Checking out local architecture is not typically on people’s “to do” list when relatives or friends visit from out of town. But when traveling to and from places that are on the list — Churchill Downs, the Louisville Zoo, the Slugger Museum — visitors usually comment on our handsome neighborhoods and beautiful parkways. Cruising through Cherokee Triangle or Seneca Gardens always elicits a “Wow, look at that house” or “This sure is a scenic drive.”
We Louisvillians, on the other hand, t/files/storyimages/to take for granted the streetscapes we whiz by in the mornings and evenings. Intricate cornices and stone arched facades meld into a daily grind of our work commutes. Of course, we love our Olmsted parks, and delight at dusk in the lighting of the Humana Building and Aegon Tower dome, but it is the smaller urban-fabric pieces that I think really make city life not only tolerable but preferable.
I’ve put together a short list of structures worth slowing down and taking a closer look at. Realizing that aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, I have selected a representative group of buildings based on style and location — all of them true treasures.
Third Century Interior Design
203 E. Main St., New Albany
Architect: Hugh Pugh
Year completed: 1837
Style: Greek Revival
There are many fine historic buildings in downtown New Albany, but this structure immediately catches your eye. Built in 1837 under the direction of architect Hugh Pugh, it originally served as a branch of the State Bank of Indiana. Constructed in the Greek Revival style from limestone quarried in Floyd County, this building has held up well for more than 166 years, although there is some minor deterioration.
Gheens Science Hall/Rauch Planetarium
University of Louisville Belknap Campus
Architect: Louis & Henry Group
Year completed: 2001
Yes, this building has had its share of publicity, but more for its function than its design. I think the planetarium is the best new building to grace the region in several years. The exterior design pays homage to the ancient star observatory Stonehenge (same height) as well as to namesake Joseph Rauch, in the form of a Star of David structural framework over the courtyard. The interior has a domed surface composed of perforated metal screen, which allows the lighted display of out-of-this-world images while permitting the amplified sound to pass through, preventing any reverberation.
One of the more fascinating aspects to this project is that it almost didn’t happen. After the original facility was demolished in 1998, a public outcry ensued and the Gheens Foundation stepped forward to offer funding assistance. The only downside to this uniquely shaped facility is that it’s hidden away from roadside viewing.
Concordia Lutheran Church
1127 E. Broadway (at Barret Avenue)
Architect: Ralph Adams Cram
Year completed: 1930
Style: Country Chapel Gothic
Hundreds of commuters pass by this simple place of worship each weekday, but few are aware of its distinguished heritage. Ralph Adams Cram was one of America’s premier architects in the early 20th century. West Point Military Academy and St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City are among the hundreds of buildings that make up his legacy. Entering Concordia Lutheran’s nave is like traveling back in time to medieval England. The stained glass, ornate woodwork and stone detailing are all magnificent. A respectful 2002 addition by K. Norman Berry strengthens this unassuming landmark.
St. Augustine Catholic Church
Chestnut and Locust streets, Jeffersonville
Architect: Dennis Xavier Murphy Year completed: 1905
Style: Spanish Mission
Twin-towered St. Augustine’s, located just two blocks from the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, features strong vertical massing, combined with decorative masonry details, to create its striking presence. While the Chestnut Street facade is the focal point, the east elevation (as viewed from the parking lot) is a visual tour de force of aesthetics-minded composition. The interior is bright and spacious, like many modern church layouts, with four support columns that do not significantly obstruct views to the altar. The church was an international construction effort: The marble altar and statues were sculpted by Italian craftsmen; the magnificent stained-glass windows were imported from Germany; the style is Spanish Mission; and the architect was Irish-American. (Other D.X. Murphy projects included Presentation Academy and the original twin-spired grandstand at Churchill Downs.) While changes — Vatican II alterations and replaced light fixtures — have lessened the purity of the overall design, St. Augustine’s remains a superb landmark.
Gardencourt Carriage House
1044 Alta Vista Road (just west of Altagate Road)
Architect: Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (Boston, Mass.)
Year completed: 1906
Once scheduled for demolition, this splendid century-old structure was reborn as offices for the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Gardencourt Carriage House was originally constructed as a utilitarian outbuilding for a nearby Beaux Arts masterpiece, the Gardencourt Mansion. The smaller building was essentially a glorified barn, equipped with horse stalls. Ornate brick detailing, gabled roofs with slate tiles, hip-roofed dormers and four chimneys make for a striking appearance.
An extensive renovation of the interior has resulted in an ultra-desirable work environment, with dark-wood accents and uniquely shaped rooms. On the second level, the central space (formerly the hayloft) has been dramatically “opened up,” revealing structural tension rods crossing overhead. This is not your typical four-corner office. I would have a difficult time getting paperwork complete in this dynamic space.
North of Brownsboro Road between Birchwood and Zorn avenues
Architects: Various Years completed: early 1930s
Riedlonn may be Louisville’s best-kept residential secret. Each of the approximately 120 homes in the neighborhood, developed in the 1930s, is of a distinctive character, although the Tudor style is dominant. Selema Hall, a historic Greek Revival house, anchors Riedlonn in the center. Several new homes built in the past decade bl/files/storyimages/well with older adjacent houses. One of the newest is even modeled after a Thomas Jefferson-designed structure, Poplar Forest.
The overall layout is one of quiet tree-lined streets, driveways with garages and utility poles in the rear. These planning concepts are routine in today’s subdivisions, but were very non-traditional 75 years ago. Narrow streets with planter islands, along with sidewalks, encourage walking in this charming enclave.
Scottish Rite Temple
200 E. Gray St. (at Brook Street)
Architect: Nevin, Wischmeyer and Morgan
Year completed: 1931
Style: Classical Revival
Overshadowed by its towering hospital neighbors in the medical center, the Scottish Rite Temple more than holds its own in architectural merit. The six-column facade, with ornate cornice and decorative door frames, is quite impressive. Most drivers, though, pass by without much notice of it, since Brook Street is one way north and this structure faces north, and Gray Street is not a major artery. Earlier this year, the Louisville Historical League was invited in to tour the building, and what a sight to behold. Behind the big gray edifice is a colorful, recently restored interior. The large auditorium rivals any of its more public-venue counterparts. On the upper level are several activity rooms that are elaborate in appearance.
While neighboring buildings hum 24/7 with life-saving medical procedures and I-65 traffic is non-stop, the Scottish Rite Temple sits in splendid solitude amid this bustling scene. Thanks are due to the dedicate membership of the temple for preserving this treasure.
Speed/Akers Carriage House
516 Altagate Road (off Lexington Road, across from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Year completed: 1905
Style: Mixed Tudor, Arts and Crafts, and others
Mansions are the featured architectural masterpieces of any estate. Classically designed and impressively detailed, these residential palaces take center stage. Ancillary structures, such as barns and carriage houses, were to be mainly functional buildings, subordinate to the mansion.
At the former William Speed estate on Altagate, though, the designer created a stunning work of aesthetic delight for the carriage house, which upstages its more massive main house.
The reason? The carriage house was actually designed first for another owner, Mrs. M. L. Akers. But it was sold, before the primary structure could be built, in the 1920s to Speed, who then had the large estate home constructed in a different style.
Exceptional Flemish bond brickwork, fenestration, a steep-sloping slate roof and a turret-peaked focal feature make for a surprising discovery at the terminus of the Altagate cul-de-sac. This carriage house was gloriously renovated by architect Carleton Godsey in 1996. A graceful stainless-steel sculpture entitled Tropical Rain Forest (by Louisvillian Bryan Holden) in the front offers a counterpoint between the home’s contemporary use and its historical legacy.
2231 Lower Hunters Trace (off Dixie Highway), on the campus of Incarnation Catholic Church
Architect: Michael Koch
Year completed: 2003
Southwestern Jefferson County does not have an extensive portfolio of quality architecture — visual chaos is the routine environmental standard. An exception is this modest contemporary structure tucked away from street viewing. Just completed by Michael Koch Architects, Harbor House is a training center for individuals with developmental difficulties.
Instead of erecting a typical generic facility, the leadership of Harbor House decided to make a positive statement and give a distinctive flair to its mission. The aluminum-and-glass entryway, with a prominent lighthouse-shaped skylight, is symbolic of this goal.
Contextual brickwork, sloping roof lines and carefully placed windows all lessen the overall size to a more human scale. On a practical level, the lively design of this building can only help lift the spirits of those who train there.
Underwriters Safety & Claims
1700 Eastpoint Pkwy. (off Nelson Miller Parkway, between Old LaGrange Road and Old Henry Road)
Architect: Tucker & Booker
Year completed: 2002
Numerous office parks have sprung up around the suburbia beltways in the past decade. The buildings that populate them are quickly designed and built, offering little to highlight in terms of detail and appearance. Among the more noteworthy projects, though, is the new Underwriters Office Building in the Eastpoint Business Center.
Underwriters is essentially a big rectilinear box, but the facade treatment sets it apart. The first noticeable aesthetic is the large over-scaled cornice brackets, which support extended roof eaves. The hip roof is a burgundy standing-seam metal design. Composed of layered bands of masonry, the exterior has a rough-hewn block foundation, a torso combining smooth stone and jumbo brick, then a smooth stone fascia. The window placement helps in lessening the massive nature of the building. Blocked from direct Snyder Freeway viewing by large trees, you need to take exit 29 onto Old Henry Road west to catch a decent glimpse of it. Then drive into Eastpoint for the full experience.