Implanting A Lasting Impression Of Louisville’s Downtown Ornate Beauty And Expansiveness

West Main Street at the center of Old Louisville downtown is at the heart of the cultural district of Louisville featuring the second largest collection of cast-iron facades in the United States.

Over a century ago, cast iron made it possible to build beautiful decorative features that were too expensive to carve out of stone. The sidewalk bricks in front of the columns are placed sideways and flecked with iron to make the cast iron buildings easily identifiable. To doubly ascertain you carry along as you walk by a magnet which is most likely to stick to buildings whose facades are cast iron. Ironwood trees grow in front of cast iron buildings surrounded by replicas of authentic coal hole covers. A stand of three trees are planted together thus indicating that the building is masonry. Cast iron walking sticks and tree rings give hints as to the original uses of nearby buildings.

West Main Street has more examples of 19th century cast-iron architecture than any other place in America except New York’s SoHo. The façade of the Hart Block, a five story building designed in 1884 at a foundry is a jigsaw puzzle of bolting cast iron pieces together. This early Victorian pre-fab construction allowed for large windows and greater height. The tiny St Charles Hotel, constructed before 1832 is the oldest here.. A third generation Main Street building, it was preceded by Fort Nelson which was followed by log huts. Three story brick buildings came in next and lined the streets at the time of Civil War.

Fort Nelson, a haven for settlers in the late 1700s once stood between 6th and 8th streets on Main before being ravaged by fire and tornado more than a century ago. This site was the terminus of the Wilderness Road, the first overland route west from Virginia across the Appalachian Mountains through the Cumberland Gap, and the site of the first permanent settlement in what would become Louisville.

At the northwest corner of 7th and Main is a pocket park, studded with historical markers and architectural cues from nearby structures. One of the street’s first restorations which helped speed its renaissance is ‘Stairways’ housing the Main Street Association Visitor and Information Center. A block of the street still preserving much of its 19th century look is the 100 block whose building fronts are exactly as they were in the mid-1800. Both ends of the building are of much interest. The first street end shows a fascinating Renaissance revival building built in 1852 with six unique bays. The Second Street corner is the site of the original Galt House Hotel which was burnt to the ground in 1865. The sprawling Galt House Hotel Complex at Fourth and Main Streets including offices, apartments, retail spaces, restaurants and the city’s largest hotel convention facilities has twin office towers topped with whimsical rotating search lights. The Second Street Bridge otherwise called George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge from which it’s one mile to Indiana has an art deco entrance designed in 1929 by Paul Gret, architect of Cincinnati’s Union Station.

40 stories of glass, steel and booming business designed by Harrison and Abromovitz of New York in 1972 constitutes what is called the National City Tower. The first national bank was headquartered here before it was acquired by National City Bank, First National Bank of Louisville. Naturalist John Audubon lived on this site 200 years ago when it hosted the Indian Queen Hostelry.

Also here is the Science Center/ IMAXX theatre a 19th century warehouse full of science arcades and demonstrations such as an Egyptian mummy’s tomb, a Foucault pendulum, and plenty of hands-on displays appealing especially so to kids. Also to be seen are exhibits on space exploration and the human body. Constructed of limestone and cast iron for use as a wholesale dry goods store in 1878, it is an excellent example of adaptive reuse. Cork Marcheschi’s geometric kinetic sculpture in front projects a stunning street market day or night – as skies darken, photo-electric sensors activate its colored lights. Worlds of wonder are preserved on three floors of fun, fantasy and science.

Energy, one of the oldest utility companies in the U.S dating back to 1838 and the city’s most powerful business has its headquarters at One Corporate Plaza at Third and Main streets. Place Montpellier a few steps from a great park overlooking the Ohio River brings you to the statue of Louisville’s founder, George Rogers Clark standing on the plaza where you will learn the secrets of the city’s beginnings. By following the blue bricks you trace the outline of the Ohio River. A few steps away you emerge at the Waterfront Park and the riverfront elevator.

The grand post-modern Humana Building built in 1985 has established a reputation for itself internationally as Time magazine pick of the building of the last 20 years. The eclectic creation of the gifted architect Michael Graves, it pays homage to its River City location with waterwall fountains and steel bridgework at the lobby. Inside this lobby you are welcomed by a combination of classical art and fascinating architecture. The graduated façade of differing styles complements and harmonises with the shorter adjoining buildings.

Just a few yards off is the American Life and Accident Building at Riverfront Plaza. This unique structure designed by Mies Van der Kohe and completed in 1973 is called the Rusty Building after its oxidized Cor-Ten steel covering designed to rust to a beautiful bronze hue.

A delightful array of styles thus distinguish Main Street: Greek revival [columns, pilasters, heavy cornices] at Actors Theater, Italianate [decorative cast-iron facades and villa-type character] at the Hart Block Building; Richardsonian Romanesque [rounded archways and windows, limestone and terra cotta construction] at the Doe-Anderson Building; International [sleek, concrete, glass and steel] at National City Tower and Post-Modern [new colors, stone and symbolic ties to environmental features] at the Humana Building.

All these I trod through thus walking the path where famous feet have trod. Such famous feet were of Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Charles Dickens, John James Audubon, D.W. Griffith, Muhammad Ali, Pee Wee Reese, Mary Anderson and many others.

A 15 foot concrete floodwall paralleling Main Street with fixtures for gates to be installed to close the wall at 2nd to 8th streets is a grim reminder of the flood of 1937 whose recurrence it is built to forestall. Then most of downtown got flooded by the Ohio River waters. But Main Street shopkeepers found themselves on the backbone of the ‘City Island’ and were spared.

Historic preservations of Louisville’s past beauty and glory is also to be seen in a wider stretch of downtown moving up to my own hostel. The Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption at Fifth Street is a Gothic Revival structure built between 1849 and 1852 and restored between 1985 and 1994. The Jefferson County Courthouse at Jefferson Street is a Greek Revival landmark designed by Gideon Shyrock and built in 1835 with the intent of luring the state government to Louisville. The 35-story Aegean Center at Market Street dominating Louisville’s skyline and holding court as the tallest building in Kentucky has a dramatic geodesic dome which tops the 1992 art deco-style structure designed by New York architect John Burger. Down Fourth street which was home to me for six weeks is a mansion prominently signposted SPALDING UNIVERSITY. This Italianate Renaissance Revival home built around 1871 is one of the few remaining structures designed by Henry Whileston a prominent Louisville architect. The mansion including the stained glass, the symbol of Spalding University is preserved within the administration building as a National and Kentucky landmark.

At night I have often spotted horse-drawn carriages carrying one or two passengers round . These I learnt later are carriage tours organized in the downtown hotel area following interesting routes giving the riders a haunting view of historical sites, restaurants, theatres and the riverfront. A trolley also travels through 4th street between the Galt House Hotel and Suites by the WATERFRONT and the Theatre Square and on Main and Market Streets between 11th and Clay streets.

Our city tour by bus gave us a vantage view of all these sights. But it also gave us a panoramic view of the widening differentiation in residential areas according to race as well as class. The more easterly part mainly inhabited by blacks were far away from the shopping centers a high incidence of which there is in the white enclaves. This is an area that I would wish to further explore.

Our tour led us towards Bardstown where we had the chance of exploring the interior of one of the most famous slave houses Farmington Historic Home with close connections with two U.S presidents. Abraham Lincoln we were told once lived here as a guest of the Speeds, the original owners of the slave plantation and house there. The house was reputed to have been designed from a plan done by Thomas Jefferson, though that has been recently contested.

This 14-room Federal style home with well tended lawns interlaced by wooden and concrete paved paths and a pool at the far side was part of the slave-holding plantations of the South where hemp and rice were grown . Wine was also brewed here. It is amazing how well this house has been redesigned and preserved to reflect the colors and spirit of the 19th century with some of the same articles including books preserved and where not possible the nearest approximations reflective of that period are brought in as proxies.

Celebrate Black History Month in Downtown Indianapolis

Experience living Black History on Indiana Avenue
Indiana Avenue is a powerful version of the American dream through an African-American lens. The Avenue is the historic African-American commercial, entertainment and worship center. Today’s landscape is filled with enduring landmarks, a burgeoning university campus, contemporary residences and a lush waterway. Indiana Avenue truly is rhythm reborn. The rich heritage comes to life on stage, in public art, museums, art galleries, nightlife and in the church.

Also located on Indiana Avenue is the historic Madame Walker Theatre Center. The Madame Walker Theatre Center, housed in the historic Madame C.J. Walker Building, has long symbolized the spirit of creativity and community pride in Downtown Indianapolis. Celebrate Black History Month with the Walker Theatre by joining Freetown Village for an evening dinner theatre called “This Little Light” on Feb. 18. Enjoy live music and a lesson in history at this living history museum. Also join the Madame Walker Theatre for Jazz on the Avenue Feb. 25 in the Ballroom for live jazz and cocktails. Call 236.2099 for more information.

Art & Soul at the Indianapolis Artsgarden
Don’t miss more than 18 FREE performances throughout the month of February as part of the 15th annual Art & Soul in the Indianapolis Artsgarden, which kicks off Jan. 27. This annual celebration of African-American art and artists celebrates Black History Month. The performances feature a broad range of musical, dance, spoken word, poetry and living history from both established and emerging artists. Highlights throughout the month of February include Billy Wooten Jazz Trio, Gregg Bacon, June Rochelle, the Asante Children’s Theatre and many more. For more details and a schedule of events call 631.3301 or visit the Indy Arts Web site.

Learn about black history
Join The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis as black history comes alive during the month of February. Don’t miss Target Family Night Feb. 3 from 4 – 8 p.m. Celebrate African-American heritage and achievements in history, science, art and music FREE of charge. Experience a slave’s flight to freedom and learn to navigate using the Big Dipper during Follow the Drinking Gourd starting Feb. 1 at 11 a.m. On Feb. 3, 5 and12, celebrate Black History Month in Lilly Theatre with vignettes exploring the lives of Levi Coffin and Madame C.J. Walker at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. To learn more, call 334.3322.

In celebration of Black History Month, the Indiana Historical Society and Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library (IMCPL) invite children and families to learn about Indiana’s rich African-American history by participating in the Indiana Black History Challenge. The Indiana Black History Challenge is a contest that invites participants to investigate famous African-American Hoosiers and their contributions to society. The 10-question challenge can be taken online beginning Feb. 1. Printed game cards will also be made available at the beginning of February at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, as well as all branches of the IMCPL.

The first 5,000 entrants to the Indiana Black History Challenge will receive a prize. All participants who complete the challenge and answer all questions correctly are entered into a drawing for the grand prize and runner-up awards. The grand prize is a Family Fun Pack that includes an overnight stay at the Omni Severin Hotel in Downtown Indianapolis; four tickets to special exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; a $25 gift certificate to Weber Grill Restaurant and a family membership to the Indiana Historical Society, which includes free admission to the Indiana Experience for a year. One winner from each IMCPL branch and the History Center will receive a runner-up prize of a family four-pack of tickets to an Indianapolis Indians game. For more information, contact the IHS at 232.1882.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s (IMA) Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial exhibition will open Feb. 25. As an artist, Dial explores the truth of American history and culture in all its complexities and contradictions. This exhibition includes more than 50 pieces of Dial’s work that range from sculptures to paintings and that address some of the most compelling issues of our time. Find out more information on the exhibition call 923.1331.

Visit the Indiana State Museum for their “African Americans in Indiana” gallery search starting Feb. 1 to uncover the rich culture and contributions of Indiana’s black communities. Meet President Lincoln on Feb. 12 and enjoy period music and activities or see Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches in the Legacy Theater through the end of March. Call 232.1637 for more information.

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art will host the 4th Annual Leon Jett Memorial Lecture featuring Dr. Quintard Taylor, professor of American History at the University of Washington, on Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. Taylor will discuss how African Americans helped shape and develop the American West. A new exhibit that is partnered with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian called Red Black: Related Through History will open Feb. 12. Red Black will showcase the interactions between early black slaves and Native Americans. Call 636.9378 for more information.

Head over to the Garfield Parks Art Center for “Black Pearls”: An Artistic Celebration of Black History Month starting Feb. 5. The FREE exhibit showcases African and African-American artists and will display sculpture, drawing, painting and ceramics. Hands on creative family activities will take place every Saturday and Sunday throughout February. Hours for Garfield Parks Art Center are Tuesday – Thursday 2 – 9 p.m., Friday 1 – 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m. For more information call 327.7135.

Black History performances
The Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT) presents Charlayne Woodard’s Going Solo: Neat from Feb.10 – March 6. In this sequel to Woodard’s “Pretty Fire,” teenaged Charlayne encounters boys, high school, civil rights and her own vivid imagination, all while learning to live with her disabled aunt, Neat. Tickets, show information and a schedule of consortium events are available by calling 635.5252.

Join the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for the 26th Anniversary Celebration of Black History Concert Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. The ISO’s annual concert celebrates the significant impact of African-American culture on classical and symphonic music as well as the superb artistry and creativity of black artists, composers and conductors. This year the concert will be conducted by an Indianapolis audience favorite, Thomas Wilkins. This event is FREE and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for general seating. Call 639.4300 for more information.

Exposition Park Los Angeles

Exposition Park is one of the top five Los Angeles attractions with several museums, sports venues and gardens. Museums include the California Science Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and the California African-American Museum. The science center and natural history museum are both housed in historic, early 1900’s buildings. Sports arenas include the Olympic Stadium with pools for swimming and diving, the L.A. Coliseum which has hosted Olympic Games and professional football and the Los Angeles Sport Arena which hosts basketball, boxing and other sporting events. Most of the 4-million visitors per year come to tour the science center and museum of natural history.

The California Science Center is part air & space museum, natural science museum, children’s museum and aquarium. Before even entering the science center Los Angeles, visitors encounter several warbirds including an SR-71 Blackbird frozen in a flight position. Just outside the science museum entrance is a huge IMAX theater that shows high-definition movies of nature, animals, space and more. Inside the science center, visitors can roam about the museum to see space capsules, warbirds, plants, fish, live shows and more. Entertaining hands-on exhibits can be found all over the museum that help explain the physics of how things work. The Ecosystems exhibit includes an ocean aquarium filled with sharks, grouper, rays and other sea creatures. The highlight of the Los Angeles science center is the Space Shuttle Endeavour that went on display in 2012. Visitors are guided through the Endeavour museum filled with space shuttle parts, pictures, flight simulators and more before entering the hangar to walk around the actual Space Shuttle Endeavour. This awe-inspiring exhibit ends with a large gift shop filled with NASA and space shuttle souvenirs. The science center Los Angeles is large enough to spend the entire day exploring. An on-site grill & coffee bar quenches appetites with specialty drinks, ice cream and comfort foods. The best part about the Los Angeles science center is that admission is free to all exhibits. There is only an admission fee for IMAX movies and a small reservation fee for the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History is situated adjacent to the California Science Center. The Los Angeles Natural History Museum features a dinosaur museum, African animals, insect zoo, science lab, gems & minerals and more. Take a stroll through Dinosaur Hall below the reconstructed bones of massive dinosaurs. See interpretive displays of wild animals in their natural environments. View incredible specimens of gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious discoveries. The museum of natural history often hosts hands-on exhibits on the lawn in front of the building including the Butterfly Pavilion and Spider Pavilion, where visitors can touch and hold from beautiful to creepy insects.

Behind these popular Los Angeles attractions is the Exposition Park Rose Garden. The rose garden is the perfect place to unwind while wandering through hundreds of species of roses and sitting by the fountain with a view of the garden and original museum entrances. On hot days, street vendors sometimes sell refreshing popsicles and ice creams by the fountain. The rose garden was once a horseracing track before Exposition Park was created.

Exposition Park is located south of Downtown Los Angeles off the 110 freeway. This is a high-crime region of the city, so we don’t recommend using public transportation or leaving the grounds of the park. The parking lot off Figueroa Street is within safe walking distance to the museums. Like any Los Angeles museum, Exposition Park can be less crowded on weekends as opposed to weekdays when hordes of kids on school field trips pour out of school buses. Be sure to reserve an IMAX movie ahead of time as they often sell out. The California Science Center website has a list of several movies that are currently playing. The Space Shuttle Endeavour is another popular attraction where advance reservations should be considered.