[DEMO WATCH]: Decades of Demolition on Louisville’s Water Company Block Continued Over the Weekend

Demolition underway in Louisville on Saturday, April 11, 2015. The Ville Voice.

The headline from Page One reads: “All Hell is Breaking Loose in Louisville.” And although the Kaintuckeean tends to be quite Bluegrass-centric, the historic preservation news coming from the Commonwealth’s most populous place is alarming.

Metro Louisville demolished multiple structures on Third Street in downtown Louisville on Saturday, including the the Typewriter building, the Falls City Theater Company, and the Old Morrissey Garage. These properties have on multiple occasions been listed on Preservation Louisville’s Most Endangered Historic Places list.

The Morrissey Garage was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 as the Bosler Garage (its original name). Built in the Romanesque Revival design in 1919, the garage has been described as “an important local example of utilitarian architecture and of the local awareness and respect for the automobile industry in the early years” of the 20th century. Jeffrey Scott Holland photographed Morrissey and shared some of the images on Unusual Kentucky.

A 1974 Sanborn map shows these structures standing alone in a sea of parking lot, but the structures have persisted. When acquired by the city of Louisville in 2009, an inspection revealed that structures were in “poor condition.” By neglect, the 2015 inspection “concluded dramatic deterioration” according to the Louisville Metro.

When I read those words, all I could think was that this is an awful case of demolition by neglect.

And it looks like Preservation Louisville agrees. Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of PL, said that “It is unfortunate that Metro could not have found a way to save these buildings before safety became an immediate issue.” She went on to say that “It’s just unfortunate that the owners were allowed to let it sit for so long and let it deteriorate.”

Yes, Louisville utilized the old ignore-the-problem-until-it-is-unsafe-and-then-tear-it-down solution to the block. And where public safety is truly at play, demolition can be the right solution. But I’ll always call for at least providing the opportunity to see what, if anything, can be salvaged.

And according to The ‘Ville Voice, that’s what preservationists in Louisville wanted. The city, developers, and preservationists had been engaged in talks about the future of the block. Within the past couple months, the parties toured the block and communicated about what could be conserved or repurposed. As late as March 13, preservationists were suggesting preservation and reuse of façades, salvaging architectural details and repurposing parts of the more structurally-sound structures remaining on the block.

Then “on April 9 the city responded to suggests provided by preservationists … with an emergency demolition press release. No warning, no notice, gave no one any time to raise funds to save what could be saved. Then radio silence.”

The silence lasted two days and was broken by the sounds of demolition.

An Archway from Morrissey Garage. The Ville Voice.

Louisville bills itself as Possibility City. But I don’t see much imagination or possibility in what happened over the weekend. Zickuhr also said that “Demolition by neglect is not a sustainable way to develop and evolve as a city.”

After this weekend’s wrecking ball, still standing on the block are the old Water Company building and the old Odd Fellows Hall. Elements of these structures could be incorporated into the development plans for the block: a 30 story Omni Hotel that will be Louisville’s third tallest skyscraper. Development costs for that project are nearly $300 million.

Preservation of the façades alone could have offered the Omni project a unique and historic streetscape along Third Street along with unique, classical entrances to its facilities. It could have been held up as a model of preservation and urban design.

But instead, Possibility City went the way of the wrecking ball.

Preservation Louisville suggests that Louisvillians let your voice be heard. Click here to find out more!