A broken leg has slowed him down for the past few weeks, but it hasn’t totally stopped Bill Davis from a new hobby of sorts: a Facebook project called Louisville: Then and Now.
Davis, who sells for CarMax by day, and his son, Will, try their best to go out once a week to scout areas around town that they have targeted based on vintage photographs collected on the internet, from the University of Louisville’s archives and other sources.
Will, who is 24, then creates side-by-side images, and those populate the duo’s ever-growing page and are paired with a brief history. The Davises started the project in January and already have attracted nearly 3,000 followers, with the photos prompting plenty of conversation.
“I look everywhere” for the photos, Bill, 49, said, “and then I check with Google Earth to see, is the building still there? Is it feasible to get a picture?”
On one recent afternoon, the Davises, Bill still sporting a walking boot from when he tripped when walking down steps, were in west Louisville, with a photograph that appears to have been taken sometime in the early 1900s in the middle of Broadway. That one might not be doable on a busy afternoon, Will pointed out. In other instances, such as a before and after of the Granville Inn, a tree now partially blocks the view.
Once the Davises find the building or area they are looking for, they study the original photo to try to match the angle and distance for the “now” picture, which they take with modern phones. Those have cameras that are plenty powerful enough, Bill said.
The elder Davis, who moved to Louisville from his native Scotland 26 years ago, said he was inspired by a similar page that has been around for years: Liverpool: Then and Now has more than 30,000 followers, and the Davises are doing their best to get the word out about their page as well.
Will noted that by far the most popular photo pairing so far is one that travels back just 18 years: a 2001 shot of the former ear X-tacy record store at 1534 Bardstown Road, paired with a photo of the Panera Bread restaurant in the location now. That photo has been shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times and seen by far more.
“I almost did it as a laugh,” Bill said with a chuckle, a Scottish accent still in his voice.
One west Louisville stop was at a building at 1533 Bank Street in Portland that was a former Coca-Cola bottling plant. The photo, which is undated, shows a pair of parked trucks bearing Coca-Cola logos. The buildings also are festooned with Coke signs.
The Davises will hold up one phone displaying the vintage photo, and frame the new photo according to be shot with the second phone. In the vintage shot on Bank, Bill noted a small tree on the left; today, there’s a larger tree in that spot.
“Makes you wonder if it’s the same tree,” he said.
Figuring out the time period often is an inexact science. At times, clues help the Davises find an estimate, and sometimes it’s just guesswork.
“Sometimes if we don’t know, we just look at a car in the photo,” Will said. Bill added that sometimes knowing about the age of the building or business offers clues, as well. For instance, he learned that the Coca-Cola business moved to that location in 1912, so the photo, based on that fact and the trucks, is probably about 100 years old.
Another recent stop was at the corner of 11th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, the Episcopal Church of Our Merciful Savior. That photo doesn’t offer as many clues, so more research will be done. Bill said he likes for the photos to be accompanied by a bit of background to help give them context.
“It doesn’t look as grandiose as I thought it might,” he said as he frames a photo of the old church. “That stained glass has seen better days.”
But the most important aspect of Louisville: Then and Now, in Bill’s opinion, is the memories the photographs evoke. They connect aspects of the city and its culture to the past, be it a record store, a church, a restaurant or images from the 1973 tornado or the Great Flood. Muhammad Ali even makes a couple of appearances.
“You always find out that someone’s father worked there, or they lived around the corner from it,” he said. “It’s good memories for people.”