Louisville Architecture Walking Tour, Louisville

Louisville Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky, is famous for its architectural marvels, featuring a combination of styles and eras, sizes and artistic directions, adding a great deal of uniqueness to the city panorama. Architecture buffs will be delighted at a chance to admire the elaborate edifices abounding the city.

One such iconic spot is Whiskey Row. Once a bustling hub of the local bourbon industry, it has been transformed from a collection of historic Revivalist and Chicago School-style structures into a renovated district with luxury apartments, restaurants, and retail businesses, solidifying its status as a National Landmark.

The Old Bank of Louisville stands as a testament to the city's financial history, with its grand neoclassical design and imposing columns. Nearby, the Levy Building is a prime example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, boasting historical significance as one of Louisville's earliest buildings fitted with electricity.

City Hall and Metro Hall are prominent examples of civic construction of the 1800s. The former embodies a striking fusion of Italianate, Second Empire, Beaux Arts, and Romanesque Revival styles, reflecting the city's post-Civil War optimism, while the latter, constructed to architect Gideon Shryock's design, earned both praise and criticism and eventually gained recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Religious architecture also plays a significant role in Louisville's landscape. The Cathedral of the Assumption is a fine example of Gothic Revival, with its towering spire and high-vaulting ceiling, whereas the Greater Bethel Temple in Old Louisville, originally the church constructed in Classical Revival, features a Bedford Limestone facade adorned with six grand columns supporting a portico.

The Palace Theatre is a historic music venue with Spanish Baroque architecture, adorned with intricate ornamentation, hosting a variety of renowned musicians since its opening in 1928. Meanwhile, the Louisville Free Public Library, established in 1908, combines Beaux-Arts design elements with functional spaces, offering innovative services like its pioneering FM radio station.

Louisville's architecture is a reflection of its diverse heritage and cultural identity. So, whether you're a local or a curious visitor, take some time to wander through the streets of Louisville and marvel at the beauty and history encapsulated in its walls. You never know what hidden gems you might discover around the next corner.
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Louisville Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Louisville Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Louisville (See other walking tours in Louisville)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: Cathy
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Whiskey Row
  • Old Bank of Louisville
  • Levy Building
  • City Hall
  • Metro Hall
  • Cathedral of the Assumption
  • Palace Theatre
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • Greater Bethel Temple
Whiskey Row

1) Whiskey Row

Whiskey Row is a historic, block-long stretch from 101–133 W. Main Street in Downtown Louisville that once served as a home to the local bourbon industry. Numerous distilleries would transport whiskey barrels to the Louisville market for sale by train or wagon. Main Street became so extremely populated with whiskey firms that it was decided to collectively name its inhabitants – whiskey shops and distilleries, as well as facilities used to store whiskey barrels – Whiskey Row.

In essence, it represents the collection of Revivalist and Chicago School-style structures with cast-iron storefronts dating back to the 1852-1905 period. All the buildings in this quarter utilized cast iron architecture, but the styles of the structures differ. Besides New York's SoHo district, the Iron Quarter, which is the other name of Whiskey Row, has the biggest number of cast iron structures. The most talented architects who worked on the design of the buildings here were John Andrewartha, Henry Whitestone and Dennis Xavier Murphy.

On a list of Louisville Most Endangered Historic Places, these buildings were slated for demolition in 2011, but an agreement between the city, local developers, and preservationists saved Whiskey Row. On July 6, 2015, a fire partially destroyed three of the Whiskey Row buildings extending from 111–115 W. Main Street. Thankfully, the buildings were vacant and no one was hurt. Developers vowed to continue redeveloping the properties afterwards.

Presently, Whiskey Row has been renovated into Old Forester Distillery, luxury apartments, restaurants, and retail businesses. Upon completion, the Whiskey Row project is due to include a distillery tourist attraction, two upscale hotels, and a huge retail outlet. Recently, the quarter obtained the status of National Landmark.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old Bank of Louisville

2) Old Bank of Louisville

The Old Bank of Louisville was founded and the building constructed in 1837. The design of the structure belongs to the Greek Revival architectural style and was developed by James Harrison Dakin, an American architect and designer. The materials used for the construction of the Old Bank were mainly limestone and brick. The most distinguishing details of the building are the front entrance and the two grand columns supporting the facade.

After serving for many years as a banking institution, the building was converted in the 1970s to serve as a lobby space for the adjacent theater. In August 1971 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Levy Building

3) Levy Building

The historic Levy Building on the northeast corner of Third and Market is one of the most important examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Louisville. It was constructed in 1893 to the design by Charles J. Clarke and Arthur Loomis, and appeared in the American Architect and Building News of October 21, 1893.

Initially, the building was used to accommodate one of the most popular department stores in the city, Levy’s, which stayed here for almost 90 years. Today, it houses the Spaghetti Factory Restaurant on the first floor and condos on the upper ones. The structure is not only famous for its architectural importance, but also for the fact that it was one of the first structures in Louisville to be fitted with electricity.

Now honored with a Kentucky state historical marker, as one of the great surviving structures in downtown Louisville, all the passers-by or diners in the restaurant here can learn more about this landmark and its creators.
City Hall

4) City Hall

Louisville City Hall is a historic building whose construction lasted from 1870 and 1873. Originally it was designed as the seat of the local city government; since the merger of the former City of Louisville with Jefferson County, Kentucky, it now primarily houses the offices and chambers of the Louisville Metro Council.

The building's architecture is a striking blend of Italianate and Second Empire, both styles popular at the time in civic buildings, as well as Beaux Arts and Romanesque Revival. Designs on the building represented the city's outlook in the post-Civil War era, which was very optimistic. The pediment over the main entrance features a relief of the city seal and a train steaming forward past Southern flora with the inscription, "Progress, 1871." Other engravings, over the tympana of the side windows, depict livestock heads, representing the importance of agriculture in Louisville's early history.

The building has three full stories with a raised basement. While the exterior of the structure remained almost unchanged throughout its history, the interior was exposed to a number of grand restoration works. In 1909 an attachment was linked to the main building. The annex was designed in Greco-Roman style by Cornelius Curtin. The most prominent feature of the City Hall is the 195-foot four-faced clock tower with mansard roof, not completed until 1876 after an earlier one burned in 1875. The tower included a three-ton bell which rang until 1964, when the clock broke. It was repaired in 1968 but then broke again in the 1970s. It was finally fixed in 1991.

In 1976 the City Hall building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Metro Hall

5) Metro Hall

The Louisville Metro Hall, formerly the Jefferson County Courthouse or Louisville Courthouse, is the center of Louisville's government. Its construction began in 1837, and both the City of Louisville and Jefferson County governments started using it in 1842.

The architect, Gideon Shryock, intended for the courthouse to have a six-column Doric portico, a cupola, and additional porticos on the wings. The building would be completed by metopes and plain friezes as a full entablature, and engaged pilasters regularly sequenced. Shryock resigned from the project in 1842 which was finally completed in 1860 by Albert Fink, a bridge engineer, and Charles Stancliff in charge. Fink reduced the number of columns for the Doric portico, and did not build the additional porticos and cupola. When finally unveiled to the public, the Louisville Daily Journal dubbed the building as a "elephantine monstrosity".

Still, in 1972 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cathedral of the Assumption

6) Cathedral of the Assumption

The Cathedral of the Assumption is a mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville and one of the most famous temples in the city. It was built on the grounds of the former Saint Louis Church, being a larger version thereof, and was dedicated in 1852.

The newly-built cathedral was nearly destroyed soon after its construction due to anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry which resulted in the killing of 22 German and Irish immigrants across the city. The Cathedral was believed to house weaponry in its basement and thus was threatened to be burned, but the then mayor of the city, John Barbee, himself a "Know-Nothing," inspected the church and cleared it of such accusations.

Throughout its existence, the Cathedral was exposed to a series of renovations. The structure was designed in Neo-Gothic architectural style. Both the exterior and the interior are adorned with rich decoration elements, including wood carved bosses, frescoes, arched windows and a beautiful grand organ, which is the focal point of religious events.

In 1985, the establishment of the Center for Interfaith Relations (formerly the Cathedral Heritage Foundation) began a push for renovation of existing facilities, expansion of the Cathedral complex, and revitalization of the Cathedral's mission to the broader community as a spiritual center in Louisville.

Renovation began in 1988 with the removal of sections of the Cathedral spire, along with the finial and cross. The year 1989 saw a comprehensive restoration plan adopted. In June 1991, after 100 years of disuse, the completely restored Cathedral undercroft was reopened. Finally, in February 1993, renovation on the main Cathedral space began and continued for nearly two years. The grand reopening of the Cathedral was celebrated in 1994, with a completely renovated Cathedral space. In June 1998, the Cathedral spire and bell tower were totally renewed.

The Cathedral complex now houses the main Cathedral building, with a Eucharistic chapel to the rear, as well as the Cathedral undercroft and St. Louis Hall, the Sandefur Dining Room for the homeless, the Patterson Education Center, the Cathedral school building (housing the parish offices), and the rectory, providing housing for the Archbishop and other Cathedral staff.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Palace Theatre

7) Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre (locally known as the Louisville Palace) is a music venue in downtown Louisville. The historic landmark opened on September 1, 1928, being originally known as the Loew's and United Artists State Theatre. It was designed by architect John Eberson.

The Palace exhibits a Spanish Baroque motif with arcades, balconies and turrets. Cobalt blue, bursts of red and gold indirectly light all of the niches, coves and entrances. Above is a curved, vaulted ceiling with 139 sculptures of the faces of historic figures. The theater room inside The Palace is heavily ornamented and displays an imitation nighttime sky on the ceiling.

The theater has two stories with a floor and a balcony. Both floors contain bars that run the width of the building behind the theater, separated by a grand lobby of intricate art and architecture. Although the exterior had fallen behind the interior, the Palace was re-dedicated in 1994 and is now a premiere venue.

Over the years the theater's stage has seen the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, James Taylor and Robert Plant, as well as the Backstreet Boys and other national, international and Kentucky musicians.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Louisville Free Public Library

8) Louisville Free Public Library

The Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) is the largest public library system in Kentucky. Officially opened in 1908, the library's main site resides south of Broadway in downtown Louisville. Additional branches were added over time, including the Western Colored Branch, which was the first Carnegie-housed library in the U.S. built solely for African Americans. In 1950, LFPL became the first library in the nation to put its own FM-radio station on the air – WFPL.

In 1969, a $4 million north building was added to the Revival-style Carnegie structure. This provided an additional 110,000 square feet (10,000 square meters) of floor space, compared to the 42,000 in the original building. At one time LFPL had over 30 branches but, because of lack of funding, a number of branches were forced to close. Currently, there are 16 branches, in addition to the main library site. Internet services and inter-library loan have helped to make up for fewer branches.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Greater Bethel Temple

9) Greater Bethel Temple

Greater Bethel Temple is a Pentecostal apostolic church situated in Old Louisville. The building sheltering the present church is the former church of the Adath Israel congregation. The design of the structure was developed by the architectural firm McDonald and Dodd's members, J.F. Sheblessy and Kenneth McDonald.

The construction was completed in 1906 and was dedicated in the same year. Designed in Classical Revival style, the temple was made of Bedford Limestone, which represents one of the highest qualities of limestone in the country. The facade of the building is adorned with six grand columns supporting a portico with a religious message engraved on it.

Walking Tours in Louisville, Kentucky

Create Your Own Walk in Louisville

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Creating your own self-guided walk in Louisville is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Old Louisville Walking Tour

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