September 17, 2012
Historic Preservation Officer
South Fifth Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Dear Ms. Johnson:
I write in respectful opposition to the designation of the Hogan Fountain pavilion as a Landmark. More specifically, I strongly disagree with the findings of the Designation Report regarding application of Landmarks Ordinance Eligibility Criteria, as follows:
Criterion A. Its character, interest, or value as part of the development or heritage of the City, the Commonwealth, or the United States.
The Teepee Pavilion is an intrusion, designed and built without sufficient regard for its late-19th-Century context. Notwithstanding the nostalgic attachment many citizens feel toward the pavilion and its kitschy “parkitecture,” its dramatic profile and great height clearly conflict with Olmsted’s original intent, making it incompatible with its site and surroundings.
Whether designing a meadow, a roadway or footpath, Olmsted always – always – strove for the most natural or naturalistic approach, eschewing the dramatic and man-made. When he summed up his approach to the design of Cherokee, he admonished the Parks Commission to do less rather than more. Leave as little changed as possible, he wrote, recommending the “judicious use of the ax” instead of major cutting, planting or construction.
He consistently resisted demands from clients to change the natural character of Cherokee. Our failure to heed his advice in 1965 – even if part of a pattern of disregard – is not a justification to reframe the intrusion as a landmark.
Criterion B. Its exemplification of the historic, aesthetic, architectural, prehistoric or historic archaeological, educational, economic, or cultural heritage of the City, the commonwealth, or the nation.
Does the Teepee Pavilion exemplify the historic, aesthetic, architectural, prehistoric or historic archaeological, educational, economic, or cultural heritage of the City, the commonwealth, or the nation? Of course it does.
I ask, respectfully, so what? So does everything ever built by humankind. Everything from a tool shed to the Taj Mahal meets this criteria. It’s so broad and indeterminate that it’s meaningless for purposes of conferring Landmark status.
I will grant you that time is a factor. I read recently that preservationists somewhere are concerned about a threat to an ancient, vernacular drainage ditch. I suppose that in time, we might feel this way toward everything, including the Teepee Pavilion.
E. Its embodiment of distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type or specimen.
While the pavilion is true to its times, the mere fact that the pavilion embodies mid-20th-century architectural ideals or aesthetics is not enough to overcome or justify its incongruity with its 19th-century Olmsted setting.
F. Its identification as the work of an architect, landscape architect, or master builder whose individual work has influenced the development of the City, the commonwealth, or the nation.
I disagree that Mr. Schickli’s “individual work has influenced the development of the City, the commonwealth, or the nation.” His influence was no greater or less than any of his dozens of local contemporaries.
While he was a respected architect in his time, I don’t ever recall seeing his name or his work honored by his peers. I’ve never seen or heard the staff or anyone else argue otherwise, in the Designation Report or elsewhere.
The list of buildings you cite in the Designation Report hardly qualify as influential. You credit Mr. Schickli with the design of the Louisville Zoo, part of the passenger terminal at Standiford Field, an addition to the fire department’s headquarters, a high-rise home for the elderly and various churches. You don’t offer any support for your claim that these – or any one of them – was ever regarded as innovative.
G. Its embodiment of elements or architectural design, detail, materials, or craftsmanship, which represents a significant architectural innovation.
Is the Teepee Pavilion innovative? Not really. It was clearly influenced by the innovations of others, but is not itself innovative.
Does the staff really believe the Teepee Pavilion ranks in any way with the work of the architects you cite – Phillip Johnson, Eero Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright? If you do, you don’t offer any evidence or argument to support such a claim.
H. Its relationship to other distinctive areas, which are eligible for preservation according to a plan based on an historic, cultural, or architectural motif.
The Designation Report takes pains to argue that the park’s original 19-century fabric has changed over the years – before and after the arrival of the Teepee. The degradation of the Teepee’s setting, however, does not justify the pavilion’s elevation to Landmark status. Quite to the contrary, the preservation of the Teepee Pavilion only further degrades the intent and spirit of the Olmsted landscape.
About Doug Stern: Doug Stern is a Louisville-based freelance business writer-strategist. Contact Doug at doug(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)doug-stern.com or 502-459-2966.