Raising (not razing), a Toast to Whiskey Row


Dream team averts a preservation nightmare or Watch out for that brick! Photo: Gabe Bullard, WFPL

United we stand. Divided we fall. Right?

A week has gone by since the announcement of the rescue and rebirth of Whiskey Row. In a photo-op that featured city and business leaders speaking of history, beauty and honor against the backdrop of architecture ravaged by neglect, the elements and finance, we witnessed the team that stood between the wrecking ball and a chance to show the world what a grand entrance one can make into Louisville,


It was a day of saving face in more ways than one.

Peeled from the release distributed by Brown-Wilson VenturesThe deal saves five of the seven westernmost buildings while allowing previous owner Blue to demolish the two easternmost buildings and continue plans for a hotel. However, the facades of those two structures will be preserved to protect the architectural heritage and integrity of the block.

In the decades preceding the 2007 purchase of the block by developer Todd Blue, the structures slowly became the architectural lepers of downtown.  And for no reason other than, it wasn’t on the top of the Honey Do list for past administrations.

Almost in a time-lapse camera mode, what activity and activism had not yet ramped up  via preservationists and hopeful business proposals exploded by the January 2011  handshake between Blue and Louisville greenlighting the demolition of the Main Street block.

Last week, the true Hail Mary pass was spiraled by über urban couple Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, refereed by Mayor Greg Fischer, complete with color commentary from team owner Blue. Metro Council cheerleaders were almost in sync and pulled out the fast moves.

The drama had to be intense. Over 30 years of wasted time and fall-though deals, the once-vibrant addresses of 105 to 119 West Main became  part of a political and private scramble that would rival both Horse-racing and hoops combined. Whether it was a conundrum or a collaboration may never be agreed upon…

…but they did it.

Silent film star Harold Lloyd in the classic “Safety Last” could not have hurled his body upon the minute hand of the ticking clock tower as fast as this deal was put together. So it seems.

Despite the stewardship, hard work and genuine concern, it still just gets stuck in my craw–while entire ancient cities and monuments around the world stand strong, our rotting row of buildings that ushered in the  historic whiskey, Ohio River, Civil War and hospitality commerce at the tender age of just over a century beat the threat of becoming a parking lot until the Monday after the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Weep no more, my lady!

I won’t. I join many citizens who are glad to have all of this behind us and the bright future of West Main and Washington Streets ahead. The buildings of brick, iron and tile are now removed from the endangered list and I look forward to seeing progress take place within months and a restored business and entertainment block rise from the debacle.

There are quite a few people who have a lot to say about the future of this past-glorious block and I will be posting their comments and hopes over the next week. Check this site for earlier Two-Cents On the Iron Quarter if you want to catch up on my rambling and aggregation.

I will close with the  only quote I received via email from Todd Blue, who damn nigh became vilified by this issue and perhaps not rightly so.

“I think it’s time for others (all the negative people who spoke out of turn along the way) to say good things about the great contributions those of us who participated and sacrificed to make this happen.”

What say ye, Louisville?