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What's This?

We recently wrote that the Alexander Building on the corner of Eighth Street and West Main Street in Downtown Louisville was listed for sale by Metro Louisville. We asked for some ideas on what you’d like to see go in, and we got some great feedback. We’ve compiled some of the top ideas into a poll so get a more accurate tally of your opinions. Take a look and vote below.

We also heard from several tipsters about the history of the building, including one who shared this view of the structure in 1890 following the Great Tornado that wrecked a good portion of the city on March 27 of that year.

01-louisville-alexander-building-tornado-1889
The Alexander Building destroyed by the tornado. To the east, the Carter Dry Goods Building, now housing the Kentucky Science Center, has yet to be expanded. (Sam Thomas’ Views of Louisville Since 1766 / Courtesy Tipster)

Needless to say, the structure was rebuilt exactly how it appeared before the tornado, with three stories of limestone facade over a cast-iron ground floor.

Half a block west, the two-story building today housing the Sons of the American Revolution wasn’t so lucky. When the tornado sheared off its top two floors, the structure was capped at its modern diminutive scale. You can see more photos of the devastation on the tornado monument at the northwest corner of Eighth and Main.

That photo of the Alexander Building spurred us to do a little more digging into the history of the Alexander Building, and we turned up some interesting finds—and a little more confusion.

The Hotel Mystery

Three locations with changing names in the 19th century. (Montage by Broken Sidewalk)
Three locations with changing names in the 19th century. (Montage by Broken Sidewalk)

There are three historic hotel sites—Eighth & Main, Ninth & Main, and Seventh & Market—that share the same names over the years, perhaps suggesting the dynamic nature of the 19th century hotel business, but also complicating tracking down history.

The Eighth Street facade of today's Alexander Building viewed in 1925. (UL Photo Archives - Reference)
The Eighth Street facade of today’s Alexander Building viewed in 1925. (UL Photo Archives – Reference)

An advertisement from early 1867 lists the hotel as the St. George Lodging House, “a new house with nicely furnished rooms” costing only $1 a day.

Five years later, another ad labeled the venue as Alexander’s Hotel, catering to business in the city’s wholesale district. “Furnished and fitted new throughout in the best of style,” according to the February 24, 1872 advertisement. Then, a room cost $2 a night.

That 1872 ad said the property at Eighth and Main was previously known as the Alexander House and then, briefly, the National Hotel (itself with various locations over time).

In February 22, 1996, a report in the Courier-Journal noting a new piece of public art (more on that below) said today’s Alexander Building was built in 1857 as the Phoenix Hotel and later renamed the Alexander.

But advertisements from 1868 show that Phoenix Hotel stood at the northwest corner of Main Street and Ninth Street, a block west. By 1882, another ad shows that the Main & Ninth venue had changed its name to the Planters’ Hotel.

Alexander's Hotel visible in the 1892 map, but by 1905 the site is a clothing factory. (Courtesy Kentucky Virtual Library)
Alexander’s Hotel visible in the 1892 map, but by 1905 the site is a clothing factory. (Courtesy Kentucky Virtual Library)

Then, a February 18, 1903, report in the Courier-Journal notes that the Phoenix Hotel, formerly the Alexander Hotel, (this time at Seventh & Market) was being dismantled to make way for a clothing factory. The report noted that the hotel had operated for some 30 years, but did not offer locations.

The earliest reference we could find to the Seventh & Main location was from 1868 when the site was advertised as the Alexander House.

Sanborn insurance maps from 1892 and 1905 shows that the structure at Eighth and Main was in use as an industrial building, noting the corner as a wholesale liquor company.

Phoenix Rising

Back to that public art. In 1980, a group including Dennis Clare, Ted Strange, Creighton Mershon, Alex Talbott, and Glenn Schilling purchased the Alexander Building, using it as various office uses including space for Metro Louisville’s real estate division. According to the 1996 C-J report mentioned above, the group commissioned a grand, eight-foot-tall sculpture by Berea artist Kenneth Gastineau called Phoenix Rising.

Gastineau’s sculpture depicted the “mythical phoenix taking flight” to honor the original hotel, the C-J reported. We reached out to Gastineau via email requesting additional information on the sculpture but haven’t heard back. Anyone remember exactly what it looked like?

Whether or not the Alexander Building at Eighth and Main ever housed the Phoenix Hotel remains uncertain, but it does stand as an important piece of Louisville’s history during the steamboat era and beyond.

Know more about the building? Please share in the comments below.

Vote!

[total-poll id=26567]

And now, vote for what you’d like to see fill the Alexander Building once it’s sold. You can choose more than one option from the list above.

And remember, bids on the building are due no later than February 29.

[Top image of the Alexander Building in 1925 courtesy the UL Photo Archives – Reference.]
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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

1 COMMENT

  1. I’d like to see an actual Louisville History Museum, Filson is great, and I love the expansion on Ormsby its really well designed. But I’d love to see the history of Louisville in a central area downtown, where the flood is talked about and you can actually look out the window and see the Mighty Ohio, to actually relate the history with the landmarks would be amazing, and I think is absolutely necessary to top off “LOUISVILLE’S MUSEUM ROW.

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