In about 1904, the Louisville Woman’s Club moved into their new headquarters designed by famed Louisville architect Mason Maury, designer of over 700 buildings including major works like the Louisville Trust Building (5th and Jefferson streets), according to the Encyclopedia of Louisville.
Located at 1212 South Fourth Street, just below Oak Street in Old Louisville, the new clubhouse took on a starkly modern appearance compared to its Victorian neighbors. The only problem: the exact same design had been built a decade prior in Chicago, Illinois by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright’s Winslow House, completed in 1893, shocked the staid architectural community of the time and helped bring about the architect’s famous Prairie style later in the 20th century. According to the New York Times:
The Winslow residence created a sensation upon its completion in 1893. In fact, Winslow did not take his customary commuter train to Chicago for several months afterward, because fellow passengers kidded him about his avant-garde house.
To many, the house looks like it was built in the 1960s, and some have derided it as ugly, but considering the age of the house and the typical architectural practices of the day, this design was downright radical.
Louisville’s Mason Maury was a fan of Wright and took inspiration from his works, in this case rather directly. He was fond of using the Chicago School style of architecture, which is most evident in the 1903 Kaufman-Straus Department Store building on Fourth Street, which today rests under the glass canopy of 4th Street Live!
Maury’s Woman’s Club building surely caused a stir in Louisville when it opened as well, although little history of the building exists today. According to a 1905 Sanborn Map (see below), the building included a 520-seat auditorium. As is often the case, the Woman’s Club building changed uses and fell into disrepair. By 1957, a new facade had been put in place, windows were blocked in, and the neighboring Victorian mansions to the north were razed (see photo at left). At some point, likely in the 1970s or 1980s, a red-and-white striped metal facade was installed, cementing the building’s status as an eyesore for decades to come.
Today, though, that red facade has been peeled away, revealing a simple storefront facade showing elements of the original design, such as the placement of windows and horizontal striping details.
Local developer Joseph Impellizzeri is behind the rehab, but did not return multiple phone calls and emails seeking details about the project. He has previously updated buildings on Bardstown Road and is behind the facelifts we recently discussed around the corner on Oak Street.
According to Bob Keesaer Metro Louisville’s Urban Design Administrator, the project involves rehabbing the structure to preserve some of its historical elements, but the extent of renovations likely won’t take it all the way back to the Maury original. The building will have commercial uses, but it’s unknown what the full program will ultimately be. A building permit posted on site indicates that work involves stucco repair, adding a new entrance, and interior framing to the 1,680-square-foot building.
With all the activity on Oak Street these days, including the upcoming renovations at the Arden Building and Genscape’s headquarters a block away, Old Louisville’s commercial corridor continues to look up. Now, how about a streetcar?
We’ll update this post if we hear back from Impellizzeri.