I am getting more and more interested in my former home of Louisville. I’ve been digging a bit in the Louisville library history collection and at the UofL library archives during my frequent returns home.
So, here is a backstory on the pix upthread, a bit on the urban renewal effort and what came before. I was really curious about this, so took some vacation time to go down and do some research.
First, this WPA map showing age of housing, from the 1940s. The WPA has these for Chicago and Dayton and probably other cities, and are a snapshot of what was standing in the 1940s. This is a great map to have as it takes the info down to the block level.
Then a close up. The empty space is the Beecher Terrace housing project. Notably there are blocks in this urban renewal area with the average age before 1860, so some of the older housing in the city was in this district.
Next, population. This was from a slightly later map prepared by the planning commission. I think each dot is 70 or 40 people. By this time Beecher Terrace had been built.
Next, race. This was, and had been for many years, a predominantly black neighborhood.
..and % black. This is another WPA map.
…the saying was that urban renewal was “Negro Removal”, and we’ll see how the plans created a buffer zone between downtown and Louisville’s black ghetto.
Next, to give a flavor of the urban fabric, this amazing map prepared by the WPA in the early 1940s. It classifies every parcel in the entire city
by type of use, so is sort of land use map. It also attempts to show parcels that have residential and commercial (black outline). You need a magnifying glass to really study the original, so this scan of a Xerox isn’t to legible.
But the map does show the core of downtown to the right as colored black (for commercial use), but also how the surrounding neighborhoods interweave into the downtown.
A close-up of the urban renewal area, with some landmarks mentioned. I will be noting these as reference points as the area is transformed via urban renewal.
The map also shows how rich and varied this urban fabric might have been, how fine grained. The Beecher Terrace property is shaded in red, but the original streets and alleys still appear on this map.
Next, a parcel map from the urban renewal project application. This was the situation probably in 1959 or 1960. By this time Beecher Terrace had been built. There are some other things here, like the parcel for Central High School (the old Jim Crow black school) two blocks south.
…and the proposed street rearrangement plan, showing new streets and streets and alleys to be vacated.
The modern parcelization, from the Louisville GIS site
….one can see how the granularity goes a away at the new parcels are larger.
Today…the urban renewal area from the air…..
And the basic concept.
Beecher Terrace came first, perhaps setting a precedent for this area. So the planners decided to use the western part of the urban renewal area for more public housing, “Village West”, and a rebuilt Central High. Beyond that, along the railroad line heading to the 14th Street bridge the land was turned into an industrial district (mostly). Broadway was to become a commercial strip, and Market Street (the northern edge of the district was also more commercial/industrial.
9th Street separates all this from the West Downtown urban renewal district, shaded in red, which is the area in the pix at the thread header. And which we will look at in detail next.
A blow-up of the big WPA land use map, giving one the flavor on how fine-grained the urban fabric was as it shaded into downtown. This was, in part, the oldest part of the city. Market, Jefferson, and Liberty were part of the original town plat, which extended westward to 14th Street. South of Liberty to Broadway was out-lots, which were subdivided during the antebellum area. Somewhat akin to how Over The Rhine was originally the out-lots of Cincinnati.
During the antebellum era the city expanded west and east along the river, and south toward Broadway.
Even as late as the 1940s this area was still intensely developed, with few vacant parcels. What’s notable is that this map shows mixed use; the outlined parcels along Market denote residences above commercial or retail. One also sees this a bit on Walnut, the old black shopping/entertainment strip
We already saw how Beecher Terrace was an early attempt at urban renewal as slum clearance for better housing.
Beecher Terrace is shaded in red here, but the yellow shading was the proposed site for the first large scale urban renewal scheme, perhaps from the 1930s.
(certain public buildings shown for reference so one can compare how the area changes through time)
This was to be a City Beautiful influenced civic center, akin to the Group Plan of Cleveland or the Civic Center in San Francisco.
The plan actually extended one block east towards downtown from the future West Downtown plan, and made use of the long blocks south of Liberty as landscaped mall, flanked by public buildings of various types, with two squares on either end, north and south vistas terminated by two monumental public buildings.
The north end was developed as “Jefferson Square” , for city, county, and state government, dominated by a new city-county building. The old court house would become a museum.
If you look closely the flanking lawns along the central mall are really parking lots
The south end was developed as “Lincoln Square”, dominated by a grand US Court and Customs House, just north of the new central post office, flanked by additional Federal office buildings.
The plan shows a Telephone Building and the Courier-Journal. These were already built, the Telephone Building was Louisvilles only art deco skyscraper.
I don’t know if this was intentional, but this plan, while providing a grand civic ensemble, also provided a barrier or cordon between the core of downtown and the black neighborhood just to the west.
Though not executed there must’ve been some zoning intention of locating public buildings in this area as one was built pre-urban renewal, the hatched space about two blocks south of City Hall, between 6th & 7th, on this urban renwal parcel map.
…a snapshot of parcelization just before urban renewal.
In conjunction with the urban renewal effort the downtown business association, Louisville Central Area, released Design for Downtown
, the first big postwar effort to enhance downtown. Though this plan was oriented towards retail, hospitality, & entertainment it did make some other suggestions, like wrapping downtown and vicinity with freeways (the model was Detroit and Columbus, according to the text).
The western freeway would divide the urban renewal zone in half (in red outline), separating the more residential western half from what was intended to be a more office/civic zone to the east
The plan wasn’t as “designed” as the old group plan. Pretty much office buildings set in parking, with some residential things.
The Jefferson Square concept disappears, with the northern part of West Downtown proposed for offices and maybe light industry surrounded by (and enclosing) landscaped parking lots. This plan shows some older buildings on Market Street (north edge of the map) being saved, but they were not.
Lincoln Square is still there somewhat, as a landscaped forecourt to a new lozenge-shaped Federal building north of the Post Office (at the site of the group plan court and customs house).
What’s notable is this plan proposes a little residential complex south of Walnut, with rows of townhouses snaking across the property. There might have been high rises proposed, too, but one can’t tell from this graphic
The plan shows some older buildings saved north of the Federal building. These were proposed to be converted into offices for non-profits. This didn’t happen and they were demolished.
As we know, a Federal building was built, as was the plaza in front of it.
“between the idea and the reality/falls the shadow”
Housing was also built, as two high rise housing projects near the Greyhound station, and a small low rise suburban-style development roughly at the same site as the proposed residential complex.
The planners provided this map to help envision what was to come vs what was there, shading the new buildings and zoning over the existing structures.
This is a great bit of info as one can get a flavor of the urban fabric just before it was destroyed.
Using the above graphic as a base map, a black plan showing the spatial character of “West Downtown” (which was really “East Russell”).
One can see how this area was already substantially eroded by demolitions and parking. But there was enough left to provide a fairly consistent street space along the east-west streets, with a fairly solid street wall on Market, north edge of the zone.
Walnut really stands out as a consistent street space continuing into downtown. Chestnut less so once it gets closer to the post office.
The black plan doesn’t give too much idea of granularity once buildings are next to each other, so the old townhouses on Jefferson, Market and cross streets don’t show up too well.
Next, the city transformed:
“keeper” buildings in red…
….the old fabric is removed and the new inserted around the keepers…
….resulting in solids lost is space vs defining space. Classic figure ground reversal:
What you see in the thread header, mostly, suburban space:
(there have been some adds and subtracts since the 1980s).
And the ghost city; retired property lines and parcels denoted by dashed line.
So what did this all look like, before it was torn down? The U of L photograph archive has quite a few images, but they are expensive to get digitally (long story on how U of L differs from WSU in using their collection), so a few scans of Xeroxes of Xeroxes of photos, to see maybe a grainy glimpse of a lost city.
I focus here on residential as I’m more interested in that from a vernacular architecture POV, seeing how it compares with Dayton and Cincinnati, but there are pix of churches, hotels, commercial buildings, etc, in the collection.
Nearly all of this is before 1876, probably before the Panic of 1873. Some it is probably antebellum, from around the 1830s-1850s.
First, perhaps Louisville’s working class housing before the shotgun arrived…
Commercial building with apartments above, on either Market or Jefferson, closer to the river
Newer retail add-on to older residential, on Walnut Street. It seems that there were a few of these on Walnut.
Fancy Oertels ’92 sign over the door. Oertels was one of Louisvilles’ three postwar beers, others being Fehrs (with it’s Fehr Bear mascot) and Falls City (have a ‘City, taste the ‘City, etc).
This is a series. The buildings on either side of that old red brick church in the thread header. The church today
Starting from the west, left….
(these are newer, 1880s ore later, one has that distinctive Louisville feature of chamfered corners)
…the church, roughly mid block…
…next door, and to the corner..
So one can see the possibilities of this urban renewal collection, virtually reconstructing the city.
The church was Kentucky architect Gideon Shryrocks last work. Across the street was one of his first. And it survived, heavily modified, until urban renewal.
This unsual feature appears on the urban renewal map, as what looks like a rambling complex of things set in a mostly empty block.
Buried in that mass are two buildings, survivors from 1838 and 1858 respectively. In this image, the farther one with the tower was designed & built by Shryock in 1838, but it burned and was rebuilt in 1856. The closer one was built in 1849.
This was University Square. The 1838 building was the medical college, and the 1856 was the forerunner to U of L but was also Louisvilles’ first high school, the Male High School. There was a female one elsewhere.
University Square (and its neighbors) appear on the 1876 real estate map
…and on the 1884 one.
The 1838 medical college after the 1856 rebuild…
…and, next door, the 1848 college, later Male High School.
They survived until taken by urban renewal in the 1960s.
To close, a birds-eye of a portion of the West Downtown urban renewal zone, demolition nearly complete, and some features from previous maps labeled for reference. Clear-cutting a city.
The wide-open spaces of the East Downtown urban renewal district are visible in the upper part of the image, in the background beyond the cluster of downtown buildings.
But that’s another story.