By Sarah-Jane Poindexter
Developers, preservationists, and many Louisville citizens issued a collective sigh of relief this week upon Mayor Fischer’s announcement that “Whiskey Row” will not be demolished. Five buildings of this historic block on Main Street, which could have seen seven buildings demolished as early as next week, will now be saved. Whiskey Row is a beautiful example of Louisville's historic architecture that plays an integral role in understanding and honoring our city's history and future.
From the mid-nineteenth to the early- twentieth century, this block was the thriving center of Louisville’s whiskey economy. It housed a variety of whiskey rectifying and blending houses, barrel warehouses, whiskey brokerages, and corporate headquarters for renowned local businesses Brown-Forman, Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Co., and the L & N Railroad Company. The buildings were all constructed between the years 1857 and 1905, many with cast-iron storefronts (a load-bearing façade composed of prefabricated, cast parts which allowed the designers to maximize street-level windows). Second only to New York City, Louisville is home to the finest assemblage of cast-iron architecture in the United States. This block features a variety of architectural styles, designed by celebrated architects such as Henry Whitestone (Galt House), John Andrewartha (City Hall), and D. X. Murphy (Churchill Downs). Of note is the “Old Prentice Distillery” building at 107-109 W. Main (third from the right in the ca. 1900 picture). Designed by D.X. Murphy and built in 1905, this building is evocative of the Chicago School style and appears strikingly contemporary when sandwiched between the revivalist-style buildings of the period. The Old Prentice building and the adjacent D. Sachs & Sons building (to the east) have been deemed structurally unsound and are slated for demolition, though the facades will be preserved. Given the architectural legacy of Whiskey Row and its significant role in Kentucky’s distilling history, the Louisville Landmark Commission designated it a historic landmark in 2010.
In 2010, property owner Todd Blue announced his intent to demolish the buildings and develop the site. Just this week, thanks to the generosity and activism of Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, the Downtown Development Corporation, and several anonymous investors along with local preservationists and Metro Government, a deal was made with developer Todd Blue to save five of the seven architectural gems. The Main Street-facing facades of the two remaining buildings will be preserved and incorporated into future development of the lot.
Interested in learning more about preservation and historic architecture? Starting Thursday, the Filson Historical Society will host a three-day conference called “The Legacy of Buildings: Learning from Historic Structures.”