By Doug Stern
Insider Louisville asked me to list Louisville’s most interesting buildings – old and new.
So, here goes … not in order of anything.
My favorite local buildings, landscapes and what-have-you.
- The Old Farmington, Bardstown Road at the Watterson Expressway; 1815-1816
Designed by Mr. Jefferson as a wedding present to his guardian’s granddaughter. A perfectly proportioned (hint: Google “Golden Ratio”) cube.
Walk around it. Flemish bond on all four sides.
TJ was into solid geometry. So were the architects he hung around with when he was Minister to France.
- Old County Jail, Liberty and Sixth
D.X. Murphy, architect. Frank Lloyd Wright came to Louisville in the 1940s to get an AIA award. While he was here, the Courier asked him to make a list of the 10 best modern buildings in town.
Wright said, “The best modern building is your jail. There are no others.” And, it was built in 1905!
It may still be the best modern building in Louisville.
Gaffney house, River Road between Longview and Boxhill; 1927-28
James J. Gaffney was, respectfully, a fascinating weirdo, and this house shows it.
An Outsider Architect. Our own Achilles Rizzoli.
Gaffney’s masterpiece was St. James Catholic Church on Bardstown Road, which is beautiful and a little creepy.
- Crescent Hill pumping station, Reservoir Avenue near Frankfort Avenue, Harry P. McDonald, architect; 1876-79
A gem floating on a pond.
The Victorians understood and valued mixed use way better than we do.
CloverHill/Youngland, 2618 Dixie Highway; 1826 (addition, 1863)
I wish more of us had the guts to slap an octagon on the old homestead.
Bennett Young was a follower of Orson Squire Fowler, the noted phrenologist.
Young was also a Confederate officer who raided St. Albans, Vermont and later settled in Louisville, practiced law, founded an orphanage for black children, etc.
Bowman Field administration building, Taylorsville Road near Seneca Park; 1929 (expanded 1936)
I grew up (and still live) in this neighborhood. So, there’s some nostalgia involved, including my obsession with piston-driven aircraft.
I love how architect William Arrasmith handled the invention of a new building type – the Air Port.
- St. Patrick Catholic Church, 1301-05 West Market Street; 1860-63
The tall church steeple is an exclamation point for the rectory and freight building to its west.
They look happy together. Is it their scale that makes them so compatible? Their materials? The arched openings? My crazy imagination?
I call it St. Patrick’s of the Depot.
- Olmsted parks and parkways, 1890s
Whenever I think about moving to Boston or Chicago or one of my other favorite cities, I remember that we have one of the master’s best right here.
Louisville’s Olmsted system has added years to my life.
- Louisville Free Public Library, main branch, Fourth & York streets, Pilcher & Tachau, architects; 1906
A do-gooder’s temple for the masses back when reading meant something. Makes me proud to be a citizen of Louisville.
Bank of Louisville, West Main Street near Fourth, James Dakin, architect; 1837
This is other-worldly beautiful, inside and out. Part temple. Part fortress. I never get tired of looking at it. Dispels the myth that the frontier wasn’t cosmopolitan … or at least strove to be.
- JADAC building, 600 S. Preston Street, Carleton Godsey, architect; 1971
I’ve loved this building since the day I first laid eyes on it. I think it’s the materials – silo tiles and concrete a la béton brut. Warm, human and comforting.
- University of Louisville Cancer Center, 500 South Floyd, Jasper Ward, architect; 1962
A little temple. Classic. (BTW, this was one of Philip Johnson’s favorite Louisville buildings…along with the old county jail. No kidding.)
A miracle is it hasn’t been crushed by our ever-expanding medical center. Just one of many favorites by Jasper or by the great designers with whom he worked.
See also, for example, Portland Elementary School, music building at Kentucky School for the Blind, etc.
- Humana Building, Fifth and Main, Michael Graves, architect; 1982-85
Where do I start. Amazing. Makes me miss Wendell Cherry.
I’m grateful that I had access to the building pre-9/11.
A great client and a great designer.
- KFC YUM! Center, Second and Main, HOK Sport; 2007-11
Reminds me of the fantastic megastructures “designed” by Archigram and other way-out British designers in the 1970s.
I see something new, different and interesting each time.
I also note that our big civic architecture nowadays is pretty much limited to sports facilities and places for our court system and jails. What’s that say about us?
Clark house, 1012 Hull Street near Baxter Avenue; 2009
Graham Clark (and his frequent collaborator, John Bajandas) have taught me a new way to look at and think about architecture.
They (along with Jeff Rawlins and other young builder-designers in town) have reminded me that Delight (Graham calls it Soul) is part of what separates mere buildings from architecture and how everything we build is on a time continuum.
I could go on and on about this house and how it relates to its site and surroundings. Love it.
- Riverfront Park, Hargreaves Associates with Bravura; first phase dedicated 1999
This is so well thought out and exquisitely built. It’s Louisville’s gathering place…a great place worthy of a great city. My favorite spot in town to people-watch. Sky, earth and everything in-between.
Waterfront Park Place, Bravura; 2004
It looks as though the architect, Jim Walters, has designed and built a vertical village.
Maybe a red-brick Mediterranean village.
Full of alleys, dead-ends, side streets and never-ending mysteries. Heroic building for an heroic site.
- Citizens Fidelity Bank branch, Bardstown Road at Sils Avenue, Jim Gibson and Design Environment Group Architects; 1970-71
If Henry Hobson Richardson or Louis Sullivan were still practicing, they might design a bank like this. Solid and timeless.
Gallery Square Lofts, Clay and Jefferson streets, Michael Koch, architect; 2008
Picturesque, tough, daring and well made.
Of our time.
Its human scale makes me linger, wondering, Who’s cooking what for dinner up there? Where do they work? Where are they going later?
The quality of urban design in Louisville – especially downtown – owes a lot to the administrative reviews we’ve put in place.
For 40 years, the quality of our architecture has benefited from public involvement in projects big (e.g., Slugger Field), small (e.g., Dunkin’ Donuts, Bardstown Road) and in between (Bridgehaven, 950 South 1st). It shows.
By the way, this list was really hard for me to do.
I pay attention, and Louisville has a ton of wonderful architecture (not to mention dozens of whole districts) all over the place, especially the old stuff.
I left out a lot.
About Doug Stern: Doug Stern is a freelance business writer with fancy degrees in urban studies and art history. Established in Louisville in 1952, he says he’s planning to nominate himself for historic landmark status.