segmental plaster molds reinforced with burlap and steel pipe. These were to be assembled at the site as formwork for the exposed concrete surface of the columns. To construct the outside walls, the Earley workers applied an undercoat of portland cement and sand stucco over the brick left over from the centennial Parthenon. The concrete courses were brushed to expose the aggregate, creating an imitation of the stone courses on the ancient Parthenon.