The giant 5-story brick 19th century warehouse on the corner of 18th Street and Main Street will be reduced to two stories by the end of the month. When we visited last time in September, we were puzzled at the slow progress of the demolition and the lack of an intent to demolish sign. It turns out that the city condemned the massive building against the owner’s wishes and the case has been in court for some time.
The current owner purchased the building a while back with the understanding that it was “free from all encumbrances” and planned to store items there previously housed in a leased space off Barret Avenue. Shortly after closing on the property, he found out the city had condemned the property as a fire hazard. To appease the city, a sprinkler system was installed but shortly afterwards, several pipes froze and burst causing water to collect in the basement. The sprinklers were fixed, but problems continued.
A few bricks began to fall off the top of the building along the alley and the city again pushed for its demolition citing safety concerns. The owner was not able to move into the building and couldn’t move out of his leased space, causing more problems to arise. The property was put on the market, but a buyer could not be found. With court costs rising, he agreed to take demolition courses and purchase insurance to tear down the building down and salvage the materials inside. With a previous background in interior remodeling and demolition in his business (Downs Enterprises), the proposal was quite feasible.
Asbestos was then found in the building and the city wanted it abated properly, a cost that pushed $170,000. Not able to afford its removal, work on demolition halted and the case went back to court. Eventually an agreement was made and the asbestos removed. Crews got back to work removing bricks by hand and stacking them for salvage. 120+ year-old brick can go for $0.35 each, so the building was essentially financing its own demise.
Vandalism set in once the building began to come down. A chain link construction fence was stolen, windows were broken, thousands of dollars of copper went missing, and cars stored inside were riddled with bb’s. The city began pressuring the owner to tear the building down faster, but the salvage operation takes time. Another agreement stipulating the building be razed to the second floor by the end of the month was reached and it looks like the demolition crews will make that deadline. The case remains in court as demolition continues, so the process is far from complete. The building, however, is completely destroyed.
The building might not have been in all that terrible of condition warranting demolition, though. The massive solid masonry walls were in need of tuck-pointing but were not visibly falling apart or bowing and the owner remembers the roof being in decent shape. Many buildings in town, including some in the heart of downtown, are shedding bricks from their parapets without condemnation orders. The building wasn’t perfect, of course. It needed a lot of work to be turned into anything besides a warehouse, but unless a building topples over, there’s little that can’t be realistically fixed. The owner would have liked to see the building remain standing, content to use the space as a warehouse.
This type of massive structure, ranging from three to five stories tall with carved limestone ornaments and moments of ornate brick detail, is exactly what Louisville will need in its urban future for redevelopment. Its really quite close to downtown at 18th Street, but, of course, on the wrong side of the I-64 interchange for any serious redevelopment opportunity now.
In time, however, Shippingport, Russell, and Portland, all within walking distance of downtown, will emerge as logical centers of investment. It’s significantly more expensive to build new than to renovate an existing warehouse. And fortunately there are several other large, old warehouses around this area that will hopefully not meet a similar fate.
What’s unfortunate it that this building is only a few blocks from the Ouerbacker House that drew so much preservation concern when it faced condemnation, but this much more massive building drew none. This is Portland and Shippingport. These are Louisville’s natural warehouse districts going back to the beginning. We must be careful not to lose sight of the importance of what might appear “plain” or “ordinary” buildings in our preservation battles. This warehouse should not have had to be torn down.
- Demo Watch: West Main Street Warehouse Demolition (Broken Sidewalk)
- Demo Watch: How Long Can West Market Street Survive? (Broken Sidewalk)