Tornado Hits West Liberty, Kentucky: Before & After

Aerial from WKYT-TV

In 62 years, Morgan County experienced three tornados. But in the past three days, the same county has experienced two. * The tornadoes have been absolutely devastating with incredible property damage and, more importantly, loss of life. My heart aches as I lift up my prayers for all of those who were affected in West Liberty and beyond.

I was fortunate enough to visit West Liberty during the summer of 2011 and see part of this beautiful eastern Kentucky town. Following my visit, I profiled the Judge John E. Cooper House which was built in 1872/73 as well as the Millstone Monument on the Courthouse Lawn. Nate has also profiled the Morgan County Courthouse (1907).

For Jake of PageOneKentucky, it is particularly personal as he is a native of West Liberty. His immediate impression this morning, on the ground:

Is that it’s not just a few roofs ripped off. Telecommunications infrastructure is dead at the moment. There are maybe two buildings in town that are structurally sound. The rest are gone or just a few walls remain. Funeral homes are gone. Most pharmacies and stores are gone. Gas stations demolished. Flooding is separating part of the town. The hospital was severely damaged. Schools damaged.

We echo Jake’s plea: If you have a dollar, DONATE IT HERE (RED CROSS).

For perspective, I’ve pulled some photographs that I took last summer with those now available.

West Liberty United Methodist Church

Church - West Liberty, Ky.
West Liberty United Methodist Church (July 2011)
Tornado Damage in West Liberty, Ky.
West Liberty United Methodist Church (March 2, 2012)
Photo: Kristen Kennedy, WKYT-TV. Used with permission.
Kentucky Leadership assesses West Liberty, KY
West Liberty United Methodist Church (March 3, 2012)
Photo: Ky. Nat’l Guard Public Affairs Office

Main Street – West Liberty
For perspective, look the awnings of the building at the far-left of each photo.

West Liberty - Ky.
Main Street – West Liberty, Ky. (July 2011)

Main Street – West Liberty, Ky. (March 3, 2011)
Photo: Jason Coffee, from pageonekentucky

World War I Memorial
On the lawn of the old courthouse stood a WWI soldier as a memorial to those brave men who served their country during the Great War. As you can see, only the base remains.

West Liberty - Ky.
Morgan Co. World War I Memorial (July 2011)
Gov. Beshear Viewing Damage; WWI Memorial at right
Photo: Ky. Nat’l Guard Public Affairs Office

Old Courthouse

The old courthouse was built in 1907 and its listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A new judicial center (condition below) has been under construction immediately behind this building. Early reports were that this building was flattened – clearly not accurate – but it is uncertain whether the damage sustained will warrant demolition or whether it can be saved. It is clear, by comparing Nate’s picture (#2) with the after-storm photo that the beautiful cupola is gone. In discussing the damage with Nate, we agreed that Morgan County’s was one of the most beautiful courthouses in eastern Kentucky.

Morgan County Courthouse - West Liberty - Ky.
Old Courthouse – West Liberty, Ky. (July 2011)
Morgan County Courthouse - West Liberty, Ky.
Old Morgan County Courthouse with Cupola
Photo: Nate Kissel

Old Courthouse (March 3, 2012)
Photo: Ky Nat’l Guard Public Affairs Office

New Judicial Center
Not yet complete, the new judicial center appears to have sustained a lot of damage.

West Liberty - Ky.
New Judicial Center (July 2011)
Tornado Damage - West Liberty, Ky.
Aerial Photo of Tornado Damage – West Liberty, Ky.
TV Screenshot of WKYT-TV Skyfirst (March 3, 2012)

All of my Morgan County photos are available on flickr.

Only a Park Rose from the Ashes of the Once Mighty Phoenix Hotel

Phoenix Hotel, 1879
Clay Lancaster Collection
The theme “Then vs. Now” provides insight into Lexington’s past. Building by building, whether standing or demolished I’ll explore the structural influence on our city. Historic photographs, architectural evidence, and archival research all contribute to providing a narrative that illustrates each building’s evolution and, in turn, the influence of that structure on
Lexington’s history. Archival photographs juxtaposed with contemporary pictures help to give the clearest
glimpse into Lexington’s history when a building still stands.  In those cases where (lamentably) a building has been razed, one’s best sources are research of historic newspapers, books, photographs, and stories.
Phoenix Hotel, undated
Frank C. Dunn

At the corner of Limestone and E. Main
stood what was possibly one of Lexington’s most architecturally and historically important buildings: the
Phoenix Hotel.  Constructed in 1897 on the footprint of no less than three taverns, the Phoenix
Hotel was established in 1820.  Its name was purportedly derived from the hotel surviving a fire in the 1820s.  

The Phoenix Hotel was the stop of at least six
presidents, the location of the Morgan’s Men Association’s inception (1868),
the Kiwanis Club of Lexington’s inception (1919), and the home of WVLK-AM for
33 years (1947-1980).

In a Phoenix Hotel ballroom, in 1902, Judge James H. Mulligan read his now infamous poem, In Kentucky.
Including the former
taverns (most famously, the Postlethwaite’s Tavern), the Phoenix was quite possibly the longest standing hostelry this side
of the Allegheny Mountains.  Its demolition in 1981 ended this reign, making room for the
World Coal Center.

Demolition of the Phoenix Hotel
ca. 1981 (note the billboard)
Kentuckiana Digital Library

Conceived by Wallace Wilkinson, later governor from 1987-1991, the World Coal Center (WCC) was to house the corporate headquarters of major coal companies.  Depending on the source and plan referenced, the tower was to be 50, 41, or 25 stories beginning with first floor retail space.  The demolition of the Phoenix Hotel jumpstarted a statewide discourse on politics,
coal, and preservation.

Despite Kentucky’s coalfields being found in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Wilkinson argued that Lexington was the center of commercial activity for the eastern portion of the state. Building his WCC in the coal fields was not viable.  In October 1981,
an op-ed in the Bowling Green Daily News belied Wilkinson’s defense of the coal center suggesting that the choice of location was just “another ‘slap in the face’ to coalfield residents” and that the project would only perpetuate the removal of resources from eastern Kentucky.

The WCC ultimately succumbed to lack of funding. Its shadow hangs over another project that has stumbled from lack of resources: Centrepointe. While the loss of the Phoenix Hotel is thirty years in the rearview of Lexington’s memory, the loss of Morton’s Row is much fresher in the mind of Lexingtonians. The excitement for the Jeanne Gang re-design (combined with disappointment of proceeding without her) and the close eye Lexington keeps on every development demonstrates that some lessons were learned from the loss of the Phoenix Hotel.

Kinkead House, home of Living Arts and Science Center, ready for contemporary architecture addition

Artistic Rendition of LASC Addition
The Martin Luther King neighborhood is the planned home for what is to be one of Lexington’s most contemporary pieces of architecture. On November 16, 2011 the Living Arts and Science Center (LASC) began a campaign to raise nearly $5 million for the construction of an 11,000-square-foot addition that will more than double the size of its current structure, the historic George B. Kinkead House. Designed by Louisville’s award-winning De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop, the project is not the first to change the antebellum building – though arguably it is the most drastic in scale and design.

LASC Jan 2012 (Photo by Jason Sloan)
Built in 1847, the Kinkead House was initially – and still recognizably – designed in the Greek Revival form. Dick DeCamp suggested that popular local architect Thomas Lewinski (responsible for the extensive Italianate alterations to Latrobe’s Pope Villa) designed the mansion for Kinkead, as well as the Italianate changes incorporated sometime after 1853. George Kinkead, lawyer to Abraham Lincoln and family, was one of Lexington’s most forward-thinking citizens.

Kinkead was pro-Union and anti-slavery. His action spoke loudly on his beliefs: he provided 11 acres of land around his home to freed slaves. The area became known as Kinkeadtown and was almost exclusively African-American for nearly 100 years. Today, Kinkeadtown comprises the heart of the East End, though there is scant evidence other than the expansive mansion of the old community.

Location of New Addition
(Photo by Jason Sloan)

The Kinkead family owned the house for 134 years prior to donating it in 1981 to the LASC which had been leasing the property since 1970. The mission of the Living Arts and Science Center is to encourage “participation in art and science by engaging the community through discovery, exploration and creativity.” This mission should be advanced by the extensive addition that will include a planetarium, arts gallery, and recording studio, among others.

The Kinkead House is among Lexington’s most historically significant buildings. And not just for its architecture, but for its associated history and its current owner-occupany, the Living Arts and Science Center. With the new LASC addition, the architects have respected of the height and scale of the current structure, though Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen notes that it “is really a separate building, tucked along the south side and back of the Kinkead House.” Hopefully, the new addition provides a clear link between the building’s past and help progress the nonprofit’s mission as place of progressive and creative education.

ThenNow: Parking tickets now paid in the most important surviving building of Victorian period

Berkley, Guthrie & Watson Building (2012)
Photo by Jason Sloan
Berkley, Guthrie & Watson Building (1983)
Photo by Dick DeCamp

As might be guessed, 114 North Upper wasn’t always the office of those who issue and process Lexington’s parking tickets. At one time, you could walk out with more than just a receipt for a ticket. In the National Register nomination form for Lexington’s Downtown Commercial District, preservationist Dick DeCamp called the Berkley, Guthrie & Watson Building “one of Lexington’s  most important surviving buildings of that period [Victorian].”

Lowe Brothers Company (1944); Photo: Robert J. Long

The building can be found in “Jordan’s Row,” which was named after early owner John Jordan, Jr. The Berkley, Guthrie & Watson Building, situated at 114-116 North Upper, was designed by prolific architect Herman (H. L.) Rowe in the high Victorian Gothic Style. Construction commenced in 1885 by Lexington builder and stonemason G. D. Wilgus, one of the largest contractors in the area at the time.

Noticeably, much of the historic exterior integrity remains from the original build, while the interior underwent major renovations in the mid-1970s.

Lowe Brothers Company Interior (1944)
Photo by Robert J. Long

Originally, the building was constructed for the law firm Berkley, Guthrie & Watson. The firm owned the building until a series of events affecting the firm: John Berkley left; Henry Guthrie shot himself (“presumably to death,” as DeCamp notes); and James Watson ultimately sold the building in 1916.  Since then, the building has been occupied by a diverse group of tenants. From 1925-1937, a furnishing and stationary store, Wrenn and King, occupied the site. Lowe Brothers’ paint and wallpaper called 114-116 North Upper home from 1938 until the 1960s. By the 1960s/70s, the deteriorating structure had become known as the Lowe Building.

In 1975, Garvice  D. Kincaid bought the building and renovated both the exterior and interior. Lexington’s Parking Authority’s director Gary Means found the building perfect for his growing agency when it moved into the building in late 2008. LexPark has found an adaptive use that respects both the commercial history of the building, maintains the historic street view, and provides an attractive, effective work space for Lexington’s parking ticket denizens.

For more information see:
National Register (Downtown Commercial District, 1983)

ThenNow: Historic Clark Hardware Store becoming Shakespeare & Co.

367-369 West Short Street (Dec. 2011)

Photo by Jason E. Sloan

367-369 West Short St. (ca. 1939)
Photo by Robert J. Long

Spring 2012 will welcome a new restaurant to downtown Lexington: Shakespeare and Company.  A chain based in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, Shakespeare and Co. aims to “provide a cozy, chic ambiance reminiscent of Victorian elegance” with a menu that includes English, American and Lebanese food.  Their choice of the circa 1870 Clark Hardware Building is not only a prominent location at the intersection of West Short and Broadway, but an apt one to represent the Victorian Era.

1907 Sanborn Map of Lexington
(Source: KDL)
Italianate Commercial in style, the Clark Hardware Building housed multiple grocers from 1873-1902: including Bryant, Hardesty & Co.; Foushee, Cassell & Co.; Hughes and Cassell; and Frank Maer Dry Goods.  From 1906 through 1921, the Home Furniture Co. was the primary occupant and longest tenant until the building’s namesake took over in 1923. The Clark Hardware Co. occupied 367-369 West Short Street for 44 years (through 1967).

The 1979 National Register Nomination Form notes that the third story was never finished; most likely intentionally, as it provided ample storage for the string of businesses housed downstairs.  As can be seen in the current and historic photos, the exterior of the building has changed very little and maintains many of the original elements, such as a prominent cornice, arched windows, and glass shopfront.  The building significantly contributes to Lexington’s history and architecture downtown.

While the exterior of the building has remained mostly intact, the interior has been changed multiple times.  Although the 1979 National Register Nomination noted that the first and third floors were fairly intact at that time (especially with the third floor being unfinished and used for storage), Shakespeare and Co. is undertaking significant renovations, including the removal of a rear wall on the first floor.  With their focus on “Victorian chic,” the restaurant will certainly aim to recall the time in which the building was built — with the commercial aspect a bit more behind-the-scenes than when Clark Hardware was tenant.
For more information see: