West Main short on residents, critical in shaping Louisville’s urban identity

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Last Fall, I was asked by real estate publication Curbed which street in Louisville was the most culturally significant. I wondered about Bardstown Road and Fourth Street, but in the end West Main Street captured my imagination more than any other.

West Main has been with Louisville since the very beginning, helping to organize the city’s early east–west growth along the upper bank of the Ohio River. Narrowly avoiding complete destruction, it’s also seen more change—and continuity—over the past two centuries than just about any other part of town. The West Main we love has kept its cast-iron clothing while serving a variety of purposes for an evolving Louisville.

I wrote about the history and present day significance of West Main for a major series Curbed published on ten cities across the country last Fall. Here’s a sample from Louisville’s segment.

Walk down West Main Street in Louisville and you’ll notice a strange vibrancy along the uniform five-story height of the corridor’s 19th-century industrial buildings. Suited-up workers dash to a quick lunch at a local cafe, and three generations of men walk together carrying miniature baseball bats, souvenirs from the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

A group of women take selfies in front of a double-size replica of Michelangelo’s naked David spray painted gold. And children, lots of them, mill about on the sidewalk, no doubt bussed in for a field trip to the history or science museum.

“Main Street is absolutely core to Louisville’s identity,” Rebecca Matheny, director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership attests. And while it’s been Louisville’s most important street for nearly the city’s entire history, its modern incarnation isn’t an accident.

It’s definitely worth reading the full series and learning about nine other significant streets across the country. Check it out here.

During my research for the story, I uncovered a number of fascinating West Main sub-stories that helped to give rise to the modern Louisville we know today. In coming months, I’m hoping to share a few of them here.

What are your thoughts of West Main Street? How has it impacted your idea of Downtown or urban Louisville in general? How do you use the street? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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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. You got this one right. West Main is simultaneously the most historically and architecturally significant location in town, gateway to the waterfront, our epicenter for entertainment (Kentucky Center, Yum Center), and our hub for museums.

    Poor Dixie Highway, it blushes.

  2. I probably drive on Broadway and Main streets more than any other street in Louisville. Also as a skateboarder, i use main street as a good starting point to venture out to the rest of the city, or just start at one end, and make my way down block by block.

  3. I like west main, it’s somewhat snoody but i love how whole most of the street is. interesting places to visit there too. west of west main has alot of potential too.

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