Exile on Main Street

Join me at the wreckin' ball! Photo: John Nation / Louisville Magazine

For a city that should have a sense of place, it appears to be the reverse. This week’s broken, if you will, news about the green light for demolition of Main Street’s historic row, paints us with the burden of being a place with no sense.

Oh, the irony? Oh…the Iron Quarter.

I waded through the speech from Todd Blue on last night’s newscast, feeling not only waterlogged but also smelling of bullshit and decay. The first odor stemming from money and entitlement and the second stench belongs to the once-glorious city block of commerce and entertainment that greeted highway and river travelers for over a century, allowed to fall prey to greed and a malaise that is new to me.

If you let something die on the vine, then you can do what you want with the orchard?

It’s my fault that this smacks of the moment it dawned on our group of advocates for the Metro Park swimming pools, Breslin and Shelby, that there was no rescue coming for the properties. None.  They were shut down in 2008 due to lack of….lack of….oh–concern for community well-being, water safety education and a cool dip in record heat.

As we exercised our rights as citizens (bless you Cindy Brown-Kinloch), to keep our pools open, as they were in moderate disrepair after long months of disregard, the city seemed to know all along that they would drain and destroy both recreational locations.

Fast forward to downtown. Neglect has taken the grand old girls of Main Street down one rafter at a time. Shame on us.  How time flies when we are looking the other way.  Pathetic in its décor of chain link, barricades and yellow tape—if only these bricks could talk—the death knell resonates instead.

And like the pools, where the condescending promise of a replacement with “spray parks,” there is a flickering hope to the tune of $450K that we can keep the facades intact or at least reconstructed to preserve the architectural spirit of the day.

I hope so.

That block of Main Street is a living postcard and a testament to American river town history

I’m for that. I know those buildings were tired and dangerous when I worked at 121 Main at the magazine offices of Main Street and Artist, two monthly publications for art and information in the early 80s.

The latter generation of inhabitants of the grand row were mostly nightclubs  and they brought a second wave of history to the town with blues, bluegrass and rock music filling both streets and alleys. Then later a haven for brave vagrants and happy rats.

Some may say the buildings are old, just keep progress moving. Preservation is old-school. But please, no sterile convention cattle-call facilities.  And another Starbucks. I truly feel those buildings were built to last. My gawd, there are structures standing in Greece and Rome that are in better shape than the 100 block of Main Street.

How could this happen? Are we going to become Probability City? The back room? Back pocket? The 50 million mixed-use Blue print is almost in stone. But we have to blow up some bricks first, right?

Rescuing this poor guy making bad decisions from development doom seems to be the incentive behind the new administration– still brushing confetti from their Inaugural coats.  Say it isn’t so….somebody, anybody.

I joined the Facebook page Save the Iron Quarter – Historic Whiskey Row, a while back. This was before the weeds really started to sprout up in the ghetto that our prestigious block had now become. Many of us realize that the economic impossibility of saving the buildings is a reality. Let’s move forward with the next step. It worked for Slugger Field, let’s go further.

One of my new heroines is Angela Champion–the creator of the Iron Quarter Facebook page. Her comment was posted after mine on a thread this afternoon. With her permission, I felt compelled to share:

“There’s a lot wrong here. So, the mayor wanted to be The Decider. Great. But did he have to sweeten the pot with over $400K in taxpayer dollars – the same citizens who signed petitions for landmark status?  Here’s the other issue – Since when is Todd Blue General Motors? This is a city bail out of a private business venture. Put on your BIG BOY pants, Todd and suck it up. You over paid and over sold. You didn’t deliver. You let the buildings rot and now it’s for Louisvillians to pay for the destruction? I’m feeling sick.”

As the old folks used to say down on the square, “Bid’ness as usual.”  I would at least like think that such a rescue, bail out or promise would be unusual business but that might not be true. I wish we were all surprised.

I also had to laugh when commiserating with my friend and fellow Breslin pool activist, Leslie Stewart about the future of the Iron Quarter.

“It could be worse, I guess. It could be a Cordish development!”