In its entire 981-mile run in Colonial times there was only one barrier to navigation on the Ohio River, a series of dangerous rapids known as the Falls of the Ohio. Since travelers in either direction were forced to stop here it was pretty certain that a town would be settled beside the Falls eventually. The reality came in 1780 when George Rogers Clark was campaigning in the then Northwest during the American Revolution. As a token of appreciation for his assistance in the struggle for independence Clark’s settlement was named after King Louis XVI of France.

Early growth was spurred by the loading and unloading of boats but Lexington outpaced Louisville as Kentucky’s first town after statehood came in 1792. That changed forever in 1811 when the steamboat New Orleans chugged into port, the first successful steamer on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Soon travel time from New Orleans to Louisville was cut to 12 days, less than half the time it took keel-boats to float down the river. In 1830 the two-mile Louisville and Portland Canal became the first artificial passage to be completed in America on a major river and the town boomed. By 1850 Louisville was one of America’s ten most populous cities.

Louisville officially became a major league city in 1876 when the Louisville Grays became of charter member of baseball’s National League. The Grays finished fifth in professional baseball’s debut season. A year earlier Aristides outran 14 other horses to claim the winner’s purse of $2,850 in the first contesting of a little race called the Kentucky Derby.

The town hugged the Ohio River for the better part of its first 100 years, spreading out from east to west first along Main Street and then one block further south on Market Street. In the 20th century development sprinted south along Fourth Street giving Louisville a T-shaped footprint. Our walking tour will mimic the historical development of the town and we will begin at the banks of the Ohio River where the historical waterway is its widest...   

Riverfront Plaza
Ohio River between 3rd and 6th streets

This combination park, plaza and public gathering place became a reality in the 1970s after being kicked around for more than forty years. Riverfront Plaza was developed on top of I-64 that had recently sliced through the town. The bronze sculpture of Kentucky patriarch George Rogers Clark was executed by celebrated Hungarian-American sculptor Felix Weihs de Weldon who completed some 1,200 public works on display on seven continents. 


Belle of Louisville
Ohio River at 4th Street

In an earlier life this was the Idlewild, built by James Rees & Sons Company in Pittsburgh, for the West Memphis Packet Company in 1914 and first put into service on the Allegheny River. Constructed with an all-steel superstructure and asphalt main deck, the steamboat is said to hold the all-time record in her class for miles traveled, years in operation, and number of places visited. The Idlewild operated as a passenger ferry and also hauled cargo such as cotton, lumber and grain. She came to Louisville in 1931 and ran trips between the Fontaine Ferry amusement park near downtown and Rose Island, a resort about 14 miles upriver. The boat was restored by marine architect Alan L. Bates in the 1960s and began an Ohio River tradition racing against another competing steamboat, usually the Delta Queen, on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby in The Great Steamboat Race. Today, the Belle is recognized as the oldest river steamboat in operation, being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge
Second Street over the Ohio River

Paul Philippe Cret, a noted French-American architect and industrial designer, handled the architectural details on the approaches and the American Bridge Company of Pittsburgh built the four-lane cantilevered truss bridge in 1929. The price tag was $4.7 million which was financed by bonds. The Louisville Municipal Bridge, as it was then called, operated as a toll bridge until 1946 when enough money was collected to redeem the bonds.


Galt House
140 North Fourth Street

The first Galt House back in the early 1800s was W.C. Galt’s actual house at the corner of First and Main streets. In 1835, a 60-room hotel was opened as the Galt House across the street from the Galt family home. America’s most famous travelers in the early 19th century came to sign the guestbook including Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, Edwin Booth, Charles Dickens, P.T. Barnum, Tom Thumb, and presidents Lincoln, Grant, Taylor, Hayes and Buchanan. In 1864, Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman planned the military campaign that broke the back of the Southern cause in rooms at the Galt House, which burned shortly after the Civil War ended. Master architect Henry Whitestone orchestrated the rebuilding in 1869 with an unheard-of price tag of $1.5 million. The Galt House operated another 50 years until the building was razed in 1921, closing an illustrious chapter in the history of Louisville hospitality. The book opened once again in the 1970s with the construction of this 25-story, 1,300-room hotel, the largest in Kentucky. The Galt House Hotel is the official hotel of the Kentucky Derby and outside you can see handprints of winning jockeys from America’s most revered horse race. 


Aegon Tower
400 West Market Street at Fourth Street

This has been Kentucky’s tallest building since 1993, topping out at 549 feet. The last 80 feet feature a distinctive Romanesque-style dome. Post modern architect John Burgess, in consultation with his long-time partner Philip Johnson, created the tower in the image of pioneering skyscrapers from a century earlier with a defined base, shaft and capital that mimicked the form of an ancient column.The building is constructed of reinforced concrete, not the steel-frame configuration typically used in buildings of this height. The statue in the plaza is of Alysheba, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1987 and the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year in 1988.


American Life Building
3 Riverfront Plaza (425 West Main Street)

Architectural legend Ludwig Mies van der Rohe abandoned his native Germany in 1937 to become a master of Modern architecture and a major player in the re-shaping of the skylines of America’s major cities in the mid-20th century. This is the only Mies building in Louisville and the last one he designed before his death in 1969. His sleek, glassy style was executed by his design firm in 1973. It was the only time Mies specified the use of cor-ten steel, a material that oxidizes naturally to produce a weathered finish.

Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street

Begun in 1980 as a joint public-private partnership the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts has evolved into three theaters and the state’s finest venue for music and dance. The Center is the home for the Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, Louisville Ballet, and others.

Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce
600 West Main Street at southwest corner of 6th Street 

Henry Whitestone got his architectural training in Ireland. After coming to Louisville for business in the 1850s he stayed and became the town’s leading architect for forty years. Most of Whitestone’s creations have been demolished but this Romanesque-styled structure, which was his first project, has survived. Louis Seelbach, who would open the town’s first grand hotel, got his start here with the Seelbach Bar & Grill after emigrating from Germany in 1869 when he was 17. The eatery was a smashing success which enabled Louis to pay for his brother Otto to join him and the Seelbachs opened their first hotel here in 1891. 

Louisville Science Center
727 West Main Street

The state’s largest hands-on museum traces its origins to a “cabinet of curiosities” in the Public Library System of Kentucky in 1871. The current home is in a 150,000 square foot facility built in 1878 as a dry goods warehouse. It boasts a festive cast-iron facade, a popular choice for quick, low-cost commercial buildings at the time.

Hillerich & Bradsby Company
800 West Main Street

It seems that Pete Browning, “The Gladiator,” was in a slump. The celebrated hard-hitting batsman for the Louisville Colonels went in search of a new bat. He stopped by the small woodworking shop of J.F. Hillerich, then noted for its wooden butter churns. Hillerich’s teenage son Bud turned a piece of white ash while Browning tested it every few turns until just right. Browning went 3-3 the next day and publicly gave credit to the bat. Baseball players are a superstitious lot and after the game the rest of the Louisville team showed up at the Hillerich shop for a bat. It was 1884. Until that time players bought bats already formed by woodturners or tried to carve their own. Hillerich’s first custom-made bats became all the rage. He called them “Louisville Sluggers” after the power-hitting Browning. Soon Hillerich was turning out only baseball bats, and the wooden churns that had been the shop specialty were forgotten. When Hillerich died in 1946 at the age of 80 the “Louisville Slugger” trademark had been burned on over 100,000,000 baseball bats and Pete Browning, the original Louisville slugger, was forgotten. Outside the company headquarters is a six-story bat touted as the the “world’s largest.” Unlike the white ash bats Bud Hillerich would have turned, this one is made of steel.

Fort Nelson Building
801 West Main Street

This cast-iron, limestone and brick structure dates to the 1870s. The Romanesque-influenced building takes a step forward from its similarly appearing Victorian neighbors with its conical barbican piercing the roofline at the corner. In recent years Michter’s Distillery, descendants of America’s first distillery company, has targeted the building to be home to a downtown distillery. 

The Frazier History Museum
829 West Main Street at northeast corner of 9th Street

Owsley Brown Frazier, heir to the spirits and wine business started by his grandfather in 1870, became a leading businessman and philanthropist in northern Kentucky. Frazier was a life-long collector of historic guns and knives, with some objects dating back 1,000 years. In 2001, he purchased two former warehouses downtown and bankrolled the lion’s share of the $32 million in start-up funds to create a museum for his collection. This transformed 100,000-square-foot, facility was a Doerhoefer tobacco warehouse. German-born Peter Doerhoefer came to America in 1851 and opened a butcher’s shop in New Albany. Later he engaged in the manufacture of plug tobacco, an enterprise that blossomed into a multi-million dollar business after Doerhoefer moved to Louisville in 1861 and his sons joined him in the venture. 


Louisville Glassworks
817 West Market Street at northeast corner of 9th Street

In 1850 the first glass bottle- and jar-making firm, known as the Kentucky Glass Works was formed in the town and within a few years was being referred to as the “Louisville Glass Works.” Over the next 50 years a half-dozen bottle houses operated in Louisville. Today Louisville Glassworks is a multi-use facility with three working glass studios, two glass galleries and living space housed in the Snead Manufacturing Building. This was the site of the Market Street Architectural Iron Foundry in the 1840s which was bought by Samuel Snead in 1849. Through five generations of the Snead family the ironworks became one of the country’s leading manufacturers of ornamental and structural cast iron (look down to see the Snead name on many of the city’s manhole covers). The Snead Iron Works burned in 1898 and by 1909 Dennis X. Murphy had designed a fireproof replacement, thought to be the earliest use of reinforced concrete on such a large scale in Louisville and the Midwest.

Louisville Trust Bank Building
200 South Fifth Street at southwest corner of Market Street

When this landmark building was completed in 1889 the Louisville Courier was moved to write, “The Louisville Trust Company is certainly to be congratulated upon the success of their building from an artistic standpoint, and to be commended for their liberality in thus adorning the city.” A prominent Chicago architect was quoted as calling it the best example of commercial architecture in the West. The architects responsible for these accolades were Mason Maury and William J. Dodd, among the town’s most celebrated designers of the late 1800s. The design blends the arches of the Romanesque style with the stirrings of the new Chicago Style of high-rise construction. The building that was acclaimed as the finest constructed south of the Ohio River when it was completed is still in use as a bank.

Louisville Home Federal Building
150 South 5th Street at northwest corner of Market Street

One of Louisville’s best Beaux Arts buildings was constructed in 1914 for the German Bank. With the coming of the first World War institutions with a German association quietly changed their names. The limestone structure came from the pen of Dennis Xavier Murphy who was the successor to Henry Whitestone, Louisville’s best known architect of the 19th century. Murphy brought his brothers into the firm in 1890 and several years later one of the firm’s draftsmen, Joseph D. Baldez, sketched out the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs racetrack. An addition came along to the north in 1924 which matched the Market Street facade with Ionic pilasters and duplicate windows.

National City Tower
101 South Fifth Street at northeast corner of Market Street 

This skyscraper, designed by architects Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz in the image of the crisp modernism of Ludwig Mies van der Roh, began a twenty-year run as the the tallest building in Kentucky in 1972. The 512-foot tower is constructed of steel columns on concrete piles of caissons with an anodized aluminum and glass curtain wall.

Almstedt Brothers Building
425 West Market Street

Alfred and Oscar Joseph began designing buildings in Louisville in 1908 and today Joseph & Joseph is the oldest continuously operating architectural firm in town. This small, three-story limestone building, graced by a monumental classical arch, is a 1931 creation. The clients were Henry and Arthur Almstedt, prominent moneymen and investment brokers in Louisville since 1880.

Louisville Trust Company
421 West Market Street    

Architects Nevin, Morgan and Kolbrook blended traditional classical elements with sleek art moderne styling to craft this four-story home for the Louisville Trust Company in 1929. The bank did not survive the Great Depression and a parade of subsequent banks set up shop in the marble-encrusted interior beyond the grand gilded entrance. Look up to see bas relief seals of the United States, Kentucky and Louisville carved above the third floor.


First National Bank
214 South 5th Street at northwest corner of Court Place

This prime location on the shoulder of the county courthouse was most prominently occupied by the First National Bank, organized in 1863 as the first nationally chartered bank south of the Ohio River. The three-story red brick, classically-inspired banking hall has most recently been occupied by Stock Yards Bank and Trust.    

Kentucky Home Life Building
239 South 5th Street at northeast corner of Jefferson Street 

This heritage skyscraper was constructed in 1913 on plans drawn by Brinton B. Davis. In 1922 a matching full-height addition was added by D.X. Murphy, completing one of the finest examples of early 20th century high-rise architecture remaining in town. The twenty-story tower features buff brick walls rising from an imposing four-story stone base. 


Louisville Metro Hall
527 West Jefferson Street

When he visited Louisville in 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright referred specifically to this building when he said, “Louisville’s architecture represents the quality of the old South; we should not build this type of building anymore but we should keep those we have left.” It was not the first time a prominent architect expressed mixed feelings about this government building that began life as the county courthouse. Designer Gideon Shryock had intended in 1835 for the courthouse to have a six-column Doric portico, a cupola, and additional porticos on the wings. Shryock resigned from the project in 1842 and it was not completed until 1860, with Albert Fink, a bridge engineer, and Charles Stancliff in charge. Fink reduced the number of columns for the Doric portico, and did not build the additional porticos and cupola. The Louisville Daily Journal said it was a “elephantine monstrosity.”

Louisville City Hall
601 West Jefferson Street at northwest corner of 6th Street

Architect John Andreartha, who won a design competition in 1867, tapped the era’s two most popular architectural styles - Italianate and Second Empire - for this government home. Limestone from White River quarries near Salem, Indiana was used in construction and the confection was completed in 1873 at a final cost of $464,778, even though the building was planned to be three times as large. The original clocktower burned in 1875 and Henry Whitehouse directed the mansard-roofed replacement the following year. Up close, the building is generously appointed with stone carvings honoring the importance of agriculture in the early history of the town.

City Hall Annex
603 West Jefferson Street

A Greco-Roman annex building was built just west of City Hall in 1909 from the pen of Cornelius Curtin. Curtin was known mostly for his church work but here he was able to decorate at will and he covered the facade with eight giant fluted Corinthian columns.  

Fire Station No. 2
617 West Jefferson Street

Fires in Louisville were handled by volunteers, or nearly so, until formal appropriation was approved by the legislature in 1856. By the 1890s the town was in full firehouse-building mode with six new stations under construction. This one from 1891 features the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style with such hallmarks as prominent gables, powerful arches, rough-faced stone and corner tower, which has since been removed. The architects were the McDonald brothers. When the old firehouse was incorporated into the city government complex it became known as the Sinking Fund Building where the tax collectors toiled.


Old Jail
514 Liberty Street at southeast corner of 6th Street

Before Kentucky became a state in 1792 the sentencing of criminals was a simple matter - commit a felony and you get hanged, commit a lesser offense and you get whipped or spend time in the stocks out in the courtyard. This castle-like jail was constructed in 1905 and was considered one of the most modern in the country at the time with four spaces for prisoners segregated by race and gender. A tunnel connected the jail with the courthouse across the yard. Constructed of red stone on a limestone base, plans for the jail were drawn by D.X. Murphy and Brother. After 70 years of service the jail was reconstituted for office use.


Jefferson County Armory
525 West Muhammad Ali Boulevard at northwest corner of Armory Place

This Beaux Arts stone-and-brick structure was erected in 1905 to be the headquarters for the Louisville Legion. Designed by Brinton B. Davis, the armory was the largest building in Kentucky at the time. Although the militia drilled here until the 1940s the building came to be used as a multi-purpose arena and convention center. Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder all performed here. Harry Truman and Martin Luther King, Jr. gave speeches here. The Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament was held here for a decade and the Kentucky Colonels, who won more games than any other franchise in the history of the American Basketball Association, played their home games here when it was known as the Convention Center. Since 1975 it has been known as Louisville Gardens.


Cathedral of the Assumption 
433 South 5th Street

This is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville. In 1811, a small group of Catholics formed Saint Louis Church at 10th and Main streets. Previously, Father Stephen Theodore Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, called the “circuit rider priest,” had served the Louisville area, along with much of the American frontier. By 1830, a larger Saint Louis Church was built five blocks south of the Ohio River on Fifth Street. In 1841, the diocese was moved from Bardstown to Louisville, and Saint Louis Church became Saint Louis Cathedral. In 1850 a new church building was begun, a nearly identical but larger version of the existing St. Louis Cathedral. The new Cathedral was built around St. Louis Church, and once completed, the old church was disassembled and carried piece by piece out the front doors.


Republic Building
429 West Muhammad Ali Boulevard at northeast corner of 5th Street

This 1913 Renaissance Revival tower from early in the career of the local architectural firm of Joseph & Joseph has landed on the National Register of Historic Places for its rich sense of color and textural contrast of the terra-cotta and glazed brick building material. 


Business Women’s Club
425 Muhammad Ali Boulevard

Jennie Benedict was a Louisville native who studied cooking with the famous Fannie Farmer in Boston. When she came home she opened a tea room and soda fountain in 1893 which operated for more than thirty years. Benedict was also the town’s most in demand caterer, serving her trademark Benedictine cheese in finger sandwiches. She seasoned her cream cheese with cucumbers and mild onions and injected the confection with green food coloring. When she wasn’t in the kitchen Benedict helped co-found the Business Women’s Club in 1899. George Herbert Gray designed the Classical Revival building in 1911.

Fourth Street Live
between Liberty Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard

Fourth Street Live opened in 2004 as the latest attempt to integrate entertainment and retail businesses into a 350,000 square foot destination complex. Fourth Street has historically been known as the place to shop and find a show and there had been talk of converting it into a pedestrian mall as early as the 1940s. In the 1970s, with the decline of downtown, traffic was blocked off from Liberty to Broadway to create the River City Mall. After an initial burst of success blocks were gradually re-opened and the mall scaled down.

Starks Building
455 South 4th Street at northeast corner of Muhammad Ali Boulevard

About 1890, two brothers, John Price and Isaac Starks opened a fine men’s clothing store named Crutcher & Starks at the corner of Fourth & Jefferson Streets in downtown Louisville. In 1911,  John Price Starks commissioned the prestigious Chicago architectural firm of Daniel H. Burnham and Company, pioneers in the building of modern skyscrapers, to design an edifice for his growing retail concern. Burnham & Company turned out one of Louisville’s outstandingexamples ofturn-of-the-century commercial architecture with Beaux-arts details in cream-colored brick. It was originally a “U” shaped structure, but a 1926 addition designed by the firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, Burnham’s successors, added a new wing to create a rectangular shape with a central sunlight well. The building was owned by the Starks family until the 1980s. 

Stewart’s Dry Goods
501 South 4th Street at southeast corner of Muhammad Ali Boulevard

For generations of Louisvillians no Christmas shopping excursion was complete without a stop at Stewart’s and perhaps a bite to eat at the Orchid Tea Room. This was Durkee and Heath’s New York Store when it opened its doors on Market Street in 1846. Louis Stewart became president of the operation in 1893. Like another 19th century retailer, Richard Sears of Chicago, Stewart started out as a railroad freight agent. Stewart’s settled on this corner in 1907 where it became the town’s leading department store. The Beaux Arts building designed by Alfred Joseph picked up expansions in 1946 and 1959 as the company established branches in Lexington and Evansville. Stewart’s was absorbed by L.S. Ayres in 1985 and in 1990 the flagship store was closed forever.

Seelbach Hotel
500 South 4th Street at southwest corner of Muhammad Ali Boulevard

Louis Seelbach and his brother Otto came from a family in a small, rural town in Bavaria. Upon settling in Louisville the Seelbach boys harbored a dream of building a hotel with the old-world grandeur of European guest houses. They started in the hospitality game down on Main Street and by 1902 were ready to build their dream hotel. The Seelbachs selected this plot of ground that at the time was surrounded by nothing. In short time, as the Seelbach became nationally known for its quality, the French Renaissance hotel would preside over the area’s busiest shopping and business districts.


Wright and Taylor Building
617 South 4th Street

The best use for glazed architectural terra-cotta in Louisville is here on this modest Tudor-Gothic style commercial building. The Wright and Taylor Building was considered a marvel in its day for its imaginative use of stylistic motifs in a variety of colors and shapes. 

Louisville Palace
625 South 4th Street

When this movie palace opened on September 1, 1928 it was acclaimed as “the finest Theatre of the South.” Architect John Eberson, who specialized in creating “atmospheric” theaters that transported patrons to exotic lands for an evening used a Spanish Baroque motif exploding with deep reds and golds for Loew’s United Artists Theatre as it was known. Theater-goers could pass the time identifying the 139 sculpted faces of historical figures in the curved ceiling (one is Eberson himself). The theater has received four renovations over the years and continues as a live performance venue. This block was the town’s Theatre Row in its heyday but all but the Palace are gone today and most of their buildings torn down.

Theatre Building
629-631 South Fourth Street

John Eberson stuck around town long enough to design a companion piece to his splendid Palace Theater. The four-story structure was designed as retail and office space but was also intended by Eberson to screen the view of the auditorium of the Palace from the street. Eberson faced the brick structure with smooth beige tile applied to resemble stone and splashed with terra-cotta decoration. Today the building boasts Louisville’s most substantial intact use of terra-cotta. Although designed in a Beaux Arts style Eberson gave the Theatre Building one of the town’s best Art Deco spaces with the entryway finished in red marble.    

Kentucky Theater
651 South Fourth Street

The Kentucky Theater opened in 1921 and traveled a familiar American arc of packed houses to losing battles with television and suburban flight in the 1960s to closure in the 1980s. The Classical Revival building from architects Joseph & Joseph graced with patterned orange brick work and carved stone escaped the wrecking ball, however, and found new life as upscale shops.

Ohio Theatre
655 South Fourth Street

This historic stage is no more but the facade and front entrance still stand as the space has been converted to retail use. The Art Deco style theater opened in 1941 and stopped screening movies in 1965.

Brown Hotel
335 West Broadway at northeast corner of 4th Street

When James Graham Brown, who made his money in lumber, built the town’s largest hotel on this corner in 1923 it ignited a charge to Broadway and 4th Street that led the Herald-Post to call this intersection the “Magic Corner.” Preston I. Bradshaw provided the Colonial Revival design for the 600-room hostelry whose Crystal Ballroom came to be regarded as the go-to romantic destination in town. In 1926 the hotel chef Fred K. Schmidt introduced the Hot Brown sandwich, consisting of an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon with a delicate moray sauce tat became a Louisville favorite. The Brown closed in the 1970s and was acquired by the city and used to house the school system. The city redeveloped the historic hostelry, however, reconfiguring the 16 stories into 293 rooms and it has been operated by various chains since then.  


Heyburn Building
332 West Broadway at northeast corner of 4th Street

By the 1920s the best buildings in Louisville were being raised along the Broadway corridor. In 1928 William R. Heyburn, president of Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company, jumped into the fray by hiring the esteemed Chicago firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White to design one of the most modern and commodious office buildings in the country. The successor firm of D.H. Burnham and Company delivered one of the town’s most attractive skyscrapers in the Renaissance Revival style. The 250-foot Heyburn Building was the tallest in Kentucky when it was completed and remained unchallenged until 1955.

Weissinger-Gaulbert Apartments
709 South 3rd Street at southeast corner of Broadway

This is the only building of a group of three that comprised Louisville’s most elegant apartment complex in the early 20th century. The Weissinger-Gaulbert Real Estate Company, which owned and operated the apartments, was organized in 1901 by Harry Weissinger, the president and principal stockholder, George Gaulbert and J.W. Gaulbert. Weissinger made his money in tobacco and the Gaulberts in paints and varnishes. The complex was started in 1904 and demand for apartments was so great that an additional building was constructed in 1907 and this lively Beaux Arts structure, known as the Third Street Annex, opened in 1912. Architects Kenneth McDonald and William J. Dodd used reinforced concrete faced with brown brick and white stone to fashion the eye-catching facades. Rising from the third story through the ninth are columns of oriel windows before reaching a prominent cornice. The other two buildings were flattened into parking lots in the middle of the 1900s but rents are still being collected in this building.  

YMCA Building
227-229 West Broadway on northeast corner of 3rd Street

The Louisville Young Men’s Christian Association formed in 1853, less than a decade after the movement began in England. The YMCA moved into this handsome red-brick home in 1913, designed by top Louisville architect Kenneth McDonald and William J. Dodd. The duo was known for Beaux Arts style structures like this one which they infused with Baroque-influenced design elements. The YMCA stayed here until 1976 and the building was adapted for other uses.


The Henry Clay
604 South 3rd Street at southwest corner of Chestnut Street

Originally built as an Elks Athletic Club in 1924 on drawings by Joseph & Joseph, this ornate eight-story Georgian Revival structure was converted into the Henry Clay Hotel in 1928, and its pool became the first in Louisville for hotel guests. The lettering on the top used to read “Elks Club” in a more organic rendering. The building was later purchased by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and eventually redeveloped as multi-use space in the 2000s with retail on the first floor, event space on the second and fourth floors and residential space on floors five through eight. On the third floor the old gymnasium was converted into a 140-seat theatre as the home of the Bunbury Repertory Theatre Company that was founded in 1985.

Madrid Building
545 South 3rd Street at southeast corner of Guthrie Street

The Madrid Ballroom was billed as “The Place to Dance” when a reported 5,000 people showed up for opening night on September 23, 1929. There wasn’t so much to dance about a month later when the stock market crashed but the Spanish-flavored operated into the 1950s. The Classical Revival brick building with stone trim, completed on plans drawn by E.T. Hutchings, featured commercial shops on the ground floor, a bowling alley on the second floor and the 7,000 square-foot dance floor - large enough for 800 couples - on the third.

Bosler Fireproof Garage
423 South 3rd Street

In the days when automobiles still shared the streets with horses the mechanical marvel was still held in such reverence that parking garages demanded the same architectural attention as other commercial structures. Architect J.J. Gaffney outfitted the utilitarian building, the oldest known parking garage in Louisville, with prominent Romanesque-styled arches with beaded decoration.

Old U.S. Customshouse and Post Office
300 West Liberty Street at southwest corner of 3rd Street

Louisville was established as a customs collection district within the Commonwealth of Virginia by an act of Congress in 1789. The distinction brought with it no building and the tax collector and postmaster made do where they could, operating from home or in rented quarters around town. The nomadic existence ended in 1858 with the first federal building constructed in Louisville. The building with a blend of Romanesque, Byzantine and old English elements housed the government until 1896. Through the years the venerable structure has done duty as a newspaper building and headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce in an effort to stave off demolition.   

Levy Brothers Building
235 West Market Street at northeast corner of 3rd Street

Architects Charles Julian Clarke and Arthur Loomis dropped a splash of rich, red sandstone on an otherwise grey limestone Louisville streetscape with this commercial building in 1893. Clarke and Loomis were eager practitioners of the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style based on the works of influential Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson andpopular in the 1880s and 1890s. Here they adapted the style with trademark powerful arches and corner tower for shopkeepers Moses and Henry Levy. Moses Levy had emigrated from Germany and opened a clothing store in 1861. He moved to this location in 1866 and was later joined in the business by his younger brother, Henry. You can look up and see the additions that were made in 1913 by the Louisville firm of Joseph and Joseph down 3rd Street. The same material was used but the decorative flourishes toned down a bit.


German Insurance Bank
207 West Market Street at northwest corner of 2nd Street

The German Insurance Company organized in 1854 to tend to the financial needs of the Bavarians pouring down the Ohio River at the time. In 1872 the state mandated the separation of banking and insurance functions in institutions like this one and the German Insurance Bank became its own concern. In 1887 architect Charles D.Meyer created a Baroque-flavored banking house that depositors might recognize on the banks of the Rhine. Indiana limestone was turned into arches, fluted columns and pilasters, balustrades and a central clock tower. Scarcely an inch of the three-story facade went undecorated.


Trade Mart Building
131 West Main Street at northeast corner of 2nd Street

The original Galt House stood on this spot in 1835 until it burned to the ground in 1865. This more substantial stone building replaced it in 1877, designed by Henry Whitestone for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. As was his wont the English architect used the Italian Renaissance Revival style for the three-story structure which came to be called the Trade Mart. It is one of the few Whitestone buildings remaining in Louisville.


Waterfront Plaza
321 West Main Street

The Coast Guard maintains hundreds of aids to navigation on the Ohio River but none in Kentucky qualify as lighthouses. These twin 25-story buildings, completed in 1991, are each crowned by a lighthouse. The lighthouses are active but do not function as aids to navigation.

KFC Yum! Center
1 Arena Plaza; Main Street between 2nd and Third streets

Opened in 2010, this is the fifth largest college basketball arena in America with seating for 22,000 University of Louisville supporters. The project is part of a $450 million project that includes a 975-car parking structure and floodwall.

Income Life Insurance Building
300 West Main Street at southwest corner of 3rd Street

Brothers Harry, Kenneth and Donald McDonald began designing buildings in Louisville in 1878 and soon gained a reputation as go-to architects for courthouses. They traveled as far afield as Georgia to build county house of justice. Here they erected a commercial building in the Romanesque style in 1890 for the Lincoln Income Life Insurance Company. Lincoln remained in Louisville until 1991 when they moved to Frankfort and were merged out of existence a year later. 

Old Bank of Louisville
320 West Main Street

This sophisticated piece of Greek Revival architecture appeared on the Louisville streetscape in 1837, courtesy of James Harrison Dakin. Dakin did most of his work in New Orleans but sketched the plans for the bank while in the employ of Lexington native Gideon Shyrock. The symmetrical vault is constructed around a pair of massive Ionic columns, executed in brick and limestone. There was a bank inside until the 1930s; since the 1970s it has served as the lobby for the Actors Theatre of Louisville.