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    We asked local architect Ed Krebs of KNBA to name one of his favorite buildings in Louisville. Only one rule: He couldn’t name one of his own. If he had, he might have selected the Speed Art Museum addition or the Belknap Academic Building on the University of Louisville campus, both recent projects.

    Broadway at 10th Street

    This limestone monument of soaring elegance breathes with the sensibilities of its time. It was completed in 1889, the heart of the Gilded Age. But almost more compelling than this history is its connection to the life stories of people all over the city in the 20th century, when the building served as what Krebs calls “Louisville’s front door.” At its height in the 1920s, Union Station saw 58 trains every day. By 1976, the rail era was over, and Union Station was no longer on anyone’s route.

    Why Union Station?

    “It’s such a remarkable building for a gateway nobody goes in much anymore,” Krebs says. Through much of its lifetime, anyone coming to or leaving Louisville entered via Union Station, where they rushed for their train beneath its arresting barrel-vault ceilings and leaded-glass skylight. “It’s where World War II guys went off to war and where they came home again,” Krebs says. All that makes it “one of the classical public spaces in the city.” Owned today by TARC, which has spent several million maintaining its grandeur since acquiring it in the late 1970s, it remains open to the public.


    Union Station’s Richardsonian Romanesque style is evident in its several towers and the substantial rounded arches above doors and windows. Along with a magnificent skylight, two rose windows flood the interior with light. Another highlight: a vivid green-and-white mosaic floor. Other examples of Richardsonian Romanesque in Louisville include the Conrad-Caldwell House on St. James Court and the Levy Building, which you know as the Spaghetti Factory building, at Third and Market streets.

    Architect Frederick W. Mowbray, the head architect for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, designed Union Station, which was built for $311,000. Before he began railway work, Mowbray was an architect with the nation's first World's Fair, the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Christopher T. White, who studies Louisville architecture, says Mowbray's only other buildings in Louisville are some undistinguished homes in the Limerick neighborhood.

    Little-known tidbit: The L&N built a near twin to Union Station in Nashville, also at 10th and Broadway, so L&N passengers always knew where to go. Today, the Nashville train station is a Marriott.


    This originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Building Breakdown." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Jenni Laidman's picture

    About Jenni Laidman

    I'm a freelance writer who specializes in science and medicine but is passionate about art. I'm a hell of a cook. I think of white wine as training wheels for people who will graduate to red. I love U of L women's basketball. The best bargain in town is the $3 admission to U of L volleyball. Really exciting stuff.

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