Granite Memorial Steps
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Future Site Of Lincoln Statue
Future Site Of Lincoln Statue. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Waterfront Park has undoubtedly been a major boon to revitalizing Louisville’s urban neighborhoods, but the eastern and western phases of the park still remain divided by hundreds of feet of chain link fence as construction continues on some of the most dramatic features of the entire park system: the Big Four Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial. It’s been a long and arduous process to move from the industrial wasteland that once comprised Louisville’s waterfront to the nationally acclaimed park that exists now, but the wait has well been worth it. The final 13 acres of the 85 acre project are scheduled to be phased in over the next couple of years and will finally unite the park into one community jewel.

Masterplan for Phase III
Master Plan for Phase III. (Courtesy Waterfront Development Corporation)

We took a tour of the estimated $22 million construction site as the grass is beginning to grow and the heavy construction is starting to heat up. Peering through the fence at the park’s signature sculpted hills reveals only a portion of the inner workings of the site. The articulation of the river’s edge is far in the distance and the Lincoln Memorial is all but hidden from view. Landscape architects Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco have shown how skillfully they can articulate space in Phase I and II of the park, and one must experience the new spaces from all angles to appreciate their full complexity. Once within the confines of the construction fence, the true intricacy of the park begins to be made apparent.

Waterfront Park Construction
Waterfront Park Construction. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Walking along the riverfront from the west, a granite amphitheater appears from behind a sculpted earthen berm. Next spring, a larger than life Abraham Lincoln will be perched atop a massive boulder intently gazing down the river. (His general glance will be fixed on the third pier of the Kennedy Bridge, we’re told.) The Lincoln Memorial has been designed to be an experiential journey past four bas reliefs depicting scenes of Lincoln’s life in Kentucky, wrapping around the gentle curve of the amphitheater until the visitor is confronted by the former president himself sculpted by renowned local artist Ed Hamilton. The surrounding berm shields the memorial from the rest of the park, essentially wrapping around the site and embracing the micro-landscape. According to the Waterfront Development Corporation, the Lincoln Memorial “teaches about his connections to Kentucky and about how, as a young man, he developed his abhorrence of slavery while standing on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville.” The space has the potential to be a deeply moving one.

The Lincoln statue and bas reliefs are currently being bronzed and will be installed just before the memorial’s opening to avoid damage during construction. The reliefs also must be mounted on massive granite stones before they will stand upright flanking the statue.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial (Rendering Courtesy Waterfront Development Corporation)
Abraham Lincoln Memorial (Rendering Courtesy Waterfront Development Corporation)

Moving eastward through the site past the dramatic earthworks and memorial, a flat expanse of land will soon be filled with a grid of flowering trees intermixed with swinging benches. While tree plantings haven’t yet begun, the formal arrangement of the landscape in such a manner is sure to be memorable (and given the popularity of the swinging benches near Tumbleweed’s restaurant, crowded, too). The Ohio River curves gently featuring a landscaped riverbank before a projecting lawn orthogonally juts to the the water’s edge, an effect similar to the Great Lawn. Here, however, a giant swooping ramp projects overhead with a forceful energy as it winds its way to the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge.

The bridge will be the last segment of the park opened, possibly in 2010 or 2011. Massive foundations have already been poured, their spiny re-bar skeletons projecting from the park floor. Steel for the bridge ramp and its supports is currently being fabricated. The ramp was originally proposed as another large sculpted earthen spiral, but engineers determined the weight of the dirt would cause the riverbank to sink over time. The new solution incorporates the beginning of the earthen spiral before going airborne—potentially heightening the dramatic effect.

The first portion of the park to open will be the area surrounding the new western parking lot. This will provide needed access to the park and extend the “Linear Park” berms that began in Phase I. The Lincoln Memorial will open sometime next year to fall in line with the 200th anniversary of the president. The dedication is currently scheduled for June 4th, 2009. The Big Four Bridge will take longer as final funding comes in and structural work takes place. (And hopefully the Sunny Side will have their ramp built around the same time in Jeffersonville.) A Happy Birthday pavilion is planned for underneath the bridge, and, who knows, maybe that giant stick sculpture proposed at IdeaFestival will come along as well.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Very cool…I wouldnt mind some good articles on the history of the Louisville bridges with some good older pictures (such as a certain local railroad bridge which was once open to auto traffic…). Dunno if thats beyond the scope of this site or not, but maybe something that could be used for a slow day…

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