Sunday, April 20 2014 6:00 AM EDT2014-04-20 10:00:08 GMT
City officials planning to push redevelopment of iconic building once nearby project is complete.More >>
City officials planning to push redevelopment of iconic building once nearby project is complete. More >>
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There are things you pass every day, but never think about. And there are things you pass every day that you always think about.
The Louisville Gardens belongs in the latter category, for me. Sometimes I’ll walk by it if headed over toward Fourth Street on foot. If not, I’m driving by it on Muhammad Ali Boulevard on my way to the WDRB offices at Seventh and Ali.
I always have the same thought: That could be one of the most amazing buildings in town.
I’m going to tell you what my own, well, let’s just call it fantasy, was for that building. But first let’s deal with its history. And to do that, you’re going to have to consult another story, that was published at WDRB.com yesterday by Marcus Green.
He did an outstanding job of not only describing why the Gardens is a facility in limbo, if not trouble, but of describing why the building is important. An excerpt:
The building where civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke?
It’s a city storage facility.
The building that sheltered Louisville residents forced from their homes during the 1937 flood?
Its entrance is cluttered with chairs.
The building that held a public memorial after the Titanic sank in 1912?
Two windows on the main Muhammad Ali side are boarded.
I like history as much as the next guy. In fact, I like it more than the next guy, I’m sure. But I also accept that not every building is worth saving just because it is old. I’ll go ahead and tell you, I didn’t support the preservation efforts in the city’s Iron Quarter. Whiskey Row? I’m glad some development has taken place, but frankly, I’m not impressed by building facades with nothing behind them. It was an area that no one paid attention to for decades. When someone decided to try to revitalize it, preservation efforts swept in.
Some might say the same about The Gardens. There’s a kind of architectural natural selection that goes on in cities. If nobody pays attention to it, why preserve it?
Except in this building, things happened. History happened. Harry Truman spoke there. As Green mentioned in his WDRB story, Elvis Presley played there, as did Louis Armstrong. Refugees from Hurricane Katrina came there.
Sports history? It has it. The Kentucky Colonels played there. It was the University of Louisville’s basketball home from the end of World War II until the Cardinals moved into Freedom Hall in 1957, but the Cardinals still played some games there through Denny Crum’s early years as coach. It played host to the SEC Tournament for 11 years.
It was the largest building in the state when it opened in 1905, as an actual armory. It has done its part, for this city.
And when you have a building like that, a building that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, well, a city ought to do its part for the building.
I was joking and not joking when WDRB began its building expansion that was just completed in recent weeks that we all ought to just move into the Gardens, restore the old place, keep the arena motif, build studios, open office space, innovate. As long as we kept one basketball goal. It was said in jest. We’d have to hit some kind of corporate lottery to do something like that. With city officials saying it needs at least $20 million in upgrades, it’s going to be tough for anyone.
We all have these things we’d do if we were rich. That would be one of the things I’d do. I’d find some use for that old building. I’d find a way to give it a place in the city’s life in the 21st century. It might only be the nation’s largest community center. It might be the finest basketball museum in a state that values basketball more than any other. Shoot, I might just buy a company to move in there.
But I don’t see any of that happening. I’m sure you, the readers, have better thoughts on this than I have. Some of you have deeper memories of the place than I have. I covered basketball games there. I saw REM play there, and the Guess Who.
Since 2007, Marcus Green reported, the building has just been sitting there. The Cordish Co. said in an email to him that it still believes the property has potential as an entertainment and sports venue. Maybe the arts and sports still have use for the old place. Maybe someone takes it and turns it into apartments, or restaurants, or something else.
I don’t write many columns for the sole purpose of pointing you to other stories. But this one does. I’d hate to see the old place sit there and rot even more than it already has.
It has a past as rich as any building in town. Let’s hope it has some kind of future here, too.