Mixing My Vocation and My Avocation.

Every once in a while a story comes along that gets you so conflicted that you really don’t know how to approach it, so you don’t.  This is what happened to me yesterday.  I was combing my usual sources for a post I could put together yesterday when I came across the story I’m about to discuss.  I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it.

See in real life I am a planner.  I go to work every day and I plan for transportation, and land uses.  Roads, highways, bridges, public transit, bikes, and pedestrians.  That is my forte, but I also get involved from time to time in decisions that can have an historic impact as well as a clear financial benefit to the community I am working for.

This is what got me so conflicted yesterday when I came across this bit of information from www.bbqandbourbon.com.  What you see in the photo are a row of buildings that are over 150 years old.  These warehouses were the birthplace of the American Bourbon industry.  This place is also known as “Whiskey Row”, or what is left of it,  a set of dilapidated buildings in the heart of Downtown Louisville…

I get it.  The City has a developer that wants to do an urban renewal project that would replace this one square city block with a couple of hotels, vibrant shops, restaurants, and residential housing, and turn what is an eyesore into a vital part of a downtown that has struggled.  Not only would this development give the downtown a needed fiscal shot in the arm but it will provide employment, business opportunities, and much needed tax valuation.  So I get it.

The other side of this argument is compelling as well, and I get that too.  We are all too ready to demolish our history in the name of progress, money, taxes, take your pick.  History gets the shaft every time,  and we are all the worse off for it.  These buildings are on the National Historic Register and have been granted Landmark Status in July of 2010.  That and $1.00 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonalds.

It just adds a layer of bureaucracy that you need to get over before you can tear the suckers down and build something shiny and new.  In the spirit of Historic Preservation and to get the granola eating (his thoughts, not mine) preservationists off his back the developer met with the city planners and the Mayor’s office to see if a compromise solution could be agreed to.

So Mayor Soloman told him to split the baby in half!  Actually the Mayor’s name is Greg Fischer and the developer has promised to “try” and keep the facades of the buildings intact and just demolish the warehouse portion and redevelop the block with the old timey facades.  I’ve seen this before and what it invariably looks like is Soldier field. Basically they just kept the column facade and dropped a space ship behind them.  I’m hopeful that the Louisville project can be a little more sensitive to the historic qualities of the old warehouse facades, but I’m not optimistic.

So what do you think?  Do you wish we were less inclined to jettison our history for progress and economic renewal or do you accept it as the inevitable evolution of a city? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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24 Comments on “Mixing My Vocation and My Avocation.”

  1. February 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Keep the history! Geez-louise! Shiny and new does not always mean better, and there’s a warmth in historic buildings that you’ll never get in something new. Repurpose them, sure, but keep the suckers intact!

    • Don
      February 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

      Aparently the space is too valuable to just reno the old, square feet it where the $$ is at, so I’m sure that renovation doesn’t pencil out. Now if the City was in a position to subsidize it to keep the historic buildings intact, that could work, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

  2. 1Time4got
    February 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm #


    Sadly I’ve seen this before in my days reporting in sleepy little towns with charming downtowns that have become a blight in cities. Historic looking downtowns are part of Americana and the best solution I’ve seen to the problem of balancing the need for new development with the desire to preserve the historic integrity is to require the developer to stay true to the historic architectural style for the new buildings. That allows the appearance of a historic downtown with all the amenities of new buildings, so both sides get at least partially what they want.

    Any possibility of getting a historical museum illustrating the history of the area nestled into the development? That would also help alleviate the issue.

    • Don
      February 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      Dunno, but that is a good idea. I’m guessing not tho. See this recession has had places clamoring for development, rather than putting requirements on it. Actually recessions are the enemy of good planning, and you can see that historically. So I’m sure Louisville doesn’t want to scare off this golden goose, so him “trying” to save the facade is probably all they will get out of it.

  3. February 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    The new R Grey building downtown had to do that. They kept part of the fascade on 8th st, gutted the rest of it, built new guts and then added lofts on top. Floors on top are set back from the fascade to accommodate what looks like patio area up there. The result is that the new upper floors are far less noticeable at street level than say “spaceship Soldier Field”. And at street level on 8th, the building kept some of it’s character. Not saying it’s perfect but at least it’s not another brown box building.

    I think this solution for this building had to go down that way. Boise wanted it preserved. But the building was not structurally sound enough to do a true renovation. Different building might need a different solution.

    Personally, I’d love to have a loft on Whiskey Row. Or work in one of its old buildings. Or better yet, start an artisan distillery there! But if it was just another new high rise with storefronts, who would care? I’m sure Louisville has plenty of those. How many Whiskey Rows are there? One.

    Save it Louisville. Or save as much of it as you can. Make it a valued community destination hot spot that only true old charm can manufacture. Once it’s gone, you’ll never be able to bring it back to its former glory. And you’ll lament it.

    • Don
      February 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

      Funny, Chad, I was thinking of that exact building when I wrote this, but used the Soldier Field example because it is so over the top, (Literally and Figuratively). The R Gray building suffers from a ham handed approach to blending modern with antique. There really is no transition from the facade to the modern lines and building materials used in today’s modern construction. There is no carry over of the cornice lines or brickwork around the windows, or the windows themselves for that matter. All they did was build a sleek modern building with an old facade. I’m sure if they had their way, they wouldn’t have used brick on the exterior either. Costs too much. So, I’m afraid that this development will suffer from a very similar fate. Undoubtedly there will be one or two towers that will come out of the top of the old warehouse facades and look like the building is taking the facade off like you would take off a pair of pants. The story didn’t get into too many details about structural integrity of the existing structures, but you might be able to surmise that they are no longer useful given that they are 150 years old. If they are still usable, shame on Louisville for allowing their destruction.

      • February 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

        I know Robert and talked to him from time to time about the R Grey building when he was building it. As I recall, sounded like it was a cluster from all sides during the process. Guess the building reflects that now. :^( Hopefully, if the buildings are sound, Whiskey Row will find a different fate.

      • Don
        February 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

        Check it out! Keila says they are HAUNTED!!

      • February 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

        Haunted whiskey distillery and bottling buildings? Of course! The dead are pissed they cant find the whiskey that used to be there. Seriously, what a cool backstory if you put a whiskey distillery back in that space somewhere.

        • Don
          February 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

          I totally love your idea of an artisan whiskey distillery going there. If only we had millions and lived in Louisville!

  4. February 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    This Kentuckian’s oppinion is that if they can repurpose the buildings – keeping the original facade- and turn the space into something else, then I am OK with it. The problem here is that Louisville has done such a good job with it’s historic preservation and the downtown restoration project that real estate downtown has become extremely valuable.
    The other thing – and there are those that believe it and those that won’t- but Whiskey Row is haunted. Seriously. And it has enough of a reputation as such that it would be hard to overcome that.
    I, personaly would like to see it turned into a regional cultural center of some kind that would highlight the buildings’ brewing and bottling past as well as other elements of Kentucky industry. Just sayin’ . . .

    • Don
      February 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

      I’m sure you are in the majority Keila, the problem is the “Golden Rule”…He who has the Gold makes the Rules! I suspected the overall problem is one of square feet. You have to increase them to get a project like this to pencil out. This means tearing down what is there to increase the density on the block. Density makes money, and increasingly density sells. This is the old “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Planners for decades have been touting the benefits of increased density, and there are many, but one of the externalities is if density takes hold, you have to increase it more and more. So what it would take in this instance is the City either purchasing or subsidizing a developer to keep the buildings largely intact.

      BTW I think it is totally cool that the place is haunted! You need to get Ghost Chasers or someone in there to film it all. That, I would watch!

      • February 4, 2011 at 8:09 am #

        Lexington did a thing where they turned a couple of old tobacco warehouses downtown into high-end loft apartments. They kept the outside of the buildings the same and even keeping as many of the original features on the inside like wide plank pine flooring and 12ft. windows. These apartments are extremely cool and crazy expensive and they sold all of them before they were finished with construction. That would be interesting. Might evn tempt me to move to Louisville.
        It just makes me sad that they will probably tear everything down and put up some glass fronted bank building.

        • Don
          February 4, 2011 at 10:45 am #

          They should look into those options before they tear down this piece of uniquely American history.

  5. February 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    I’m sort of torn on this. You could theorize that St. Louis has gone too far in the other direction- refusing to adapt to the point that it’s detrimental. But part of STL’s charm is very much in the old brick architecture. Unfortunately, because there’s been so much white flight (and some business-unfriendly taxes levied by the city), the wonderful old brick architecture is abandoned far too often.

    On the surface, it seems like the classic facade/gutted interior option is a reasonable solution.

    • Don
      February 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

      That’s ok. I’m not saying all have to agree with me. I just feel a connection to the place, even though I’ve never been there. Kind of like people do with Alaska. Having lived in that godforsaken Tundra I say drill away man! But others like the “idea” that it is there and pristine. I don’t think I would have any problem at all if the developer was just going to repurpose the existing structures, or if there were some agreements in place that the architectural style would be consistent with the facades, but it sounds like he will just “try” to keep the facades in place, which in my opinion is code for “them suckers are coming down”.

      • February 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

        I have nothing further to add other than if any of you remember Wade Boggs, you should click on this link/play this game. It’s even beer related!


        • Don
          February 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

          doesn’t work

  6. NicM
    February 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Refurbishing seems pretty inevitable over a long enough time period but I”m a fan of retaining the old look. I recently took a trip to Boise and loved the old look of a lot of the buildings and the beautiful old houses. From a tourist’s point of view historic buildings are one of the things that make a city distinctive.

    • Don
      February 4, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      I would agree to a point Nic, but you need to remember other places in the world that are older still have functioning buildings that were built before we were even a country. I’m sure these warehouses could be renovated. It is simply a question of money. In this case the developers “vision” doesn’t fit what is on the land right now. So he will tear down and rebuild. It is a mindset we have in this nation, everything should be new and shiny. I prefer to preserve what we can, even if it sits on “prime” real estate. I agree that preserving our heritage makes cities unique, and Louisville will loos a lot of that unique character if they tear these down.

  7. February 4, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    I have to say that most breweries I’ve been to are in old, old warehouses/buildings… the breweries seemed to have preserved the outside and just rehabbed the inside…

    … all to keep the history of the buildings…

    … also, I am going to school for Real Estate and the only argument I can see from a Developer’s point of view would be that rehabbing would be too expensive if the building has too many issues or things that need to be brought in compliance with new city codes, ordinances, etc… and if the way the building is operating currently is not bringing in $$ then, I can see why new & shiny would be better…

    … Can’t keep spending money and not make it back… unless you’re the US Gov’t of course 😉 …

    With all that being said… I like the look of old buildings and history better…

    • Don
      February 4, 2011 at 10:44 am #

      I’m sure you are right Jorge. That is why we have so many historical trusts and preservation committees, so we don’t continue to tear down our heritage to make a buck. I would argue that in this case there is a greater good that should be served here by refurbishing instead of redeveloping.

  8. February 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Once its gone its gone. I hope they proceed carefully and try to preserve at least the facade.


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