Video: Louisville In The 1920s And The Gene Snyder Courthouse

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Check out this video describing the rise of Louisville in the 1920s. It was made in 2007 by the U.S. General Services Administration to detail the history of the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse and Custom House. Tom Owen provides much of the history of the city and there are some great historic photos of Louisville in its heyday.

The Courthouse, located on Broadway between Sixth and Seventh Streets, was designed to resemble the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. At the time, the heart of Louisville was pulling away from the Ohio River and was focused on Fourth Street and Broadway. Palatial theaters and 1920s skyscrapers helped to define the area.

By the late 1920s, plans for the new structure were thrown into jeopardy with the Great Depression and projects all over the city were placed on hold. Here’s a quote from the video:

As the Depression ground on, it seemed Louisville’s prosperity had stalled. And with it, plans for a grand federal building to grace the splendid avenue at the heart of Downtown… But somehow, the dream survived. The building conceived in the best of times survived the worst.

Plans for the building were drawn up by Treasury Department architects during the Depression and an entire block of “small brick homes and storefronts” were cleared for the monumental Courthouse. It cost $2.8 million to build the steel and concrete building sheathed in limestone.

Gene Snyder Courthouse in 1999 (via NRHP)
Gene Snyder Courthouse in 1999. (via NRHP)

The grand opening in 1932 was significant for the city. Coming through the Depression, the new federal courthouse helped to show the resilience of Louisville and that times were going to get better.

As we all know, disaster soon struck in the winter of 1937 when the 3/4 mile Ohio River swelled to 12 miles wide, covering much of the city.

In 1938, a sixth floor was added to the Courthouse by literally raising the roof. The 2.5 million pound roof was severed from the building structure and slowly raised 11′-6″ with 600 jacks.

Of course, by the 1980s, even this monumental structure was showing signs of neglect and deterioration, but rather than replacing it, $22.7 million was appropriated by Congress for renovation work. When work was complete in 1986, the building was renamed the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse & Customs House.

The structure was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and has since won numerous awards.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this great short film on our “courthouse”.Been to that courthouse a few times over the years & never knew it had a name.Just always called it “the courthouse”.

  2. My mom used to work in the Federal Courthouse and I’ve been down there for work several times. It is a beautiful building. If you can get a tour of the inside with photos, it’s incredible. The judges’ chambers and private library behind the Federal District court are really excellent.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful video. I remember going to the old post office when I was a kid. I remember protesting against the Vietnam War in front of it as a college student and member of SDS. And I remember going to my draft board and being told my medical records from India had not been given to the committee.

    I flunked in Buffalo anyway at my induction physical.

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