Louisville’s urban core was once an incredibly dense area. In the era of Urban Renewal, when large swaths of the city were razed en masse, though, much of the old city was lost. Take, for example, the area roughly bounded by Sixth or Seventh Streets, Market Street, Broadway, and 14th Street. The view above is one small slice taken from a panoramic view looking south from the top of the Snead Manufacturing plant, now known as the Glassworks on West Market Street.
That view was taken in 1906. Today, it’s a much different scene. The area in the photograph was literally decimated in the 20th century, and only a handful of structures still remain. Off in the distance you can see Union Station and the L & N building (before it was enlarged). Besides those landmarks, only a half-dozen or so churches and other buildings remain. It’s even more devastating when you take a look at the full panorama after the click.
We went to the top of the Glassworks building this summer to recreate the view 103 years later. Today, the area is dominated by surface level parking structures, two high rise apartment buildings, the Beecher Terrace housing project and several other 20th century buildings. The new ZirMed Towers also dominate the view from the Glassworks.
It becomes painfully apparent just what was lost: an incredibly fine urban fabric easily comparable to the French Quarter in New Orleans. In Louisville, though, such a scene was deemed a slum and slated for clearance. In it’s heyday, the area around Sixth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard (then Walnut Street) was the center of African American life and featured a lively urban vitality.
This part of Downtown went on for decades after this photo was taken in 1906 and in that time grand architecture and theaters filled the area. One structure from the 1920s, the 6-story Mammoth Life Building (once home to the Lyric Theater) still sits shrouded in 1960s garb on Muhammad Ali.
Much of the architecture in the 1906 view features simple vernacular design, a hallmark of its day. The clean lines and human proportions of these structures would no doubt have created a fascinating streetscape. After the click, you can take a closer look at all that once existed. Just keep in mind that nearly everything you’re looking at is sitting in a landfill somewhere.
- Mammoth Life Buried Beneath River City Bank (Broken Sidewalk)
Don’t forget to click on the pictures to open up an enlarged view. Because of the steep drop from the old Snead building and it’s lack of a parapet, I couldn’t venture safely to the edge of the roof, but the modern panorama still offers an amazing comparison. Special thanks to City Properties Group for allowing me to take the new panoramas from the roof of the Glassworks building.