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“I’m a preservationist at heart,” Travis Provencher said of his love of rehabbing old houses. “I’ve been in this business 25 years. I started out in Nashville doing affordable housing, HOPE VI projects. I worked for nonprofit housing developer there.” Provencher has accumulated the knowledge of how to redevelop urban housing and grown a passion to painstakingly consider every historic detail.

“We’d go into target neighborhoods like Smoketown or Portland, and buy up properties and rehab them using low income tax credits, HOPE VI money, or Community Development Block Grants,” he said. The situation on the ground is different in Louisville, but Provencher’s first project here, now well underway at 937 South Jackson Street, is very much a model of how to renovate shotgun houses in Smoketown—and the rest of Louisville.

The house before Provencher began working on it. (Melissa Gowan Photography)
The house before Provencher began working on it. (Melissa Gowan Photography)

“It’s an 1860s Italianate on Jackson Street right in the middle of Smoketown,” Provencher said of his current project. “I’m spending roughly $100,000 on the remodel. It’s high quality.” When he began work on the house last year, it was in rough shape, but you’d never know that today. Provencher kept the original brick shotgun house, which he purchased for about $6,000 in 2010, but replaced a low-slung addition on the back with a camelback pop-up that provides more space.

Exterior details. (Melissa Gowan Photography)
Exterior details. (Melissa Gowan Photography)

During a recent tour of the house, Provencher was clearly devoted to getting the details right, often rebuilding historic doors and windows himself to make sure they fit with the space.

Completed drywall inside the house. (Melissa Gowan Photography)
Completed drywall inside the house. (Melissa Gowan Photography)

Inside the house, Provencher added a new HVAC system with a high-efficiency furnace and foam insulation. At the back addition, he used Hardy plank that gives the feel of original wood siding with the durability of concrete. He brought back a mantel and added a working gas fireplace filled with lava rocks that emulate the original coal-burning fireplaces from the 19th century using an original coal basket.

Details of the foyer and front room. (Melissa Gowan Photography)
Details of the foyer and front room. (Melissa Gowan Photography)

Throughout the original house, Heart Pine floors have been refinished, adding a warmth to the house’s oversized ceilings. Provencher found old shutters at Architectural Salvage, added a light fixture in the front room from a renovation project in Old Louisville, completely rebuilt and restored a water-logged door he found in the house’s basement, and brought in historic transoms from Joe Ley.

“When I do a remodel, I like to keep every piece of historic fabric that exists and then add on new amenities,” Provencher said. He’s not afraid to mix a bit of modern into the historic interiors, either. “I like that eclectic feel when you mix in new materials with the old, he said. “The house’s bathrooms, for instance, are covered in travertine, giving it a distinctly modern feel.

937 Jackson Street is currently listed for sale by Weichert Realtors for $240,000. The house includes four bedrooms, two full baths, and covers over 2,700 square feet. You can view the full listing here.

But despite the widespread sourcing of materials, 937 Jackson is no Frankenstein. The house feels historic and modern at the same time, and that’s exactly what Provencher was going for. “It’s essentially a new house, but you still have the old fireplaces and millwork and moldings,” he said. “It’s unusual for Smoketown, for sure.”

“The kicker is, will the market support it?” Provencher asked rhetorically. “Will the neighborhood support it? I think it will. We’re on the periphery of the Highlands, we’re bounded by Downtown and Old Louisville, with the resurgence of Shelby Park.”

“It’s yet to be seen, but I believe if you build a good product people will live in it,” he said. “You’re paying a premium in Germantown, you’re paying a premium in Schnitzelburg. And now Shelby Park has jumped up. Where’s the last undeveloped part of town on the east side? It’s Smoketown. There’s no hurdle any more. It used to be there was the housing project that was the real drawback, but with the Hope VI redevelopment, now that hurdle’s gone.”

And he’s set to keep the momentum going with more of his own projects in the neighborhood. Provencher has slowly been collecting houses to renovate. “Most of what I do for profit is in Old Louisville or the Highlands, but otherwise for five years or so, I’ve been acquiring properties in Smoketown,” he said. “I’ve got three right now.”

The other two houses are located on Breckinridge Street, and Provencher said he stepped in to save them when the city wanted to tear them down. “Those two are wood frame camelbacks,” he said. “They’ll be renovated the same way.” The shotguns date to the 1880s, Provencher said, and still feature much of their original gingerbread detailing.

“I inquired about them, and this guy was going to turn them over to Metro, and Metro was just going to bulldoze them,” Provencher said. “I went through them, and really there’s nothing wrong with them. Structurally, they’re perfect. Ninety percent original. They haven’t been touched in probably 30 or 40 years.”

While they’re far from requiring demolition, they’re not pristine, either. “Vandals have gotten into them and ripped out the copper and anything of value and scrapped it,” Provencher continued. “Kids have gone through and busted out the glass and spray painted it. I take projects like that and rehab them them completely.”

Provencher said even though the two Breckinridge Street houses were destined for the scrap heap, it wasn’t easy getting them out from the hands of Metro Louisville. “I bought one of these houses houses from Metro at auction,” he said, “and they drove the price up. I’m sitting here bidding against Metro.” He said the abandoned property had thousands of dollars worth of code violations. “No one would have bid on it,” he continued, noting that bidding started at $500. “They wanted to get their code violations out of it.”

Provencher is a firm believer that rehabbing old houses is always better than tearing them down. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It takes roughly $9,000 to demo a property, and that’s taxpayer money. The best use of that property is to turn it over to somebody who is going to put it back on the tax rolls.”

And he says that it takes a lot before a house can’t be saved. “If you have a foundation, you have an asset,” he said. “If you have a frame that’s not rotten, you’ve got $20,000.” In the worst cases, the houses can be stripped back to their bones and rebuilt from there.

(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

But Provencher is quick to note that he’s not running a charity. These renovations are serious business. “I’m an urban redeveloper,” he said. “I’m doing everything that a for-profit developer would do to redevelop these areas. I think you can make money doing this.”

But beyond a money-making venture, it’s clear that Provencher also thoroughly enjoys the process and taking time to ensure a quality product. “It can take a little bit of time,” he said. “It’s just me, really, and a few guys that work for me. I like to keep everything fairly small and do what I can do by myself.”

937 Jackson Street is currently listed for sale by Weichert Realtors for $240,000. The house includes four bedrooms, two full baths, and covers over 2,700 square feet. You can view the full listing here.

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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

12 COMMENTS

  1. A $240k shotgun in Smoketown? I wonder how long that will be on the market for. Wow. And that warehouse addition on the back. Bleck.

  2. He is dreaming. He would be lucky to even get 200K for the house and especially since the view from the front porch shows some lovely abandoned run down buildings.

  3. My goal is to find a shotgun duplex or two next to each other than could be connected, and renovate them. Will be awhile to be able to afford it but ….

  4. he has been doing this for a while. he has several properties so what he looses in one remodel he can gain in another. Say he sells the smoketown house for 160.00 but he has another he did less work on or spent less and can still get 160.00 it all makes him money in the long run.

  5. For those that are interested, photos can be found on Instagram at “ThisOldKentuckyHome”

  6. The front of the house is lovely. Looks like you have done a lot of work. Hope this will pay off for you.

  7. Not a bad price per square foot ($88.50/sqft,) considering the quality of renovation. A renovation like this would be $180/sqft+ in Germantown. Great Job Travis!! Your love of historic architecture shows. And thank you for saving the two houses on Breckinridge!

  8. Smoketown is NOT Germantown. Nor will it ever be. Completely polarized socioeconomically and demographically. This is rehab is just gross overspending for the area and could have been cheaper and put a family in need into a home.

  9. Travis, Carry on! I applaud your goals, and your effort! The world needs more of folks like you! You make my dreams becoming reality, more possible! Thank you, kindly! Lisa Miranda

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