Watterson Hotel was once on Muhammad Ali Boulevard (Broken Sidewalk)
Watterson Hotel was once on Muhammad Ali Boulevard (Broken Sidewalk)
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After writing about the Molee Building last week, I started thinking about a large structure that once sat directly east where the great interfaith park now sits. The building was the Hotel Henry Watterson on Muhammad Ali Boulevard (then Walnut Street) between Fourth & Fifth Streets, named after an early editor of the Courier-Journal.

Hotel Henry Watterson on Muhammad Ali Blvd. (BS Postcard Archive)
Hotel Henry Watterson on Muhammad Ali Blvd. (Broken Sidewalk)

Surviving less than 70 years, the ten-story Hotel Henry Watterson opened on April 29, 1912 and was demolished in 1981. Operations at the hotel had previously ceased in 1974. The hotel featured 250 rooms (each with private bath and free electric fans!), conference rooms, a Rathskellar, cafe and dining rooms. Mahogany was used throughout the building.

I’m not sure why the building was demolished, but I have heard stories about a fire that I can’t confirm. An old advertisement declared the building “Thoroughly modern and absolutely fireproof.” Anyone know the rest of the story about the hotel?

J.B. Pound, president of the hotel, personally contacted Henry Watterson who was on a Mediterranean cruise at the time to get naming rights for the new operation. Watterson was known to be loyal to the Confederate cause and the rise of a “New South” based on segregation white supremacy.

Interior of the Hotel Henry Watterson (UL Photo Archives)
Interior of the Hotel Henry Watterson (UL Photo Archives)
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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

7 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. That hotel was huge! I can only imagine what it was like to walk down that block when it was still standing. Despite the fact that a huge section of its urban edge is now missing (though I must admit, that park is quite nice. No parking lot, yay!), this part of Muhammad Ali Blvd is rapidly becoming one of my favorite streets in the downtown area. It seems to be one of the few places in Louisville that truly looks like part of a major metropolis; the monumental architecture lining BOTH sides of the street (a real rarity these days) makes it feel like your walking in a man made canyon. A very desirable place to live I think.

  2. I agree, Porter, that block does feel the most urban of any in Downtown, although it’s a shame we can only point to one corner where that feeling is really apparent. It was by design, however, as that “man made canyon” effect you describe was purposefully targeted for elimination during urban renewal.

  3. I see the first Atherton Bldg. (1901), also gone, peeking out at the right margin of the central, second image file you posted above.

  4. Have an old sewing kit,given to people staying at hotel Henry Watterson.states Robert b Jones mgr. Geo. Schenck asst. Mgr. This should go to families or historic preservation society. My name Eric call at 502 939 1812 like the war of 1812…tks

  5. what a shame. imagine walking westward with this beautifully punctuated streetscape and the West Walnut “business neighborhood” holding it down to the west. Another heat loss is the Federal Reserve Bank(Weissinger Gaulbert’s twin), which sat at sw corner of 3/Bway facing Fincastle. Palatial!

  6. My grandmother Mary Veatris (Higdon) Angel was the chief Auditor and Bookkeeper for the Waterson for thirty years. I am 72 now, but as a child of 4 or so, I remember going downtown on the bus to shop with my mother. There was always a free room waiting for us at the hotel to take s nap or clean up. The lobby had huge marble columns supporting a mezannine. There were beautiful mahogany desks with green blotters, where guests could write complementary postcards. I was fascinated by the delivery elevators in the alley behind tbe hotel. Doors opened upward and trucks unloaded supplies and the elevator went down into the ground. You could go down from the first floor at least three floors, where the kitchen, supply rooms and laundry were located. All the sheets were ironed, of course. Donald S. Roberts, Leesburg, Florida

  7. Lunch at the Watterson Hotel was a huge treat when I was growing up. I remember the huge crystal chandelier in the Marse Henry Room.

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