Rest In Pieces, 306-310 East Main or Remember the Elmo

Dig this? Really down on Main Street (Curtis Morrison)

The chain link fence was adjusted to protect passers-by from falling brick, metal and glass. The  humid summer air hung with silt and grains of time as the backhoe reached up into the second floor of the building that housed many a bar, restaurant and office space in its day and peeled back the walls with much rumble and crash.

It would take a tornado or quake moments destroy such a sturdy building but as for now, Nature has very little say in the matter. I see where at least three gentlemen have a job, job job –to ring out the campaign cry– so that’s a plus.

I’m watching Day 2 of this demolition alongside Curtis Morrison,  an activist and blogger (Louisville Courant among others),  who’s vigil over the Metro politics, culture and equal rights is passionate with attention to detail and drama. We are both mesmerized with the power of the machinery as it  gnaws through floors and and fixtures like a yellow T-Rex.

Morrison’s fears of endangering pedestrian and vehicle traffic are real and aren’t being well-tended. My fears are that this scenario will occur again and again. Orders for intent to demolish might be handed over like soft-serve cones through a window at Kream Kastle if we don’t set a precedent.

Cobalt’s golden boy Todd Blue, self-proclaimed preservationist, is not developing anything today but damn, he is good at tearing stuff down. I can’t really call building a parking lot the stuff of visionaries but I pray that he has better strokes for a bigger picture.

With the ashes barely settled over the battle for Whiskey Row, developer Blue moved on to his next project in a deal that was a little quieter and much quicker than the years of waste and waiting  that  beset his dormant Iron Quarter proposal.

As for the plans for the parking lot, East Main is hardly the paradise that Joni Mitchell prophesied in “Big Yellow Taxi,” but it’s chorus has become a hummable theme in the last year as more caution tape and link fences surround demolition sites. This eastern-most corridor is  part of the city that could thrive given opportunity and affordability in its development.

One of the most articulate observations on this entire process was captured in a Courier-Journal op-ed by Daniel Vivian, a relatively new Louisville resident who is an assistant professor of history at U of L and a member of the board of directors of Preservation Kentucky, Inc. If you haven’t read “Preservation Blues” then you need to do so.

A dusty Bobcat is parked in the shade of a wall several brick layers thick yet now is starting to buckle. It will not cast a shadow tomorrow. One of the hard hat crew ambles by and I ask him, “What’s different about bringing this building down than others?”

Moving his squint from my face over to the growing pile of rubble, you can sense the gears turning.

“It’s strong,” he yelled over the backhoe’s roar, “That thing is held together with steel supports all the way through.”

It would take a few days to bring it down. And it would fight back all the way.

Most recently known as the Elmo’s building, the three-story mixed use structure dating back to the 1890’s had become the sacrificial lamb from  the salvation of  the 100 block of Main Street. A trade? A deal?  Maybe one of those “I’ll raze you three if we can throw in this sturdy little building right over here.” agreements?

As Chris Poynter is quick to support the mayor’s decision with statement via email:

” The mayor agreed to the demolition of the Elmo’s building in order to help save Whiskey Row, which is much more historic and important. Although we hate to lose any historic structure, we believe that losing one building to save many more much more historic ones is acceptable.”

This handshake poker game with Louisville’s preservation at stake has claimed another historic work of architecture. And for all the murmuring of “back room  deals” and whining of parking space as the last frontier, documents, press releases and signatures have all been furnished.  Then again, as Charlie Rich so eloquently croons, “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.”

I think that if anyone who is passionate enough to chain themselves to a fence ought to reconsider and cuff themselves to a Metro Government boardroom table.

As far away as New York City, Louisville native and journalist Michael Washburn had harsh words for the mayor:

“Sadly it’s not surprising that Fischer included this concession in Whiskey Row negotiations but that it was undisclosed at the time. Fischer seems to be more and more a petty client of Blue.”

The transplanted Louisvillian is not alone in  his doubt and frustration.  His work as a Research Associate at The Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, validates his concern for his hometown.

I do hope the space will provide some sense of income and accessibility for East Main’s retail, residential and entertainment dreams–but don’t cue the industrious theme music yet. The proposed use status is a gray as….why, asphalt! With the plain yet sturdy building out of the way,  the  parking lot Blue owns at East Main and Floyd Street would certainly be enhanced.  Yet  there are doubts that even a parking lot will  be designed and completed.

Perhaps Gill Holland said it best:

“Jeepers! The last thing we need is more surface parking,” he stated via email. “‎No one should be allowed to take down a possibly-historic building for a downtown surface parking lot without financing already in place for a ‘better,’ well-designed, etc, green-lit, ie ‘approved’ project.”

I know that if a year goes by and weeds,broken beer bottles and cracked pavement are all that remains at this demolition site, my emotions will move from heartache to  royally pissed–and I believe many others will share that disappointment.

Attempts to reach Todd Blue for comment were futile.